Free-agency is an important aspect of any National Football League (NFL) team and can provide a club the ability to fill some glaring holes. But every coach and general manager is quick to access that the best method to build a proficient caliber team at all positions is through the annual college draft.
The first three rounds of the draft are critical to the success of any franchise. That is not to say that good - or even great - players cannot be found in the later rounds. This fact is evident on many a current NFL roster such as QB Tom Brady and WR Antonio Brown (6th round), CB's Richard Sherman and Josh Norman (both 5th round), fourth rounders' WR Brandon Marshall, RB Devonta Freeman and OG Josh Sitton, to name a few.
However, the first three rounds are vital to the foundation of every NFL club. Each team must hit on those first three players in those vital opening rounds and continue to be successful in those rounds to build a core nucleus for a successful squad.
Think about it: if the Giants kept all three players from those first three rounds for five consecutive seasons, those 15 players would represent 28 percent of the 53-man roster. And the bonus is that each player would be under 30 years of age. A very solid core indeed. Two more years would make up almost 40 percent.
Nonetheless, there is a severe predicament in the Giants drafting system; one until now may not have been crystal as to make aware of its seriousness. And trouble.
The third round.
Since the merger with the American Football League in 1970, very few players taken in the third round of the annual college draft by the New York Football Giants have emerged as anything but a crutch, a bust, a liability, a complete disappointment or a curse.
The Giants' third round. The "Black Hole."
It's true. From the merger year of 1970 until last year's draft, a total of 41 players were selected in the third round, including two number three picks in 1989 and 2009. Only one of those 41 became a Pro Bowler. Yes, one. And only a handful of others became key contributors at some juncture.
The rest? Sucked down into this huge black funnel with hard-earned funds without much of a return.
The third round. Bust city.
There are two players taken in round three, however, that without their contributions to two separate Super Bowls the outcome probably would have been different. QB Jeff Hostetler (1984) was the winning signal caller in Super Bowl XXV, played admirably and was instrumental in defeating Buffalo. Who could argue that the Giants might not have won Super Bowl XLVI without that one key catch by Mario Manningham (2008)?
Four other players the club selected in the third round, TE Visanthe Shiancoe (2003), OT Roman Oben (1996), WR Ed McCaffrey (1991) and TE Jamie Williams (1983), had several sterling seasons as pro football players - just on the roster of other teams. McCaffrey would go on to capture three Super Bowl titles with the Denver Broncos whereas Oben was the starting LT for the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. Shiancoe had 2,424 yards and 24 TDs for the Minnesota Vikings. Williams never played a single game for the Giants but would play 12 NFL seasons.
And the lone true gem? Justin Tuck, selected in 2005.
Let's examine the most recent 10 third-round draft selections to prove this point before venturing into the deep past.
DE Damontre Moore (2013) had an atrocious tenure and was subsequently cut. WR Jerrel Jernigan (2011) was touted as a fast kick returner, only to fumble his way off the roster. LB Gerris Wilkinson (2006) played mainly on special teams before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who also cut him. CB Jayron Hosley's (2012) claim to fame are highlight videos showing him chasing someone from behind. DE Owa Odighizuwa (2016) was hurt for most of his rookie season and ended up on IR. DT Jay Alford (2007) played sparingly on defense before being cut after three seasons. WR Ramses Barden and TE Travis Beckum (both 2009) were peddled as saviors to the offense. Neither had any impact and both were cut after four seasons. S Chad Jones (2010) had great promise only to be involved in a horrible traffic accident.
Remember wide receivers Ron Dixon (2000), John Mistler (1981), Danny Buggs (1975) and Brian Alford (1998)? Yep, all taken in the third round. Mistler played four seasons and ended up in the USFL. Alford was cut after two seasons and had only two receptions. Dixon's claim-to-fame was the Giants only score in Super Bowl XXXV, a 97-yard kick return. Buggs was cut partway through his second season.
Recollect running back Gary Downs (1994) or TE Dan Campbell (1999)? Downs was waived after his rookie season. Campbell became expendable after three seasons when future Pro Bowler TE Jeremy Shockey was taken in the first round of the 2002 draft.
The offensive line was not kind either. Both C Brian Johnston (1985) and OT Jeff Hatch (2002) were gone after their second year for Big Blue.
What about the defensive side of the ball? Try LB's Ryan Phillips (1997), Greg Mark (1990), Ronnie Hornsby (1971) and Marcus Buckley (1993). Defensive line picks have been DTs Myron Lapka (1980), Rich Glover (1973) and DE Rick Dvorak (1974). And the third-round defensive backfield? Try Will Peterson (2001), Sheldon White (1988) and Rodney Young (1995).
Hornsby lasted four seasons and played sparingly. Phillips was a starter two of his four seasons with the team. Buckley played in 101 regular season games with only 25 starts over seven seasons. Mark never played a down for the Giants. Dvorak was cut after three seasons whereas Lapka left after one season. Glover was the Outland Trophy winner his senior season at Nebraska, but after one failed year with the Giants ended up in the World Football League.
Young lasted four seasons with zero starts. Peterson was released due to stress fractures in his lower back and White played only two seasons.
There have been several players that had decent careers while with the Giants. DE John Washington (1986) played in 100 games with 40 starts during his six-year term. TE Aaron Pierce (1992) was a roster member for seven seasons mainly as a blocker but netted only five touchdowns.
And yes, there have been some really good players who had major contributions to the Giants on-field success, but the list is exceedingly limited: OG Bob Kratch and S Greg Jackson (both 1989), DT Jay Bromley (2014), WR Stephen Baker (1987), OT KarlNelson (1983) and DT John Mendenhall (1972), along with Manningham and Hostetler.
What is quite odd is that many third rounders before the merger were difference makers. Players such as LB Sam Huff (1956), RB Joe Morrison (1959), C John Cannady (1947), QB Don Heinrich (1952) and DE Rosey Grier (1955) would become key components and are all famous New York Giants.
And get this: Third-round failures have affected every single GM for the Giants.
George Young, considered by many to be the greatest the franchise has employed warranted by his five-time NFL Executive of the Year awards, eight playoff berths and three Super Bowl titles, selected 18 players in the "Black Hole" and had 13 busts during his 19-year tenure. Ray Walsh, the GM in the years 1970-1973, took two flops out of three drafts. Ernie Accorsi (1998-2007) procured nine players in the third round with eight fiascoes. Andy Robustelli (1974-1978) selected two duds and smartly traded away three other third-round picks. And current GM Jerry Reese? Nine athletes taken with seven failures.
The third round of doom has affected all. Apparently, there is no escape. It is inevitable that whoever the team takes will be a wasted pick, wasted money, wasted time, wasted effort, wasted scouting and another wasted opportunity for the Giants to grow their roster and get back to respectability.
So what is the solution? Simple: trade away every third round choice - every year. What should they get in return? Depends.
Every single pick in every round has a numerical value. GMs use this table to determine an apples-to-apples value. For example, with this year's draft, the Giants hold the eighth slot in the third round (71st overall). In order to get fair value, the team could trade their 2016 and 2017 third-round picks and a fourth rounder for someone's second-round pick. Or one third round selection for two fourth round picks plus a fifth.
The tricky part of trading the following year's picks is that the values go up and down depending on what part of which round the franchise selects. Currently, the Giants' third-round slot has a value of 235 points. At the end of the same round, the values go down around 100 points. This could mean another club could gain -- or lose -- value depending on the final outcome of the 2017 standings. That is why you see most trades happen in the same year's draft.
The Giants have a problem, and maybe don't even know it exists. Why has almost every third-round pick become this void of player augmentation?
Only the football gods know.