Giants Draft Recap: A Prince and some paupers
Since the NFL draft is the only topical pro football event that doesn't involve the hair-pulling machinations of the American legal system or labor negotiations (unless you count Rex Ryan's appearance on the Colbert Report, which honestly desrves its own post), we might as well break it down from the Giants' and Jets' perspective. We'll get to Ryan's picks tomorrow, but for now let's examine the Good, the Bad and the Unknown from Big Blue's 2011 draft.
Prince Amukamara: The cornerback from Nebraska and No. 19 overall pick isn't just the Giants' answer to the royal wedding, he's the best corner they've drafted since they took Jason Sehorn with the 59th pick in the 1994 draft. Beyond creating a potential gold mine of snappy headlines for the back pages of the New York tabloids, Prince was the consensus No. 2 cover corner in the draft behind LSU's Patrick Peterson and will be an immediate impact player.
A three-year starter in college, Prince earned the ultimate sign of respect from offensive coordinators in the high-octane Big 12 last year: they completly stopped throwing his way. Prince's 2010 numbers were thus misleading a la Darrelle Revis -- while he didn't have any INTs (after snaring five to go along with 11 pass breakups his junior year), he anchored a Nebraska defense that allowed fewer passing yards than the 2009 squad despite losing All-American defensive tackle and elite pass rusher Ndamukong Suh.
Blessed with size (6-foot-1, 205 lbs) and speed (a blistering 4.38 40-yard dash time), Prince should compete with incumbents Tyrus Thomas and Corey Webster for a starting job this year. Anyone who watched Thomas commit a stupid penalty last year (or worse, witnessed nickel cornerback Aaron Ross get consistenly abused on deep routes) knows this is a good thing.
Greg Jones: As a Northwestern alum, I'm a frequent watcher of Big Ten football games that go unnoticed by most people outside of the Midwest. Thus most gridiron watchers probably missed out on Michigan State's Jones, who has what analysts blithely describe as "a nose for the ball." The middle linebacker had 100+ tackles in each of his last three seasons, peaking with 153 his junior year. "He would be a steal in the fifth round," Grand Rapid Press scribe Greg Johnson wrote on draft day; the Giants nabbed him late in the sixth. Given Big Blue's continuing struggle to replace Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker (current starting hopefuls include Jonathan Goff and the game but painfully unathletic Chase Blackburn), the Giants got serious value with such a low pick.
Defensive depth: Despite finishing seventh in total defense last season, the Giants were only average (17th) in scoring defense, yielding 21.7 points per game. The year before that, they were 13th in total defense but 30th in scoring defense -- in fact, not since 2005 has Big Blue had a higher ranking in points allowed than yards allowed. Why? A lack of depth, which led to fourth-quarter meltdowns (see: Week 15 vs. Philadelphia) and inconsistent play from week to week (according to footballoutsiders.com, the Giants ranked third in Total Defense Valued Over Average but 31st in variance, which measures week-to-week changes in teams' DVOA).
So what did the Giants do? They used their first two draft picks and five of eight overall on defensive players. That's addressing a need in my book.
Only one offesnive lineman: On the flip side of the "addressing your needs" argument is Big Blue's failure to deal with the team's most glaring weakness: offensive line play. Though the Giants gave up only 16 sacks last year, tied for fewest in the league, there were ominous signs of aging from a starting line that averaages 31 years old and 10 years of NFL experience. There's a good chance that three years from now none of the current starters will be in football, and yet the Giants used only one draft choice on an O-Lineman, Indiana tackle James Brewer in the fourth round.
Jerrel Jernigan: Wasting a third-round pick on an undersized slot receiver/kick returner from Troy (the unversity, not the historic location) would have been bad enough before the NFL announced its rule changes for next season. But since the NFL moved up kickoffs to the 35-yard line -- a decision that significantly reduces the value of return position because of the expected spike in touchbacks -- Jernigan's primary value to the team isn't so valuable after all. The Giants knew this and picked him anyway, suggesting that upper management is so underwhelemd by the team's current return corps that they would overvalue a KR who at best will be a limited contributor on offense.
Brewer: The Indiana tackle will probably have a chance to contribute in 2011, particuarly if right tackle Kareem McKenzie continues his heroic push towards 400 pounds. But few draft analaysts tabbed Brewer as an impact player, and it's highly questionable (read: unlikely) that he will be a franchise or even above average lineman.
Marvin Austin: Anytime you use a second-pick on a guy who didn't play AT ALL in 2010, you're taking a big risk. A projected first-round pick after the 2009 college season, the North Carolina defensive tackle was suspended for the entire 2010 season because an agent paid for his travel in the offseason.
Austin will be something of a project, and with the lockout keeping draftees from working with team officials he probably won't make a huge impact right away. BUT (and this is a big but) he has the potential to be a Warren Sapp-type player. He's 310 pounds, he's quick, and he plays with a mean streak reminiscent of the former Buccaneers star whose Twitter handle is 'qbkilla'. While I will miss fellow Northwestern alum Barry Cofield (who will now likely be gone because he's asking for too much money in his new contract), I am champing at the bit to see Austin play.