Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another Brick in the Wall: Offensive Line Draft Preview

(This is Part 1 of 5 in a series of articles that will examine some positions of interest for the Giants as they approach this year's draft. Part 1 will take a closer look at one such position: the offensive line.)

The New York Giants' offensive line is one of the team's greatest strengths, and arguably one of the best front five in the NFL. ESPN the Magazine featured a cover story last season suggesting the group was in fact the NFL MVP.

The unit combines quality, cohesion and consistency, boasting two Pro-bowlers in C Shawn O'Hara and G Chris Snee, G Rich Seubert - a solid, athletic veteran - and tackles Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl. All five have started the last 32 consecutive regular season games together, and all five are signed to long-term deals. If any starting unit is set on this team, it's the offensive line.

Someone's about to get trucked...

But it's beyond the starting unit where the offensive line corps begins to come into question. The past few seasons, the Giants have relied on veteran Grey Ruegamer to fill in on the inside while counting on young developmental talents like Kevin Boothe and Guy Whimper to back up the tackle positions. Ruegamer has been a solid six man, and his free agent status only exacerbates the Giants' depth concerns on the line. Whimper and Boothe have seen limited action in reserve duty and goal line situations. Whimper has struggled with injuries and Boothe, a converted guard, has shown that he is just that, often struggling to fend off pass rushers on the edge.

With a deep and talented O-line class, this year's draft presents a good opportunity for Big Blue to invest in their future, and pick up some top-shelf college talent with one of their ten draft picks. Let's take a closer look at some possible candidates and see where they might be available for Jerry Reese and company on draft day.

Top Dogs

It's likely we could see a similar run on OT’s in the first round to last year. The class is deep, and offensive tackles Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith, Jason Smith, Michael Oher and Eben Britton are all projected to go in the first round before the G-men even get on the board with the 29th pick. It’s unlikely the Giants would spend their first round pick on linemen to begin with as, as we’ve seen, the starting unit is in pretty good shape for the immediate future…

(For those who argue that David Diehl (a converted LG) is only a temporary solution at left tackle and the Giants should draft a tackle to replace him, I suggest you get your head examined. The guy is one of the toughest, most hard-working players in the league. He’s never missed a game (and only a handful of practices at that) since he was drafted. In the two years he’s started at left tackle, the offensive line has been dominant. Last year he allowed only 6.5 sacks against the likes of Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and others. If you exclude DeMarcus Ware, the number’s probably closer to 3. He was second team All-Pro in 2008 (i.e. 2nd best LT in the league). Stop, stop, stop suggesting Diehl is a temporary fix!)

Double D!

More Bricks for the Wall

It’s still very possible though (if not likely) that the Giants could draft an offensive lineman on the first day, from the second round on. The Giants have needs to fill at OT and on the interior of the line in the event Ruegamer does not return. An early to mid-round pick would immediately put a serviceable back-up on the bench and go far towards improving the depth and long-term durability of the unit.

Finding talent at tackle can be a challenge, and that position is arguably of greater need for the Giants right now, as Kevin Boothe could be converted back to a back-up guard. Some names projected to go in the 2nd and 3rd rounds include William Beatty from UConn, Phil Loadholt from Oklahoma, and Jamon Meredith from South Carolina.

Beatty is a great athlete with size and strength. One area in which he could stand to improve is run blocking. Loadholt has a huge frame and is a physical and athletic tackle. He does struggle on occasion against outside rushers and has had a few run-ins with the law. Meredith is an impressive athlete with strength, quick feet and agility for a man of his size. He’s also a smart player, and excels against the pass. The first two are slated to go in the early 2nd round, but Meredith could be available for the Giants at either of their two second round picks.

The Giants could chose to address the interior of the line on the first day as well, and there are some excellent players to choose from. One name being thrown around as a potential first 2nd round pick for Big Blue is Max Unger, Center from Oregon. Unger is a smart player with great awareness, a complete physical skill set, and versatility on the inside of the line. He has the work ethic and competitiveness to fit in on the Giants’ line, and as one fan commented, “He even sounds like a Giant.” Unger could be a solid replacement for Grey Ruegamer if the veteran leaves, and he could also provide the future face at Center for the Giants as Shawn O’Hara isn’t getting any younger.

Oregon Center Max Unger is projected as the top interior lineman in the draft.

Oklahoma Guard Duke Robinson could be another option for the Giants on the first day. Scouting reports list Robinson as a physical, strong lineman with versatility. He gets good leverage against defenders and is a finisher who drives opponents to the turf on every play.

Sleeping Uglies

If the Giants are looking for more O-line help in the later rounds, a couple of names to keep your eyes on are G Greg Isdaner from West Virginia – an athletic, strong player who finishes each play – and T Mike Brown from Mississippi St. He played left tackle in college, but scouts project he will play right tackle or guard in the pros.

Another Brick in the Wall

One way or another, the Giants will be looking to add depth to their offensive line at this year’s draft. Big Blue will be looking to add tough, versatile talent who can contribute right away. For that reason, I strongly suspect the team will go O-line with one of their picks on day one. I also suspect that they will draft at least two linemen before the weekend is out. Max Unger and Jamon Meredith are two players that stand out as good fits at their respective draft positions. We will have to wait and see what draft master Jerry Reese has up his sleeve this year.

Click here for Part 2 in the series: Secondary.

And be sure to cast your vote in the newest Giants’ Steps survey on the left-hand column!

… …

Please post your comments and subscribe to Giants’ Steps!

No comments: