The best way to compete in today's NFL is to have quality drafts and sprinkle in free agent signings to fill the remaining holes. When Jerry Reese first took over as General Manager of the New York Giants, he had a great draft in 2007. A draft that included immediate contributors in Aaron Ross, Steve Smith, Jay Alford, Zak DeOssie, Kevin Boss, Michael Johnson and Ahmad Bradshaw. Reese hit the jackpot, but injuries and free agency tore that draft class apart, with the exception of DeOssie and Bradshaw. Since then Reese's drafts have had a lot of misses, and have left the team with a ton of holes. Why have his drafts fallen so far off the map?
“There are a few cases where we took a chance, knowing we were taking a chance, knowing if we hit on this guy maybe we would knock it out of the park and if we missed, we missed. And we missed entirely," co-owner John Mara said recently. "That’s going to happen. There’s no question over the past few years we’ve missed on some of them for whatever reason.”
Injuries are one major factor, and the Giants have had a string of bad luck on draft pick injuries. Kenny Phillips and Terrell Thomas looked like they were on their way to be perennial Pro Bowlers, but injuries diminished their skill set. Chad Jones was a phenomenal athlete that looked like a perfect fit for the Giants defense, but a late night car crash ended his career before it started. Even before he left to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, it was unlikely Steve Smith would have returned to his once Pro Bowl form.
The Giants have also had a propensity for drafting potential instead of more finished projects. An example of this is in 2009, when the New York Giants drafted wide receiver Ramses Barden, while passing up on cornerback Ladarius Webb. Barden is essentially a street free agent, while last year Webb ranked second in Yards Per Coverage Snap, giving up only 111 yards on 185 snaps.
They also took chances on high ceiling players like Clint Sintim and Travis Beckum — both who really did not have positions at the NFL level. Given the questionable status of their offensive line, the New York Giants decided to trade up to take Ryan Nassib, while passing up on guard Barrett Jones a year ago. Past drafts are littered with project offensive line man that never panned out, so player development could be an issue as well.
It's no secret that Tom Coughlin and his staff prefer to play veterans over young players; we saw it with Kenny Phillips and Hakeem Nicks who both took half a season to get significant playing time despite veterans who couldn't get the job done. With practice time limited under the new CBA, the best chance for players to improve is by playing in game situations. That isn't easy to do when trying to compete for a Super Bowl, but there were moments this season that the Giants could have played guys like Damontre Moore in blowouts.
Did it make more sense to play Curtis Painter after Eli Manning's ankle injury in Week 17 or to have Nassib active and see what he has? The cynic in me thinks that if by some miracle the Giants ended up with Jadeveon Clowney, it would take until Week 8 for him to see significant playing time. There is a long list of offensive line picks that either failed to materialize or played but didn't improve. Are they just drafting bad players or are they not developing them properly?
Being successful is also part of the problem, as the Giants have not had a loosing record in the last decade. As a result, the Giants haven't picked in the top half of the draft. The Giants finally are picking in the top fifteen of the draft this year, with the goal of not being in this same spot next year. They absolutely need to hit home runs in the first four, possibly five rounds. The window to win with Eli is slowly closing, it's time to start collecting more talent and less projects.
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