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New York Giants’ top 10 failed first-round draft choices

For every Odell Beckham Jr. there is a Ron Dayne

NFL Draft Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Every Giants’ fan that follows the team closely understands that there are plums that can be extracted from the later rounds. And past rosters are full of them: LB Pat Hughes (Round 9), DE’s Justin Tuck (3) and George Martin (11), RB Dave Meggett (5), TE Mark Bavaro (4), LB’s Gary Reasons (4), Devon Kennard (5) and Harry Carson (4), OT’s Doug Reisenberg (6) and Karl Nelson (3), OG David Diehl (5) plus LS Zak DeOssie (4).

And whether it is luck, great scouting, the system the drafted player becomes engaged, injuries to starters, or simply the powers-that-be grasp exactly what they are doing, those later round guys are an important part of the chemistry to any franchise.

However, the first round is where the glory is. And sometimes the goat. When you get a first round gem like QB Phil Simms, WR Odell Beckham, Jr., LB Lawrence Taylor, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, RB Rodney Hampton, OG Justin Pugh and LB Carl Banks everyone in every department gets a high-five. But on the darker side of the first round – the busts – that sensation simply becomes sour. In order to progress as a football team, you must hit on those high round choices - especially the heralded first round.

Coaches have lost their jobs over the lack of top round players not performing to the standards which their scouting sheets said they would occur. And multiple years of futility can eventually cost the General Manager his job as well.

The Giants have had their fair share of both success stories and bad lineage. But which first round choices were in fact the worst options since the merger year of 1970? It only works in a list.

10) 2001 CB Will Allen

Like every NFL club, you cannot have too many blue-chip cornerbacks. Allen was the second CB selected in the first round taken at slot number 22. At the time, the defensive backfield consisted of Phillippi Sparks and Dave Thomas plus Sam Garnes and Shaun Williams at the safety spots.

Allen started 12 games his rookie year at left corner. Things looked rosy as he made 41 tackles and scooped four INTs. His playing time, however, dwindled the next two seasons with only three INTs combined. He won the starting position for 2004 and 2005 and had 138 tackles with a single INT, but zero picks in 2005. The Giants decided they would not re-sign him and instead inked free-agent Sam Madison to bookend with CB Corey Webster.

Right after the Giants selected Allen, the Indianapolis Colts took WR Reggie Wayne and the San Diego Chargers grabbed QB Drew Brees.

In November of 2016, Allen pled guilty to running a $35 million Ponzi scheme that stemmed from making fraudulent loans to numerous pro athletes. He is scheduled to be sentenced this month.

New York Giants vs Seattle Seahawks
William Joseph with the Giants in 2006.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

9) 2003 DT William Joseph

The Giants had Michael Strahan and Kenny Holmes anchored at the defensive end positions in the 4-3 defense with veteran Keith Hamilton entrenched at the right tackle spot. The problem was the left tackle was a virtual revolving door with Robert Harris, Christian Peter, Cornelius Griffin and Norman Hand. The thought process was find a young guy who would cement the position on an already talented defensive front.

Hamilton was at the end of his career and was about to retire after the 2003 season. Joseph was taken with the 25th pick in the first round as well as DE Osi Umenyiora in round two. Joseph became the longest contract holdout for a Giants first round pick before he signed a five-year deal worth $6.95 million. He played sparingly his rookie campaign. The Giants then signed free-agent DT Fred Robbins from the Minnesota Vikings who instantly took over the RDT spot. This effected the left side to be open for competition. During offseason conditioning, Joseph suffered a torn pectoral muscle while lifting weights that required surgery. Hand was announced the starter but Joseph had four starts in 2004.

In 2005 he started 10 of 16 games but missed six games due to elbow and then ankle injuries. His stats were 19 tackles and two sacks. The following season he suffered a deep tissue bruise to his leg. At this time head coach Tom Coughlin was reported saying he felt Joseph hadn’t lived up to his first round potential. He played in every game in 2006 with three starts, 21 tackles and two sacks but was beat out by rookie Barry Cofield. After the first game in 2007 Joseph suffered a back injury and was placed on season-ending IR.

