Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s not blind our eyes to the straight dope – the Giants were a fortunate 7-9 team in 2013. They defeated two teams that concluded the year with an above .500 record (Philadelphia with Barkley and Green Bay with Tolzien), and more often than not the visual evidence wasn’t favorable. Without a significant roster overhaul and talent upgrades at key spots, the immediate future looks grim. The Giants cannot afford to leave any stone unturned during the draft process. Simply put: a homerun is necessary. Drafting at the #12 spot, the Giants are in prime location to draft a player they covet from a potential multitude of positions; priorities being offensive tackle and cornerback.
So you say the offensive line has holes…? The Giants’ musical chairs front earned a Pro Football Focus pass blocking grade of -58.6 (31st), allowing 40 sacks and 83 QB hits. While left tackle Will Beatty is expected to be ready for opening Sunday following surgery to repair a fractured tibia, the job is no longer his to lose. Beatty, who will turn 29 in March, dropped his level dramatically following receipt of a lucrative new $38.75 million contract. He was responsible for 39 hurries, 13 sacks and 7 hits from Eli Manning’s blindside. Tom Coughlin has already spoken candidly about moving Justin Pugh to left tackle.
Notre Dame OT Zach Martin, 6’4 305, has the “look” of a Giants prospect. Martin is mobile, plays with a mean streak and brings along the added element of position versatility. He lined up at both tackle and guard spots during Senior Bowl practice, and according to CBS Sports Dane Brugler, he was one of few linemen to match wits with Aaron Donald. Martin is projected to fall in the late teens of most mocks, but the Giants have never been inclined to concur with the masses. If available, Michigan OT Taylor Lewan is certainly an option here as well.
The cornerback spot is another glaring area of weakness. Staple corner Corey Webster was released, and both Trumaine McBride and Terrell Thomas are unrestricted free agents planning to test the market. Unless the Giants are believers in Jayron Hosley (5’10, 178) as anything more than a nickel back, there is a hole opposite Prince Amukamara. “The Prince” is a secure CB who’s willing to allow the underneath throws and tackle securely. He allowed only two touchdowns on his watch, but intercepted just a single pass.
Add a playmaker like Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert into the mix, and the Giants defensive backfield has all the makings of an upper echelon unit. At 6’0 200, Gilbert has tremendous straight line speed and his natural instinct is to make a play on the football. Todd McShay classifies him as a “ballhawk”. Unlike Amukamara, Gilbert doesn’t press receivers and prefers to use his athleticism in open air. The balancing of skill sets would be ideal. Additionally, he’s an all-world punt returner – a phase sorely lacking productivity. The safer CB prospect is Darqueze Dennard, but he profiles similar to Prince.
Creative possibilities: As the stock of UCLA OLB Anthony Barr continues to dip, he becomes more and more intriguing. While Barr is best suited for a 3-4 system, he possesses the physical gifts and coverage skill to play outside linebacker in a 4-3. And that’s not taking into account his prowess rushing the quarterback. Scouts are becoming increasingly disconcerted by his lack of on-field intelligence and underwhelming ability to disengage from blocks. Nevertheless, his upside is massive.
The Giants have bigger fish to fry of course, but what if Blake Bortles falls in their lap at 12? Whether you consider last season an aberration or not, Eli Manning is no longer beyond reproach. And he’s quickly approaching 2016 free agency. Bortles can make all the throws and is a dynamite mover in the pocket at 6’4 230. His decision making on middle routes can be erratic, however. Food for thought is all…
For me, the pick at #12 is CB Justin Gilbert. Corners with size are simply invaluable in today’s NFL, and he’s a dynamic/electric athlete to boot. While there is risk here, a ceiling Gilbert is a game-changer. The onus is on the Giants scouting department and Jerry Reese to uncover an offensive tackle gem in round two. Neither Zach Martin nor Taylor Lewan is a franchise changing LT.