When the New York Giants made their selection at No. 12 in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft many analysts expected them to choose offensive lineman Zack Martin. They did not, instead taking wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. How does that choice look now?
The Giants offensive line is in disarray. Chris Snee, penciled in as the starting right guard, retired. Geoff Schwartz, the big free-agent acquisition, has a dislocated toe and head coach Tom Coughlin says he could be out "a long while." Left tackle Will Beatty is still working his way back from the broken leg he suffered in the 2013 regular-season finale. Beatty was awful in 2013 and his play thus far has yet to inspire confidence that 2014 will be any better. The Giants signed J.D. Walton to be their starting center despite his having not played since suffering a severe ankle injury early in the 2012 season. After four preseason games Walton (-5.5 Pro Football Focus grade) has yet to prove that was a good decision.
Beckham has yet to play in a preseason game. In fact, the former LSU wide receiver has barely practiced since early in OTAs thanks to a hamstring injury he can't seem to shake.
Throughout training camp, Martin has stood his ground. He stonewalled 285-pound Tyrone Crawford in an individual drill, opened gaping holes for running back DeMarco Murray and held his own against Henry Melton when the former Pro Bowl defensive tackle was healthy and practicing.
"He's competitive," said Bill Callahan, the Cowboys' offensive coordinator and line coach. "What is essential is having an ability to finish a defender whether you're in pass protection or in run blocking, getting yourself in a position where you're covering the man you're blocking and finishing him in any direction to the echo of the whistle. That's kind of the trait we're all trying to build." ...
Since May, when Martin entered the NFL, the Cowboys coaches have gushed about him. They have praised his maturity, intelligence, versatility and poise. It hasn't been all perfect, they say. There have been errors, they concede. But when Martin makes a mistake, he's not the type who repeats it, according to [head coach Jason] Garrett.
"Those are the kind of guys you want," Garrett said. "I think it goes to being a smart guy, being an instinctive football player, being someone who cares about it and having a passion for the game and make sure you're always striving to improve.
"He's one of those guys that as a rookie, you don't feel like he's a rookie. You don't feel like he's going through all those growing pains that a lot of rookies go through."
This isn't meant to disparage Beckham, or to say that drafting him instead of Martin was a mistake. Trying to judge a draft after a handful of preseason games is a fool's errand, and that isn't the effort here. That determination will come years from now when we see what type of NFL players both become.
It is meant to say that, with the Giants struggling to piece together an offensive line that won't leave quarterback Eli Manning constantly running for his life, and with Beckham probably unable to help the Giants for at least the first half of the 2014 season, the Giants would be in a better position RIGHT NOW if GM Jerry Reese had selected Martin.
When the Giants selected Beckham, the pick did earn a 'Kudos' here. That 'Kudos' though came with the caveat that Martin, not Beckham, would have been the preferred choice:
With the Giants' draft card in my hand the pick probably would have been Martin -- I have espoused the 'pass protectors before pass receivers' theory often enough. Still, little not to like about this pick.
Let's take this even a step further. When we held the Big Blue View Community Mock Draft the selections for the Giants in the first two rounds were both offensive linemen, Taylor Lewan at No. 12 and Weston Richburg at No. 43. Doubling up on one position in the first two rounds was criticized by many. Here is what I wrote then:
I get that the Giants have other areas of need. It is tempting to select a tight end like Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington or Troy Niklas of Notre Dame here, or to grab a wide receiver like Davante Adams of Fresno State. In a draft filled with receiving depth I believe, however, that quality receiving options will still be available for the Giants in the third or fourth rounds -- maybe not guys who could be No. 1 receivers, but big, solid targets for Eli Manning.
I also get that this pick means I have now used both of my picks here (offensive tackle Taylor Lewan in Round 1) on offensive linemen. Obviously, I'm perfectly OK with that. After quarterback, you build a successful football team from inside out. All the receivers in the world do you no good if your quarterback is flat on his back, or worse yet, having his ankle surgically put back together.
Does that look prescient now? Or, do you still disagree. As I said then, and will say now, blockers come first and play-makers come second. You can't use your play-makers if your quarterback is either laying on the ground or running for his life and fumbling the ball away.
What if the Giants had doubled up on offensive linemen? What if they had taken Martin and Richburg with their first two picks? Could they have gotten at least one receiving weapon for their passing attack?
Let's not talk about Jordan Matthews, whom the Eagles jumped ahead of the Giants to select at No. 42. He was not available to the Giants at No. 43. Let's look at players taken after the Giants selected defensive tackle Jay Bromley in the third round, 74th overall. After the Bromley pick there were eight wide receivers taken in the third and fourth rounds. Among them, Donte Moncrief (90th overall) has been impressive with the Indianapolis Colts and Bruce Ellington (106th, San Francisco 49ers) is off to a good start.
Maybe things will work out fine. Maybe Beckham recovers and has a monstrous second half of the season. Perhaps Beatty does bounce back. Perhaps Richburg, Walton, Brandon Mosley, John Jerry and whoever else shows up off the waiver wire or via trade will prove capable of handling the inside spots on the offensive line.
Entering the 2014 season, though, would you feel better about the Giants if they had selected Martin instead of Beckham? Vote in the poll and let us know.