He was allowed to hit the free-agent market. Instead of Joseph, the Giants should have opted for TE Jason Witten.

8) 1985 RB George Adams

Adams was a can’t-miss prospect at running back. While at Kentucky, he amassed 2,648 yards and 25 TDs while only starting two seasons. After a 5-0 start, his Kentucky team would go 9-3-0 and win their bowl game in Adams’ senior year. In the first round, the Giants selected him with the 19th pick.

He rushed for a respectable 498 yards rushing and 389 receiving yards with four TDs his rookie season backing up Joe Morris. He was placed on IR his second year and then started seven games at fullback in 1987. When the club signed FB Maurice Carthon from the United States Football League and Morris still entrenched in the starting RB position, Adams became regulated as a permanent backup for the next two seasons where he only gained 105 rushing yards with one start. He then spent two seasons with the New England Patriots in a similar role.

Instead of the Adams pick, the Giants could have taken QB Randall Cunningham and dodged all the horrid things he would later impose on the boys in blue.

7) 1991 FB Jarrod Bunch

Drafted strictly as a fullback with the 27th and final pick in the first round after their Super Bowl 25 victory over the Buffalo Bills, the 6-foot-3, 248-pound Bunch was a surprise pick to almost everyone. Carthon was still the starter at FB while the backfield was a logjam with Otis Anderson, Rodney Hampton, Dave Meggett and backup Lewis Tillman.

Bunch’s college numbers at Michigan were what a fullback’s stats should be with only 1,346 rushing yards during a four-year career. He was exceptionally intelligent and a very good blocker with nice hands for a big man. He signed a three year deal worth $2 million with a $920,000 signing bonus. Coach Bill Parcells quit three weeks after the draft. Bunch played mainly on special teams his rookie year, but started 13 games at FB his second campaign with a 4.8 yard average.

In 1993, he tore the MCL in his right knee and played sparingly during the season despite knee pain. The fullback position wasn’t being used in new coach Dan Reeves’ system. Before the next season, he had surgeries on both knees plus his feet. Two weeks into training camp, he was cut.

Six picks after taking Bunch, QB Brett Favre was taken by the Atlanta Falcons. Also selected later were RB Ricky Watters, OT Erik Williams and CB Aeneas Williams. Both Favre and Williams are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

6) 1972 CB Eldridge Small & DT Larry Jacobson

Every Giants’ fan realizes that the franchise became afflicted with the “Wilderness Years” in the late 1960s, all of the 1970s and the early part of the 1980s. In the 1972 draft, the Giants ascent to respectability was supposed to begin with the fact that they owned the 17th and 24th picks in the first round. Unfortunately, neither panned out.

Three slots after the Pittsburgh Steelers selected RB Franco Harris, the Giants took Eldridge Small. He was a highly-rated defensive back despite being from Texas A&I, an NAIA school. He also played wide receiver and was a return man. Texas A&I had captured two consecutive national championships as Small scored 20 TDs while also playing cornerback. He was named All-Lone Star Conference an amazing three consecutive seasons.

When the Giants drafted Small, he was listed as a wide receiver but was switched to CB during his rookie camp. He played three seasons with only 10 starts and a single interception. In 1975, Small was not achieving success with the defensive schemes as the coaches had hoped and showed up for camp out-of-shape. He was then traded to the Browns for a conditional draft pick. The Browns had just lost their defensive leader Thom Darden to a knee injury and were down a CB. Just weeks into Browns camp, Small was cut. The deal with the Giants was contingent upon Small making the team so no draft choice was awarded and the Giants were out another first-round draft pick.

