The center position was a mess for the New York Giants in 2013. David Baas broke down. Jim Cordle wasn't the answer. Kevin Boothe did his best, but moving him from left guard just created a huge problem at Boothe's normal spot. Dallas Reynolds got to play, too, and his missed block is the one that caused Eli Manning to need ankle surgery.
Thus, the Giants entered the 2014 offseason determined to reel in one of the free-agent centers on the market. They got one, too, just not one of the marquee players who were available. Alex Mack? Evan Dietrich-Smith Smith? Brian De La Puente? Nope, none of the above. The Giants signed J.D. Walton, bestowing a two-year, $6 million contract ($2.5 million guaranteed) upon a player who has not played a down in the NFL since suffering a severe ankle injury four games into the 2012 season.
So, what the heck were general manager Jerry Reese and the Giants thinking by signing the 27-year-old Walton rather than one of the other available centers? Let's take a look as we continue our series of player-by-player profiles of the Giants' 90-man roster with training camp now just days away.
2013 Season In Review
Still rehabbing his injured ankle, Walton began the season on the Denver Broncos' PUP list. Activated midway through the season, he never appeared in a game and was waived on Dec. 17. The Washington Redskins claimed him the next day, but Walton never played a snap.
2014 Season Outlook
During mini-camp. Walton told reporters that he felt fully recovered during the middle of last season. With the Broncos rolling, however, and headed toward a berth in the Super Bowl there was no spot for him. The Giants, needing to rebuild an offensive line that was too old, too injured and ultimately too incapable of blocking anyone last season, handed Walton a contract that showed they believe he can be a quality player despite his not having appeared in a game in nearly two years.
As far as the Giants are concerned, so far so good with their new center.
2014 Season Preview
2014 Season Preview
"J.D. is doing well. He’s going to learn the offense as well as the other guys up there but he’s been practicing and approaching this day-to-day with a great attitude," offensiveline coach Pat Flaherty said during mini-camp. "It looks to me that he’s healthy. I keep my fingers crossed that he’s going to continue that way because we sure need him to be."
The Giants, of course, drafted highly-regarded center prospect Weston Richburg in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Walton vs. Richburg has been billed as a competition, but it seems to be one heavily tilted in Walton's favor. The four-year veteran took all of the first-team reps during OTAs and mini-camp and would seem to be a heavy favorite to begin the season as the starting center. Unless, of course, he gets injured or Richburg simply plays so well the Giants can't keep him off the field.
The Broncos drafted the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Walton in the third round (80th overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft. He started 36 straight games for Denver until his ankle injury. If you judge purely from Pro Football Focus numbers, which is what we really have to go on at this point, it looks as if Walton was coming into his own as a quality player when he was hurt. He had a +5.2 PFF grade through four games in 2012 and had not allowed so much as a pressure on Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning. Walton was -26.1 in 2011 and -12.4 in 2010.
The Giants, of course, have their own Manning to protect. They found out the hard way last season what happens when they don't have players capable of doing so. Obviously, they believe a healthy Walton can help them do that.
[E-mail Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org]