This is a great year to need a defensive back. Many mock drafts have as up to six or seven corners and safeties going in the first round alone. Perhaps, it's a better year to need a corner, but as you'll read later on, some of these players can fit multiple roles.
I expect that the New York Giants won't be in play for the majority of the top defensive backs. They would need to trade back or burn their ninth overall draft pick. It's one of the more controversial ways to fill this area of need, but it's definitely an option. Should New York elect to wait and hope they get value later on in the draft, there should be a few guys who hit the sweet spot for where the Giants pick. Below you can find a profile of a player that should be available in each of the first three rounds.
The first safety projected to get drafted this year is Alabama's Landon Collins. I've seen him projected to go as high as No. 6 to the New York Jets and as low as No. 27 to the Dallas Cowboys. In all likelihood, he'll split the difference and get drafted somewhere in the low-teens. But should the Giants take him at No. 9?
This would be immediately criticized as drafting for need as opposed to taking the best player available. The Giants regularly fall into the latter camp, although, they do try and fill each need as the rounds progress. Many would consider New York's slot at No. 9 too early to draft Collins, but I don't agree with that line of thinking. When the guy is the clear-cut top player at a position of need, you take him when you can. "Value" is a subjective term and should be treated as such. You don't have the luxury of picking again where most guys are projected to go, so you take them when you're on the clock.
What we presume is that Collins will be the first safety off the board and that it will happen on Day 1. His projections fluctuate because he is a well-rounded prospect, yet doesn't excel in any one category. He doesn't have elite coverage skills yet he was still very good last year. The problem is how early he may hit a plateau in this area. If the Giants want him at No. 9, it will be because they think he can develop much further under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
A concern I have about Alabama players is that they're already so well-developed that their ceiling isn't far off. This works great at a college level but many flame out in the NFL because certain deficiencies were masked. Many play alongside other talented guys who also benefited from exceptional coaching. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix as a rookie wasn't the immediate impact player the Packers were looking for last season. Mark Barron and Javier Arenas never justified their draft position. Blue-chip prospects from dominant programs can be a double-edged sword. Teams expect a leap between college and the NFL, but can sometimes find that a player is already maxed out. This is a legitimate worry for Collins.
He lacks the top end speed to recover against a receiver who gets behind him. Maximizing traits associated with toughness would be a reasonable counter to this. In an ideal situation, he could end up like Kam Chancellor. With good cornerback play in front, he could be an enforcer on the back end. Circumstantial talent is too risky for a top-10 pick, though. The Coughlin-Reese era Giants have never finished poorly enough to pick this high. This pick is an invaluable asset in the quest to pull out of this nosedive.
Personally, I wouldn't take Collins here. The risk is too high. He is not a "safe" pick when you're drafting ninth with jobs on the line. Last year's draft proved fruitful but the Giants need to build on that with at least two new immediate starters. I think the "best-player-available" mantra wins out and the Giants go in another direction.
In 2013, the Arizona Cardinals drafted LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu in the third round. Head coach Bruce Arians declared to the media that Mathieu would be shifting position to safety. This went better than expected. Mathieu was considered a defensive rookie of the year until his season-ending injury in Week 14. Given the success of Arizona in recent years, the Giants would be wise to adopt a similar strategy.
In this case, Utah's Eric Rowe would be the target. He might be there when the Giants select in the second round. His combine and pro day workouts have resulted in a bunch of recent hype, causing his name to pop up in several first-round mocks but Rowe's game tape should come into focus again before draft night and result in a fall back to earth. With such an abundance of defensive backs in this year's draft, if Rowe moves up, someone else will likely fall.
Rowe spent most of his playing time as a cornerback but has experience at safety. His versatility is a premium asset in a game where defensive multiplicity is a game-changer. This is a dynamic free-safety who could help ease the transition to the post-Rolle era.
Unlike Landon Collins, there would be a steep learning curve for Rowe as he learns to adopt the subtleties of NFL play. If he's there in the second round, he would be an inexpensive option with a higher developmental upside. On top of this, his strong play against the run as a corner provides good insight to his potential as a permanent safety.
I expect him to be there early in the second round but if he went as high as No. 20 to the Philadelphia Eagles or No. 27 to the Cowboys, I wouldn't be surprised at all. If he is still on the board, run this card up to the podium. Maybe even just go ahead and blurt his name out from your table to make sure. I think Spagnuolo can get the most out of defensive backs and would absolutely be the right man to develop a talent like Rowe.
I have a minor bias towards Penn State players, so I'm announcing that outright. There are several Nittany Lions in this draft that I think could help the Giants. OT Donovan Smith [prospect profile], TE Jesse James [prospect profile] and MLB Mike Hull to name a few. Adrian Amos as a free safety prospect would be another.
I wouldn't make this my primary safety acquisition, but as an addition to one of the other moves, it would be a great project-pick because if they target Amos, it'll be in the third round or later. There are quite a few safeties on the draft scrapheap at Giants HQ, so this is a need that stretches farther than just this year. They need immediate help, but they need youth, too.
A strong point to consider is that Amos started all 37 games over the last three seasons. Reliability in the secondary needs to be re-emphasized over and over this year. There have been too many crippling injuries to neglect the issue any longer.
Amos performed well on a defense that came close to topping most national categories. His reliability in coverage allowed a stout defensive front to dictate the flow of the game. He didn't produce many big hits or play-making ability but he held his role admirably and was rarely out of position.
Amos is weak against the run and often lets plays come to him rather than relying on instincts. That's usually an area that develops naturally rather than coached so it's a major reason why he's only talked about as a mid-round draft pick. With a proper NFL conditioning program and Spagnuolo's experience, Amos could develop. A more balanced skill set and eliminating over-analysis would help him become an NFL caliber safety.
The Giants have several developmental strong safeties but nothing at free safety. Amos would be a pick with the future in mind. This three-year starter from one of the nation's best defenses would be a valuable addition anywhere from the third round onward. Amos would be a good pick-up but the desire to thrust him into the line-up too fast would be a major mistake.
Fans and media members who freaked out over the Giants not signing Devin McCourty or Rahim Moore need to calm down. This three-part series offered just a brief look at a few of the possibilities still remaining at safety. The majority of what I see here is more attractive than tying up huge money to one guy when it's absolutely clear this is a position that requires multiple moves.
Ideally, the Giants adopt one move from each category outlined. They need a minimum of two other safeties to start the season, and likely four or more new guys to make it through training camp. There are many, many options available for them in the draft. I outlined just three of them. It's entirely possible that the Giants spend multiple draft picks on safeties as well as making the position a priority when signing undrafted free-agents. This is their only area where they are totally devoid of sustenance right now. There isn't a safety group in the league that wouldn't be an upgrade in a straight swap. This is obviously an issue.
But don't expect the Giants to force anything. The front-office remains true to its best-player-available strategy in the draft, and for the most part, avoiding high-priced free-agents. This can make things look scary sometimes, but there's still a lot of offseason left to develop this roster. The Giants have won two Super Bowls under this leadership. The Coughlin Era may be dwindling, but there is little sign that Jerry Reese is leaving any time soon. In a sport full of reactionary thought and shock media tactics, the Giants are staying true to their manifesto.