The 2009 season was quite an unexpected year for the New York Giants. Their passing game, particularly at the wide receiver positions, was supposed to be a major concern, while Big Blue’s defense was expected to be the team’s clear strength.
Instead, it was just the opposite on both accounts, although the latter certainly was the case initially, with the Giants’ defense playing dominant football while being ranked among the very top of the NFL during a 5-0 beginning to the season last year.
That great start proved to be nothing more than fool’s gold against weak competition, however. Once the schedule got a lot tougher, the Giants’ huge defensive holes were exposed, as New York allowed 32.4 points per game and over 40 points five times — the first Giants’ team to do that in the same season since 1966 –- during a highly disappointing 3-8 slide to finish the year without a playoff berth, resulting in the subsequent firing of former defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan.
In sharp contrast, the Giants’ receiving corps was chock full of pleasant surprises, led by Steve Smith, a 2007 second-round draft choice of Jerry Reese during the current Giants’ general manager first year as the Giants’ GM. Smith had a breakout year last season with career highs of 107 catches, 1,220 yards, and seven touchdowns, becoming the first Giant ever to reach triple digits in receptions in a season.
The Giants’ second-leading receiver last year, Mario Manningham, another Reese selection, was taken with the final pick of the third round in the 2008 NFL draft. Manningham went from having just four catches for 26 yards as a rookie two years ago, to amassing 822 yards on 57 receptions last year.
And, Reese’s 2009 first-round pick, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, stepped right in as a rookie to become the Giants’ third leading receiver last year with 47 catches for 790 yards and six touchdowns, including two of over 50 yards.
The combined production of those three receivers accounted for more than 70 percent of quarterback Eli Manning’s career-high season of 4,021 yards in 2009.
All of the above, on each side of the ball, resulted in a drastic change of philosophy for how the Giants attacked the NFL draft this year, from a year ago. Suddenly, this year, there was an understandable shift away from offensive needs and rather, a huge focus on the Giants trying to correct their defense deficiencies through this year’s draft.
In fact, only one offensive player was taken (none at a so-called “skill” positions) by the Giants in the entire 2010 draft, and even that player (an offensive guard) wasn’t selected until the Giants’ fifth pick, in Round 5, the 147th pick overall.
Here’s a quick look at that selection as well as the rest of Reese’s 2010 draft picks, in trying to return the Giants to the Super Bowl winning franchise which Reese had a hand in building during his rookie year as an NFL GM:
Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, 6-5, 270, South Florida, Round 1, Pick 15):
As he’s done more often since his first draft, Reese made this pick on potential and upside as much as anything else. Pierre-Paul is a big, talented pass rusher with the potential to be an NFL star. The risk? He might very well be a raw project, since he only started playing football during his senior year in high school and played just one full year as a starter at South Flordia, including just seven game starts after a couple of years of junior college ball. If the Giants had their heart set on a defensive end in the first round, Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan appeared to be a better choice over Pierre-Paul and all other defensive ends who were on the board at the time. Or even, given the Giants’ need for a middle linebacker to replace the departed Antonio Pierce, Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon (taken four picks later, by Atlanta) or Texas’ Sergio Kindle might have been a better fit. Nonetheless, the Giants are hoping to eventually flip over the naturally athletic and strong Pierre-Paul, who once demonstrated his physical gifts by doing as many as 23 consecutive backflips.
Linval Joseph (DT, 6-4, 328, East Carolina, Round 2, Pick 14, 46th overall):
The Giants are seeking to add some big-time size to the interior of their defensive line in the form of East Carolina standout Linval Joseph. Big Blue hopes Linval can be a run-stuffing presence in the middle, to aid with an area that significantly hurt the Giants’ last season.
Chad Jones (FS, 6-2, 221, LSU, Round 3, Pick 12, 76th overall):
Though much of the Giants’ defensive troubles last year began with an insufficient pass rush, the result of that deficiency often showed up as the secondary blowing coverages. Thus, safety help was in order in this year’s draft, and the selection of Chad Jones, who has good size for the position, gives New York some needed depth behind a group of safeties that the Giants hope will be bolstered by the return of a healthy Kenny Philips and the earlier free agent signing of the Arizona Cardinals’ Antrel Rolle. Jones, who starred for LSU’s baseball team while playing football for the Tigers, is an extremely athletic, intelligent, and instinctive player who might prove to be a nice grab for a mid-third-round pick.
Phillip Dillard (LB, 6-0, 245, Nebraska, Round 4, Pick 17, 115th overall):
Again, this is where the Giants might have been better served to go after a linebacker in the first round, as a middle linebacker was clearly their biggest need of any position on the roster. Still, grabbing Dillard, who turned it on late over his final several games at Nebraska, with the 115th pick overall, might prove to be a great value for the Giants. Dillard has a legitimate chance at winning the starting middle linebacker job as a rookie.
Mitch Petrus (OG, 6-3, 310, Arkansas, Round 5, Pick 16, 147th overall):
The only offensive player drafted by the Giants this year, Petrus is still a work in progress, having been a two-year starter as an offensive guard after playing both tight end and fullback at Arkansas. Still, Petrus is powerful and can potentially infuse some needed youth into an aging offensive line. If he works out quickly, Petrus could help the Giants regain their former offensive staple of having a power rushing game –- that is, if running back Brandon Jacobs can stay healthy and is ready to return to his former productive self in 2010.