Jacobson was an All-American DE from the two-time defending national champion Nebraska. He won the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman. The Giants coached the Senior Bowl to which Jacobson was a roster member and loved his work ethic. He started his rookie season, but just prior to his sophomore season he stepped on a piece of glass by a swimming pool and severed a tendon in his foot. That placed him on IR for the entire season. He had back issues his third year along with a lingering foot issue and then broke his leg. He was never able to pass another physical. In his three-year career he had 13 starts.

In picking Small and Jacobson, the Giants passed on RB Lawrence McCutcheon, OG Conrad Dobler and WR Cliff Branch.

Tyrone Wheatley #28
Tyrone Wheatley

5) 1995 RB Tyrone Wheatley

RB Rodney Hampton was only 26 years old and in the final year of his contract when the club drafted Wheatley with the 17th selection in the first round. Still on the board were CB Ty Law, OT Korey Stringer and LB Derrick Brooks, who would make the Hall of Fame. All three were positions of need for the Giants at the time, so many questioned why they would take a young buck at a position that they already had great success. It was reported the Giants War Room was testy regarding the pick as Reeves stated later, “it was the most argumentative place I’ve ever been.” Plus, the club already had veterans Herschel Walker and Charles Way.

Wheatley’s college totals were a point of contention. Playing in a tough conference such as the Big 10 and a successful program like Michigan, if an athlete can produce huge numbers there he should be able to play big-time football in the NFL. At Michigan, Wheatley netted 47 rushing TDs and was First-Team All-Big 10 three different years plus Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year. To top it off, he was also an All-American hurdles champion.

So, after a 17-day holdout he signed a five-year $2.9 million contract with a $2.3 million signing bonus. In his first practice, he strained a muscle in his gluteal area. He then sustained a rib injury in training camp. He later had two ankle injuries while he played sparingly at running back and mainly returned kickoffs.

The following season he had injuries to his ankle and foot plus a concussion and remained a kickoff returner. In 1998, veteran Gary Brown was brought onboard as depth. In training camp, Wheatley strained the flexor muscle in his right hip. The injury marked the fourth consecutive season he became injured in training camp.

All the while he was a constant distraction as well as being injured. He fell asleep in a team meeting. He was late for the treatment of an injury. He admitted to giving up one season after being benched after five games. He kept to himself in the locker room. He was a slacker in off-season conditioning programs. He became outraged and sulked when Hampton went down with a knee injury and rookie Tiki Barber was awarded the starting position instead.

After the 1998 season the Giants traded Wheatley to the Dolphins for a seventh-round draft pick. The Dolphins cut him in training camp and he then signed with the Raiders where he played six productive seasons. He is currently the running backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, joining other former Giants’ coaches Perry Fewell, Pat Flaherty and Joe DeCamillis.

4) 1992 TE Derek Brown

As with any offensive-minded team, the Giants in 1992 were coached by former running backs coach Ray Handley who had been installed as head coach after Parcells retired version 1.0. Only in his third season, Howard Cross was the club’s starting tight end but was mainly viewed as a blocker. The team assessed that they needed more of a receiving tight end and also wanted to experiment with some two TE sets.

Brown did not set the college football world on fire while at Notre Dame as witnessed by his 37 receptions for 545 yards and a mere five TDs his final two seasons wearing the golden dome. That did not stop the Giants from taking him with the 14th pick in the first round. In his three years with the club, he only gained 87 receiving yards, zero TDs with zero starts. He basically was regulated to special teams.

He was not protected in the 1995 Expansion Draft and was taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars where he spent the year on IR. He would start 22 games for the Jags over two seasons, then played for the Raiders and finally the Arizona Cardinals.

Needless to say, the Giants drafted a poor player. Instead, they could have had their pick from CB Dale Carter, WR’s Carl Pickens and Jimmy Smith, S Darren Woodson or LB Levon Kirkland.

3) 1974 OG John Hicks

Hicks was a two-time All-American at Ohio State, twice named to the First-Team All-Big 10, and won both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award in his senior year. Plus, he finished second in the Heisman voting, something no other offensive lineman has done then or since. He blocked for Archie Griffin, John Brockington and Pete Johnson. And, he was a can’t-miss prospect as a starting guard.

