Herein lie my suggestions for how the Giants can cure what ails them by looking at this coming off-season. I won't get into Free Agents that could be signed, as it's almost impossible to know what the market will look like until teams assign Franchise tenders and re-sign their own players. However, I am a huge draft nerd, and I know the Giants, specifically General Manager Jerry Reese, love to assemble a team in the draft.
For the purposes of this example, I'm assuming the Giants go 2-1 over their last 3 games, finishing the season at 9-7 and having a draft pick in the 18-20 range (first round). I'm also assuming that the do not get a compensatory draft pick, which is awarded based on Free Agent departures and signings. If anything, they'll get a 8th or 7th round pick out of that, as they spent like the Yankees this offseason.
Anyway, as a reminder, here are the Giants biggest (perceived) needs going into next year, listed in order of importance:
Middle Linebacker (successor for Pierce of it's not Goff)
Free Safety (in case Phillips doesn't come back, or is slow in his recovery)
Blocking Tight End (because we don't have a guy in that role right now)
Punter (love you, Feagles, but you're best days are over)
Kick Returner (not if they re-sign Hixon, who'll be a Free Agent, but could be a big need)
Wide Receiver depth (3 Free Agents this offseason creates a thin group)
Reserve Offensive Linemen (I can't stand Kareem McKenzie, and we need to develop a future guard
Because of the Giants' projected draft position, they have the luxury of frequently filling a need and picking someone who is likely the best player available. So without further ado, here is how I project the New York Giants' 7-round draft selections:
Middle Linebacker - either Rolando McClain (Alabama) or Brandon Spikes (Florida). Both McClain (6'4" 258) and Spikes (6'3" 244) are considered pro-ready, first-round prospects. McClain, in particular, displays the kind of leadership you want out of your defensive playcaller, and both guys play all three phases of defense (run support, pass rush, coverage) admirably. I prefer McClain, because he's a little bigger, just as fast, and more disciplined than Spikes. Brandon Spikes will occasionally let his aggression on the field get the best of him, overpursuing and sometimes taking personal fouls. McClain calls the defense, minds his gaps, does his job, and does it very well. The worst scenario for the Giants is for Rolando McClain to have a BCS Championship game for the ages and shoot his draft stock way up. Middle Linebackers, even top prospects like these guys, have fallen in recent years, and McClain could be there for the Giants in the late teens. If he's not, settling for Brandon Spikes is a great alternative.
If Not - If both these guys are taken by the 20th pick, which is unlikely, I'd like to see the Giants grab Earl Thomas, the Free Safety (5'10" 197) from Texas. Thomas, though small, is very fast, takes good angles to the ball, tackles like a bigger player, and has excellent ball skills (8 interceptions this year, 2 for TDs). In addition, he's young and has a ton of upside. In a year that was supposed to be about QB Colt McCoy, no Texas player caught my eye more than Earl Thomas.
Free Safety - This is a pretty good class of Safeties this year, and I'm afraid a couple guys might go in the First Round. Assuming need trumps value, though, I see either Reshad Jones (Georgia) or Darrell Stuckey (Kansas) being available at this point. Jones (6'2" 207) is a great physical prospect, with fantastic size for the position. In addition, he projects at a 4.5 second 40 yard dash, which is good for a guy that big. Watching a number of Georgia games this year, Jones is always around the ball. He's a very solid tackler, who can make plays on the ball pretty well (10 career INTs). However, he's not as dynamic once he has the ball as Earl Thomas is. If Jones goes higher, Stuckey (6'1" 205) is a great consolation prize. Like Jones, Stuckey has great size. He's a better form tackler than a pass-catcher, though, but he will put himself in position to make a play. He projects slightly slower than Jones or Thomas, but should have enough speed to sit on deep routes. Darrell Stuckey, while a good prospect, might need a little work to be a Free Safety in the NFL, and might make a better Strong Safety.