Adrian Tracy (DE, 6-3, 248, William & Mary, Round 6, Pick 15, 184th overall):
From the best small-school conference in the nation, hailing from the Colonial Athletic Association’s William & Mary, Tracy might be undersized to be an effective NFL pass rusher for the Giants, but he is an extremely hard worker both on the field and in terms of game preparation and film study. With the Giants, Tracy may eventually find his way to an outside linebacker position, which isn’t bad value for Big Blue at the 184th pick overall.
Matt Dodge (P, 6-1, 224, East Carolina, Round 7, Pick 14, 221st overall):
With their final pick in the draft, the Giants were likely to go elsewhere position-wise (such as tight end) until the very recent development of the NFL’s oldest player, 44-year-old punter Jeff Feagles, informing the Giants that be may not physically be able to handle a 23rd NFL season, despite signing a one-year deal earlier this offseason. As an insurance policy against that, the Giants brought in Australian rules football kicker Jy Bond, from Melbourne, Australia. That of course, would still leave the Giants one true American football punter short, if Feagles’ career is done. Enter Dodge, whom the Giants were forced to select “just for kicks” with their final pick. Dodge, who is versatile enough to also kick off, doesn’t have ideal leg strength, and although many of his longer kicks were the result of fortuitous bounces, he showed a good ability to often pin the ball inside the opponents’ 20 yard-line. With Feagles’ situation in flux however, it was worth the pick to see what the Giants can possibly “get out of Dodge.”
Lee Campbell (LB, 6-3, 256, Minnesota, Undrafted Free Agent Signing)
With Reese still focused on defense, a post-draft bonus who’s well worth mentioning is former Minnesota Golden Gophers’ star Lee Campbell, who thoroughly impressed myself and the rest of my fellow Football Reporters Online co-hosts during a special post-draft “FRO Show” on Tuesday night 9 a replay of the show can be heard by clicking on the media player at www.footballreportersonline.com). Making an appearance for about 30 minutes on a special Tuesday show (in addition to the regular weekly Thursday night FRO shows) Campbell said all of the right things that the Giants’ coaching staff and Giants fans everywhere would have loved to hear. Extremely positive and enthusiastic, Campbell truly appreciates the opportunity given to him as an undrafted free agent. Campbell is a tough, aggressive linebacker who sounds ready to step in and do whatever the Giants ask of him, even if it means eventually beating out Dillard or several others as a possible replacement as the “quarterback” of the defense, a spot vacated by the departure of Antionio Pierce, who used to sort of run things as the “defensive signal caller” from whom other players on the Giants’ defensive units took their cue on the field. Even as a rookie, Campbell might already be suited for such a role, having often called defensive signals at Minnesota, where the Gophers ran a version of the Tampa 2 defense (ironic, since Campbell’s a Florida native) that the Giants will employ under new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. Keep an eye on this kid. He just might turn into that sort of determined, unsung, undrafted free agent who later becomes a fan favorite as a huge key to what the Giants may do defensively, for years to come.
The Bottom Line
Only time will tell how Reese and the Giants did in this year’s draft. We all know the stories of guys like Tom Brady going from a 6th-round NFL draft pick, the 199th pick overall, to winning three Super Bowls, or Kurt Warner, going from bagging groceries and an Arena League star to a Super Bowl MVP, leading the Greatest Show on Turf. And, there are of course, so many other stories just like those, in all three phases of the game. But, I always come back to the current wide receiver situation in Dallas for the ultimate proof that we just never know until we know: Dallas’ Roy Williams, from a huge program like Texas, highly touted, drafted in the first round in 2004, the 7th overall pick, has been largely a bust in recent years, including another underwhelming and underproductive year with the Cowboys last season. Meanwhile, same team, same coaches, same quarterback, same offensive system, undrafted free agent Miles Austin, from small school Monmouth College, led Dallas with a sensational 1,320-yard season, helping the Cowboys to the NFC East crown and their first playoff victory in 13 years, including a franchise record 250-yard game in which he beat Kansas City with a 59-yard overtime touchdown reception.
So, will Pierre-Paul be a boom or a bust? Or, will Campbell surprise everyone and pull the Giants’ defense together even better than Pierce ever did? The truth is that we really won’t know until it all plays out over at least, the next few years.
Has Reese made all of the right moves? No, of course not. But, what GM has? And, Reese’s track record, including all of the help he drafted or signed which contributed well during the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII run, plus Reese’s receiving corps stepping forward last year, has for now, earned Reese the benefit of the doubt.
Weatherspoon, Kindle, or Morgan could all prove to have been the better pick than Pierre-Paul, or perhaps another running back was needed instead of Joseph or Jones.
However, there’s just no way to know right now, and Reese often at times, has had the magical touch in the past. And, at least, unlike other teams that didn’t draft based on need, Reese recognized the main problem area last season — on defense –- and drafted that way this year. For now, that appears to be have been the smart move.
That said, this may still prove to be a make or break draft for Reese, and possibly even for other staff such as head coach Tom Coughlin, since Giants’ co-owner John Mara may not be willing to wait very long to make changes if things don’t improve quickly off of last year’s 8-8 season, after which a severely disappointed and annoyed Mara said the campaign “felt more like a 2-14 season” due to the Giants’ horrid finish following such a dominant start. Time will tell if Reese’s latest picks will buy him and the rest of the Giants staff more time.