At the conclusion of the 2015 NFL season, New York Giants co-owner John Mara didn’t mince words regarding his disappointment with the team’s third straight losing season.
“Jerry knows this is on him,” Mara said, referencing general manager Jerry Reese, the man responsible for putting together the roster, but who has seen several of his draft classes fizzle out faster than day-old soda pop.
Largely because of the gambles taken by Reese’s personnel department, the Giants have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, the last three of which have seen the club finish with a losing record.
“You can’t hide from the record,” Mara said. “It’s up to (Reese) now to get it fixed because the last three years are just not acceptable.”
With his bosses’ backing behind him (Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch), Reese and a contingency of front office personnel which includes new head coach Ben McAdoo and his staff will get to work at this week’s NFL combine starting on Wednesday.
The big question on everyone’s mind, besides of course who the Giants will draft with the No. 10 overall pick, their second-straight top-10 draft pick in as many years, is what exactly will be different in terms of the how the front office will select talent.
We won’t know for sure what philosophical changes the Giants are planning to put into play until after the draft, but here are three potential areas to watch for as reports of interest in various players begin to filter out of Indianapolis.
Abandoning the Prototype
Run down the list of players drafted at any position by the Giants in the Reese era and chances are you’ll see a trend emerge regarding height, weight, speed and other measurables.
At defensive end, the Giants have yet to draft a player under 6’3” tall. Typically, they have gone for players weighing at least 270 pounds, though in Damontre Moore, whom they envisioned as a “joker” (a defensive end who could also rush from an outside linebacker position), they deviated from their prototype weight, as Moore was listed at 250 pounds.
At cornerback, the Prince Amukamara (R1-2011), Aaron Ross (R1-2007) and Terrell Thomas (R2-2008) all became starters. What did they all have in common? They were all listed at 6’0” and weighed between 190 and 210 pounds.
Would a smaller cornerback such as Mackensie Alexander (5’10” and 195 pounds) of Clemson or Vernon Hargreaves III (5’11”199 pounds) of Florida, ranked one and two respectively by NFL Draft Scout, receive consideration?
Stay tuned to find out the answer to this and other simialr questions regarding the Giants break from tradition.
More First-round Seniors
Another trait that seems to have emerged with the Giants’ draft of late is their penchant for taking underclassmen.
Since 2007, the Giants have shown a tendency to favor underclassmen in the first round, selecting seven draft-eligible juniors and only two seniors in that all-important round, those being comebacks Aaron Ross in 2007 and Amukamara.
Why is that significant? As Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller noted last year, many of the young prospects are often not as ready for life in the NFL as they might think they are in terms of maturity, technique, and skill.
Offensive lineman Ereck Flowers had his share of issues, mostly due to inconsistent and/or undeveloped technique. According to official NFL stats, Flowers was the most penalized member of the Giants last season, drawing 10 flags, which included three false starts, three offensive holding, and one unnecessary roughness.
Safety Kenny Phillips struggled to crack into the starting lineup as a rookie, as did running back David Wilson, both of whom were underclassmen.
Even the great Odell Beckham Jr., a phenomenal talent and a fierce competitor, still has some maturity issues to overcome as he famously demonstrated in the Giants’ Week 15 game against Carolina in which he allowed Josh Norman to get inside his head and cause him to lose his cool.
Justin Pugh has been an exception, someone who came in about as polished as was hoped for despite skipping his final year of eligibility.
While the payoff with taking younger players is that you usually get them for an extra year, stocking up on youth is great if you’re in a rebuilding mode.
The Giants have claimed that they weren’t in a rebuilding move, that they were trying to be competitive and make it to the Super Bowl. Their heavy reliance on underclassmen in the draft, many of whom took a little longer to iron out the wrinkles in their games, would seem to indicate otherwise.
Taking a Risk
Another potential change we could see with the Giants’ draft strategy this year involves taking a risk on players with character issues.
In 2007, the first draft of Reese’s tenure as a general manager, the team took a flyer in running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who had run afoul of the law as a juvenile, issues that carried over to his adult life when he had to serve jail time related to those legal issues.
Still, the team made it crystal clear to Bradshaw when they drafted him what their expectations were. To his credit, once Bradshaw fulfilled his legal obligations, he turned out to be a solid contributor for several years, including in Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI.
On the flip side, the Giants tried desperately to make things work with uber-talented safety Will Hill, who went undrafted due to off-field issues. Unfortunately, Hill was suspended three times in as many seasons, leaving the Giants with no choice but to cut him.
That’s why the interview process with those players with off-field red flags is going to be more important than ever. They Giants need playmakers and while no one is perfect, how much will the team be willing to roll the dice on an exceptional talent such as defensive end Noah Spence, whom NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock described as “one of the riskiest guys in the draft, but … also one of the best edge rushers.”
If Spence is willing to take ownership of his past mistakes and pledge a commitment to change into a solid citizen both in the locker room and off the field, the Giants owe it to themselves and to their fan base to roll the dice on Spence.
Making it Right
Whatever discussions ownership had with the personnel department about how they plan to operate moving forward, it’s now or never for Reese.
“We need to look at where have we missed the boat on some of these things, where we can do better, what do we need to change, are our standards too rigid, are they not rigid enough?” Mara said.
It all starts Wednesday with Reese, who still has his bosses’ confidence that he can find the personnel necessary to help dig the Giants out of the hole in which the team currently finds itself.