The Giants were in dire need of offensive lineman and took Hicks third overall in the first round. He would go on to become the NFC Rookie of the Year beating out Ed “Too Tall” Jones while cementing the right guard spot. Midway through the 1976 season and only 27 years old, the Giants traded him to the Pittsburgh Steelers for 30-year-old center Jim Clack and journeyman WR Ernie Pough. The club had been dissatisfied with Hicks when he took his sweet time coming back to action with a leg injury and a rift between him and the coaching staff sprang up. There were rumors he had asked to be traded. He never suited up for the Steelers.

Later in the first round of the 1974 draft after the Hicks selection, the Steelers took future Hall of Fame WR Lynn Swann. In that same draft, Pittsburgh selected LB Jack Lambert, WR John Stallworth and C Mike Webster.

Giants v Eagles
Ron Dayne with the Giants in 2004.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

2) 2000 RB Ron Dayne

The Giants just have not had much luck with drafting a running back in the first round. Yes, they struck gold with Tucker Fredrickson in 1965, Rodney Hampton in 1990 and Frank Gifford in 1952. But the list of RB failures in the first round is very lengthy.

Dayne is one of those college players that will always be mentioned as one of the best ever at any position, yet could not adapt that success to the pro game. As a four-year starter at Wisconsin, the “Great Dayne” had 1,220 career carries and set the record for most career rushing yards with 6,397 plus another 728 yards in bowl games. He also scored 63 TDs. As a senior, he won six individual awards including the Heisman Trophy. He was named All-American, the AP Player of the Year plus the Big-10 Player of the Year.

The Giants took Dayne with the 11th pick in the first round after not being satisfied with the production of starting RB Gary Brown. Tiki Barber took Brown’s place and the team took Dayne to compliment Barber’s quickness with Dayne’s power-style of rushing. He had an impressive 770 yards as a rookie with five TDs and the club had something going with the “Thunder and Lightning” package. The following season he netted 690 rushing yards with seven TDs. After some weight gain, the next two seasons he saw diminished playing time. After only gaining 179 yards in 2004, the Giants did not try to re-sign him.

He spent one season with the Denver Broncos and then two years with the Houston Texans, but at no time did he ever break 1,000 yards in a single season much less provide strong sustenance with the RB position.

Shortly after Dayne was picked, the Seattle Seahawks selected RB Shaun Alexander.

1) 2012 RB David Wilson

The Giants were in need of a complementary running back to starter Ahmad Bradshaw and had their sights on Doug Martin when they selected 32nd in the first round. However, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers swooped in and took Martin one slot earlier. In what most see as a knee-jerk maneuver, the Giants then selected Wilson even though he was projected as the 47th prospect and a middle second round pick.

Wilson had played all four seasons at Virginia Tech and had a tremendous senior season with 1,709 rushing yards and a 5.76 yards-per-carry average. He was ACC Offensive Player of the Year. His numbers at the scouting combine were impressive including a 4.49 time in the 40 and top performance in the vertical jump. However, he was known as a below-average blocker.

In his first NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys, Wilson lost a fumble on his second carry. He played sparingly until the December 9 matchup against the New Orleans Saints when he gained 327 all-purpose yards with three TDs. The following year, he suffered spinal stenosis in the fifth game. After neck surgery, he was informed that any future injuries to his neck could be life-threatening and advised to not play football again. He then announced his retirement. His career stats with the Giants are 504 rushing yards, 115 attempts, 5 TDs, 4.15 yards average within less than two years.

It may seem unfair to list a player as a complete bust due to a career-threatening injury, but the facts speak for themselves not matter how unfortunate the circumstances are. Not far after the Wilson pick, other players taken were QB Russell Wilson, WR Alshon Jeffery and OT Cordy Glenn.