The New York Giants’ defense was dominant in 2016, but they were hamstrung by an offense that appeared broken in comparison to previous years.
Unless Eli Manning was finding Odell Beckham Jr. for a game-breaking play, the Giants could move the ball but rarely did much of anything with their offensive possessions. And while they have taken steps to improve their weaknesses with the free agency additions of Brandon Marshall, Rhett Ellison, and D.J. Fluker, the Giants still have work to do.
That means that they have to take offensive players with their premium draft picks, right?
The Giants do take their roster needs into account when drafting, but if there is a player in a higher row, they won’t force the pick of a player they have rated lower based simply on need. And in the 2017 draft, it is entirely possible that the top player or players on their board will be on the defensive side of the ball. This year’s draft is remarkably talented at the cornerstone positions of edge rusher and cornerback.
Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee) - Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon played far too many snaps in 2016. And while both are well-conditioned athletes who are good enough that coaches don’t want to take them off the field, they need the rest. Barnett has struggled through illness and a hamstring injury in the draft process, but his tape shines on its own.
He is technically sound with a great motor and short-area quickness, and that lead to him being the most consistent pass rusher in the nation over the last three years. He is also a solid run defender, which would give Giants’ coaches the confidence to take JPP or Vernon off the field.
Taco Charlton (DE, Michigan) - Charlton fits the Giants’ physical archetypes for a defensive end to a T. Big, powerful, with long arms and good athleticism, he has plenty of upside. He is still putting the pieces together as a defender after struggling to find a consistent place on the field when Michigan played a 3-4 defense. That being said, if Charlton can unlock his potential, his upside is impressive, and he already has one of the highest sack conversion rates in the class.
Jordan Willis (DE, Kansas State) - Jordan Willis is one of those cases where scouts thought they knew what they had, but his combine workout forced them back to the tape. The initial impression is that Willis had a good first step but was a frustratingly linear player with average athleticism. That impression was tattered by an incredible workout that saw the former Wildcat out-perform vaunted freak Jadeveon Clowney in every event they both performed.
Going back to the tape that athleticism flashed through, but a commitment to playing contain and an over-reliance on an arm-over (“swim”) move muted his agility and compromised his pad level (and exposed his chest to blockers). With some coaching to help with his pad level, move choice, and balance, Willis could be too much for tackles to handle.
He was once thought of as a mid to late Day 2 pick, and may still be, but players with his level of athleticism tend to not last long in the draft.
Tyus Bowser (OLB/EDGE, Houston) - Bowser isn’t on the national radar as a potential Giant, but he has worked his way into the conversation as a possible first-round pick. The Giants need athleticism on their defense and a pass rusher who can beat blockers quickly and force quarterbacks to make mistakes. Bowser is the top SPARQ athlete at the edge rusher position, so he certainly combines athleticism with the size the Giants like on defense. He is powerful, agile, and fluid in space, and actually still has upside as a pass rusher despite finishing third in the AAC in sacks. He is also a young senior at just 22 years old, combining experience at a young age.
For the Giants, Bowser would step in immediately at the SAM position and has the potential to line up as a defensive end on nickel downs. He could be the player for Spags’ defense that the Giants were hoping Clint Sintim would be.
(Yes, I know he was drafted after Spags left for the Rams, but the defensive scheme was supposed to be mostly unchanged.)
Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt) - Cunningham is seen by many as a option if the Giants’ preferred targets are off the board when the 23rd pick in the draft comes around. Cunningham has the size the Giants like in their defenders and would be a good fit as the “WILL” linebacker thanks to his ability to drop in coverage and willingness to come downhill in run support.
He is something of an unknown as a pass rusher, and for some reason Vanderbilt rarely sent him after the quarterback. That being said, the Giants could still use his ability to cover tight ends and running backs over the middle.
Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida) - Davis would be a bit of a surprise for the Giants at 23rd overall, but indications are that they have some interest in him as the draft draws closer. Davis is the leader of a good Florida defense, playing with passion and aggression. He has good range in coverage and comes downhill with a vengeance. That aggression can get him into trouble, but Steve Spagnuolo will always rather a player make a mistake by being overaggressive than being timid.
More worrying is his extensive injury history, which forced him to miss multiple games in 3 of 4 years at Florida. We’ll see if the Giants believe his upside is more enticing than his injuries are scary.
Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU) - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie surprised folks on the outside by not only willingly transitioning to a nickel/slot role as the secondary’s “fireman”, but also transitioning well. However, DRC has become a bit injury prone and he is certainly getting up in years. While he should be able to call the Giants “home” for as long as he is able, there is no telling how long he will be able to play at a high level.
White doesn’t have anywhere near DRC’s athleticism, but he is capable of blanketing receivers out of the slot or out wide and excels in man coverage. Those two traits would give the Giants plenty of versatility and help keep one of the strengths of their team deep and talented.
Chidobe Awuzie (CB, Colorado) - Awuzie is a compact (6 foot, 202 pound) corner, but he has a twitchy athleticism, fluid hips, and an attacking mentality. Like White, Awuzie can play in both the slot and outside, and he can play in both man and zone coverage. In the words of Jerry Reese, “If you have two corners, you’re one short.” Awuzie would be a bit of a surprise pick in the first round, but only because of the depth of talent in this draft. He is a natural slot corner with the versatility to play outside, and could grow into the third “starter” at corner when DRC’s time is finally up.
Obi Melifonwu (DB, UConn) - Whatever they are feeding the UConn Huskies’ defensive backs certainly gives them ups. Byron Jones made waves by jumping out of the gym two years ago, and Melifonwu followed suit this past year. Melifonwu only has one year of really good tape, but at 6’4”, 225 pounds he has the athleticism to play corner if necessary, let alone safety. The Giants already have an intimidating secondary, but adding a player with Melifonwu’s physical upside might push it over the top to “legendary”.
Budda Baker (FS, Washington) - People will overlook Baker due to his size. These are probably a lot of the same people who overlooked Earl Thomas back in 2010. Baker is a true free safety who is comfortable as a rangy centerfielder with the quickness to come down and play nickel corner if necessary.
He is undersized at 5’9”, 195 pounds, but he is fast and aggressive to come down and make plays in space or in run support. The Giants might like Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams, but Baker’s ability to keep Spags’ library of audaciously disguised blitzes shouldn’t be overlooked.