By whatever statistical measure you choose , the New York Giants have not gotten enough production from their last half-dozen draft classes. The Giants have one player, Jason Pierre-Paul, left from their 2010 NFL draft class. They have zero players left from either their 2011 or 2012 draft classes. They have four players but only two regulars -- Justin Pugh and Johnathan Hankins -- from the 2013 class.
This failing is one of the major reasons the Giants have missed the playoffs the past four seasons and have gone a combined 19-29 while compiling three straight losing records. It is also a big part of the reason the Giants have a new head coach.
"We obviously missed the boat. Some of our draft classes were not as productive as we hoped they would be. I think that's primarily the cause of why we're standing here today talking about this," co-owner John Mara said at the farewell press conference for the departed Tom Coughlin. "The last couple of drafts have been much more productive. But we had a few in there where we just haven't seen the production. Your core players are your third, fourth, fifth-year players. If you look back at those draft classes, there's not a lot of them that are playing right now."
NOTE: This topic isn't being revisited to bash general manager Jerry Reese, to exonerate Coughlin, or to dredge up the "Reese should have been shown the door with TC" argument. That's over. That's done. That is now ancient history. So, let's not do that. It being looked at to see if we can find a reason for what has been a Giants' shortcoming in recent years, and to see if we can figure out how it might be corrected going forward.
The Giants have a new head coach in Ben McAdoo. They have eight new assistant coaches whom the media will get to quiz for the first time on Friday during a "meet the coaches" session at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. What impact will all of those new position coaches have?
In thinking about that question, you have to think about why the Giants have not gotten adequate production from several of their draft classes. There are, in all probability, a multitude of reasons. The GM, the coaching staff, and the players themselves all share in that culpability.
Did Reese draft the wrong players? Did Coughlin and his entrenched, veteran staff of assistant coaches fail to develop players who should have succeeded? Did Reese and Coughlin not agree on the "right" type of players to go forward with? Are the players themselves to blame in some instances? Is there some other reason?
Let's examine the question from a multitude of angles. This will actually be the first of a three-part series delving into the whole idea of player development.
Impact of the CBA
The 2011 lockout ended with the implementation of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that severely restricted the time coaches can spend with players. Roughly, it also corresponds to this Black Hole of player development with the Giants that has been so damaging to the franchise, and so perplexing.
The CBA chopped offseason programs from 14 weeks to nine. It eliminated two-a-day training camp practices. It placed serious limitations on the number of padded practices were allowed, and how much contact could occur in practices. In other words, it seriously limited the amount of time there was to practice real football, and, consequently, the time coaches had to both teach and assess players.
The new CBA "hurts the guys under four years" in the league, says former NFL scout and current Scouting Academy Director Dan Hatman.
Coaches are still complaining about the lack of time they actually get to spend with players, especially bemoaning the idea that this hurts young players who have not yet completely mastered their craft. Still, teams like the Seattle Seahawks are developing young players.
Did Coughlin, oldest coach in the league, struggle to adapt his coaching style and what he required from players to the demands of the new CBA? We can fairly ask that question. Like most coaches, we know he would have rather had more time on the field with his players. Can we really answer it authoritatively? Probably not.
If you believe the "Reese has lost his touch" narrative, you will defend Coughlin. If you believe the "Coughlin hates young players" theory you will fall into the "Coughlin was an old man who couldn't adjust" camp.
I'm not going to argue. Believe what you will.
Drafting the wrong guys?
"Picking players is never an exact science."
No, that quote doesn't come from Reese, though it could. Some variation of it comes from him every year when he discusses personnel. It comes instead from Carl Banks. It is also absolutely correct.
Unfortunate things happen, like those that happened to Chad Jones and Jason Pierre-Paul. Injuries, like the one that happened to David Wilson, derail careers. Sometimes guys just don't live up to what you thought you saw on film when you evaluated them. Sometimes you take a risk like the Giants did with Marvin Austin and Damontre Moore, and those guys bust. Sometimes you take a flier in the fifth round like the Giants did with Devon Kennard, and you hit on a quality player.
We could argue about Wilson. His career was unfortunately ended by his 2013 neck injury though I have always maintained he was never the right running back for a Coughlin-Kevin Gilbride offense. We could argue about Rueben Randle, a receiver with physical gifts who never mastered the option-oriented Gilbride route tree. Arguing about them, though, isn't really the point of this exercise.
Randle, now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Prince Amukamara, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent, will actually be interesting case studies. Perhaps Moore, now with the Miami Dolphins, as well. Since 2010, the only Reese draft pick who has succeeded with another NFL team is 2010 second-round pick Linval Joseph, who signed a rich free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings.
If they aren't still with the Giants, most of those draft picks are out of the league. Many never even got a second chance with a new team. The takeaway from that is that the other 31 teams didn't think much of many of the players the Giants selected.
There is often a temptation to select a raw athlete and try to teach him the finer points of the game, to "develop" his actual football ability. Hatman says the new CBA makes that more difficult.
"I think you should try to go get football players. If you strengthen their strength, great," Hatman said. "Not everybody can take their weaknesses and make them strengths."
Blame the players?
The reality is that with less time spent under the tutelage of their position coaches and more time to train on their own, whether or not players actually get better is largely up to them. Because of this, and because you can never really be sure how badly the desire to excel burns within a player, Hatman says "It's difficult to assess how players will develop in the National Football League."
Some players absolutely knock themselves out in the offseason, leaving no stone unturned in an effort to improve their skills and their bodies. Some guys do just enough to get by. It's pretty easy to figure out which of those guys are going to get better.
"I truly do think that when a guy wants to get better he will do anything to seek a way to get better," said Duke Manyweather, an offensive line specialist and sports performance consultant. "Some guys get better because they want to. Some guys stay the same because they take a more lackadaisical approach to it."
Banks, a 1984 first-round draft choice and two-time Super Bowl champion who does analysis on Giants' radio broadcasts, says there are players all around the league satisfied to be what he calls "ERW" guys. What are ERW guys? They are players happy to do no more than eat, ride, and warm up.
"It's not uncommon around the league for guys to figure out how not to play," said Banks.
Banks said the Giants "have got to get rid of the scholarship mentality" of drafted players feeling protected by the front office rather than knowing they had to to earn their place on the roster.
"My only criticism of him (Reese) of late is that he held on to some of these guys too long," Banks said.
Perhaps the Giants have begun to change that "scholarship" pattern, moving on from guys like Moore, Adrien Robinson, Randle, Eric Herman, and others.
Here's to hoping I have managed to do this without you reading, or just seeing the headline, and thinking "Here goes Ed bashing Reese again." Because if that's what you take away from this, you have missed the entire point. The point isn't to blame anyone. It's actually to spread the blame on a case-by-case basis to everyone involved. There are many factors leading to why a player does or does not make it, and with the help of people who understand how the process works the idea here was to outline them.
On Wednesday, we will use the offensive line as a case study of how the Giants have come up short on Day 3 of the draft. On Thursday, we will delve into how some of the new assistant coaches might impact the organization's ability to develop players.