If Not - It's unlikely neither guy will be available in the middle of Round 2, but just in case, I would love to see the Giants pick up Perrish Cox, a (6'1" 197) Cornerback from Oklahoma State. This guy jumped out at me a few times this year. If Kevin Dockery sticks around, corner depth isn't a concern, but Cox has the size to convert to Safety. He's a steady tackler, a tight cover guy, makes decent plays on the ball (4 INTs this year, 10 in career), plays press and zone coverage, and is a dynamic, record-setting returner. He's downright scary with the ball in his hands. A somewhat slow (4.5) 40 time is better for Safety than Cornerback anyway.
Tight End - Weslye Saunders (6'5" 280) from South Carolina is my guy. Saunders has the body type of the prototypical blocking tight end. His run blocking improved throughout his career, and TE coach Mike Pope is the best in the business as coaching up blocking at that position. Saunders is also a bit underrated as a receiver, scoring 3 TDs this year in a generally underwhelming offense. He did average 12 yards per catch, though. Round 3 might be a slight reach for him, but good blocking drills at the combine might make him fit this pick a little better.
Wide Receiver - A guy I've had my eye on for a big part of this year is Shay Hodge from Ole Miss. Now, Ole Miss isn't exactly regarded as a WR factory, and QB Jevan Snead had an awful year based on his projections, but I always seemed to see Shay Hodge catching touchdown passes. Despite having good size that the Giants could use (6'2" 207), he would likely find his role, at first anyway, as a gunner on special teams. Hodge is not overwhelmingly fast, but has good enough speed to get separation. He runs pro routes, and scored 8 TDs his senior year. His career yards-per-reception at Ole Miss were impressively over 12. The guy's got talent, and with good QB play he could really be somebody. There's a lot of value with this guy in the fourth round.
Guard - There were a few ways to go with this pick, but I really think the Giants need to start developing a young Guard to eventually supplant Rich Seubert. A guy I've like is Sergio Render (6'4" 324) from Virginia Tech. VT was a pretty good running team this year, and Render was their best run blocker. He is very strong in the upper body, which will help him in the physical trenches of the NFC East. He's not the best pass protector, but he could sit and learn for a year or two before finding himself in the line up. I have nothing against Seubert, but his play has only been average of late, and his age will catch up with him soon. Best that the Giants are prepared for his eventual decline, and have a young guy developed and coached up, ready to start in about 2 years.
Offensive Tackle - My disdain for Kareem McKenzie isn't a very big secret. 2010 is the last year of his contract, and with his declining play, there's no way he sticks around. New York needs to look to the future, and find a prospect that could possibly some day take that spot. I think a very intriguing name is Adam Ulatoski (6'8" 310) from Texas. First, the guy is a mammoth, with plenty of size to play Right Tackle in the NFL. He's a pretty good run blocker, but doesn't really play on a running team, so he needs a little work. He plays a lot of pass protection in that crazy Texas spread option offense, so we know he can get that job done. He's a little raw, in general, at tackle, and might project better as a guard. I say draft him, get him some coaching, and see where he ends up. Depth at RT or OG is not a bad idea going forward.
Punter - Who drafts punters? The Giants should, if they want a good one. Feagles will probably retire after this year, making a former strength on this team a huge need. Jeremy Boone from Penn State has consistently averaged around 43 net yards per kick. Any doubts about leg strength evaporate when you see that 70 yard punt of his a few years back. Out in PA, he's used to playing in inclement weather and high, cold winds. He has a track record of consistently putting the ball inside the opponent's 20 yard line, something Giants fans have gotten accustomed to seeing in recent years.
So that's my current Mock Draft. It's entirely possible it could change, as a number of the guys I listed are underclassmen who may choose not to declare this year. I'll do updates if I change my mind on anything.
As for my Sixth Round selection of an Offensive Tackle, you may be inclined to say "Hey, the Giants just drafted a Tackle in the Second Round last year. They don't need another." If you followed pre-draft workouts last year, Will Beatty is a natural left tackle. He has great feet and quick hands. He is not a powerful run blocker that the right side needs. I think the Giants will let go of Kareem McKenzie, slide David Diehl (who can play anywhere on the line) back to Right Tackle, and make Beatty the left tackle of the future. You don't draft a guy that athletic and put him at Right Tackle. That's just bad business.
I know the Draft isn't everyone's favorite topic, but it is mine. Thoughts/disagreements?