April 14, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Making the Most of a Weak Hand

BY SEAN LAHMAN
April 14, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/12270

It's been a banner off-season for the New York Giants, who followed up on a disappointing 6-10 finish by moving quickly to address their major weaknesses. GM Ernie Accorsi signed five free agents who will make an immediate impact: Wide receiver Plaxico Burress (Steelers) will give quarterback Eli Manning the down-field threat he was missing last year; tackle Kareem McKenzie (Jets) helps shore up a porous offensive line; linebacker Antonio Pierce (Redskins) and defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy (Steelers) should improve the run defense; and veteran kicker Jay Feeley (Falcons) will help on special teams.

Of course, the Giants had to be aggressive in free agency because they're short on draft picks. The trade for Manning at last year's draft and a separate deal for guard Jason Whittle leave them with just four picks in next weekend's draft, the highest of which is at no. 43 overall. Still, they'll need to add some depth across the board if they are to avoid another late-season meltdown. Here's a look at the Giants' remaining needs and some of the prospects they'll be considering on draft day:

DEFENSIVE LINE The Giants need a playmaker on the defensive line, and it doesn't look like William Joseph (a first-round pick in 2003) will ever become that kind of player. Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis needs a one-gap tackle to stuff the run, and USC's Mike Patterson would be an excellent fit. He should be available when the Giants make their first pick, but if they'd rather wait, they could pick up Northwestern's Luis Castillo in the third round. He's less versatile than Patterson, but may be the best pure run stopper in the draft.

The Giants also lack depth at end, a problem that was revealed last year when both Michael Strahan and Keith Washington went down with injuries at mid-season. If the Giants address this issue in the draft, it will probably be with one of their late picks. A player who can rush the passer and defend the run - someone like Cal's Ryan Riddle or George Gause of South Carolina - would be a good fit for the hybrid 4-3 defense that Lewis likes to run.

SECONDARY The Giants signed cornerback Will Peterson to a five-year contract extension last summer, but they don't seem interested in doing the same for his fellow starter, Will Allen. While Accorsi has denied rumors that he was trying to trade Allen, it's no secret that the Giants are to looking add a young cornerback. They also need to upgrade at free safety, where neither Shaun Williams nor the man who filled in for him when he went down with an injury last year, Brent Alexander, is a long-term solution.

If the Giants opt to address this need with one of their early picks, a good candidate would be Virginia Tech's Vincent Fuller. He played both cornerback and safety in college, and has the speed and coverage skills to develop into a quality free safety. In the later rounds, the Giants will find a lot of intriguing cornerback prospects. Stanford's Stanley Wilson has a good combination of speed and size; Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins is a playmaker whose stock has slipped because of a 2004 knee injury.

RUNNING BACK Tiki Barber had a great season in 2004, but he's 30 years old and his backup is journeyman Mike Cloud. An injury to Barber would devastate the Giants' offense, and the team also needs to start thinking about his eventual replacement. One player Giants scouts have shown an interest in is Florida's Ciatrick Fason. He has impressive speed and is a good receiver out of the backfield. If the Giants don't want to use their first pick on a player who will spend his rookie season as a backup, they'll look towards players like Marion Barber (Minnesota) or J.J. Arrington (California) in the third or fourth round.

TIGHT END Jeremy Shockey spent too much time blocking last year, and it seems likely that if he were relieved of those duties, he'd become a bigger factor in the passing game. Alex Holmes of USC and Victor Sesay of Missouri are two good candidates to fill this role. Holmes is a blocking specialist who honed his skills in a top program. Sesay is taller and more athletic but doesn't the same burst of power at the line of scrimmage. Both would be available on the second day of the draft.

OUTLOOK With so few picks, the Giants won't be able to fill every need. Accorsi has hinted that he might look to trade down to pick up additional draft choices. If not, look for them to use their second- and third-round picks on a running back and a defensive lineman, though not necessarily in that order. On day two, they'll be using their fourth- and sixth-round picks to fortify the secondary, pick up a blocking tight end, or add an offensive lineman.

The Giants won't come out of this draft with any immediate starters, but they need to find guys who can contribute as role players. That will be key to head coach Tom Coughlin's plans for the team to improve in 2005.

April 14, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version