Sunday, April 12, 2009

No. 29 is not No. 1: Giants Draft Preview 3, WR

(This is Part 3 of 5 in a series of articles on Giants’ Steps that will examine some positions of interest for the Giants as they approach this year's draft. Part 3 looks at the Giants’ needs at wide receiver.)

Since the offseason began, speculation has been rampant about how the Giants will replace their two starting wide receivers – 13 year veteran Amani Toomer and legally-embattled quick-draw Plaxico Burress. Replacing the uniquely talented Burress has generated particular concern after the team’s collapse in his absence at the end of last season.

Undoubtedly, the Giants will rely in part on a talented stable of young wide outs already on the roster to pick up some of the slack. Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss are all poised to have bigger roles in the offense next year, and all are seemingly capable of doing so. Barring a trade for a veteran wideout, or a free agent signing, Hixon would most likely assume one starting role. I suspect the other spot would be a competition between Manningham and Smith. Smith would line up in the slot in 3+ receiver packages…

With only 5 receivers currently on the roster however (Super Bowl hero David Tyree being the fifth), the Giants will almost certainly turn to April’s draft to fortify the WR position. There is a deep, talented crop of wide outs to choose from this year. When, and who the Giants select, will depend on what they are hoping to accomplish.

If they want to find a potential number 1 receiver in the draft to replace Burress next season, their best bet is to trade away for a veteran or trade up for an elite prospect. The Giants have an excess of picks at their disposal (ten), giving them plenty of ammunition to do just that. Should they choose to move up, there is some outstanding talent expected to go off the board in the early-to-mid first round.

The Cream of the Crop

Three names stand out to me among this loaded wide receiver class: Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree, Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin, and Florida’s Percy Harvin. Crabtree and Maclin are projected to go in the top ten, with Harvin following shortly thereafter.

Crabtree dominated college football the past few seasons and many envision him as an immediate impact player a la Detroit’s Calvin Johnson from a few seasons ago. He has great athleticism and hands, and brings big play-making ability to the table. He has been recovering from foot surgery recently, which has led some to question his speed, but it’s very possible Crabtree could be the next Larry Fitzgerald.

Maclin is another explosive playmaker who scouts say “has the ability to score from anywhere on the field.” He averaged nearly eleven yards per touch during his college career and scored 28 TD’s over the past two seasons. What makes him particularly compelling to NFL teams is that he is also an outstanding kick returner – a phase of the Giants’ game that has lacked in recent years.

Harvin also brings great speed, quickness and play-making ability to the table. Many see him excelling as a slot receiver though, and that makes him an unlikely fit for Big Blue with Steve Smith on the roster.
4/19/09 UPDATE: Harvin's stock has fallen sharply in the past few weeks over concerns about character, off-the-field issues and coachability. Harvin could be the second coming of Pacman Jones, with talent...

Level 1A

If the Giants stay put at No. 29, and decide to select a wide-out, there will be no shortage of talent when their number is called. Maryland’s Darius Heyward-Bey bridges the gap between “Tier 1” and “Tier 1A.” This kid is fast – fast like a bullet discharged from an illegally concealed handgun tucked into your sweatpants. He ran a 4.30 40-yard dash at the combine and had a series of impressive workouts for pro scouts. DHB could go as early as the top ten, according to some, but could also remain on the board until the late first round.

If he’s not there at the end of the round, the Giants have a slew of other names to choose from, and Giants fans will certainly be familiar with them by now: North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks, Rutgers’ Kenny Britt and Ohio State’s Brian Robiskie.

Nicks is an impressive combination of size, talent and physicality. The ACC’s leading receiver has great pass-catching ability, and knows how to create separation from a defender. He’s not lightning fast, but has an outstanding overall skill set, and all the tools necessary to be a big-time receiver in the NFL.

UNC's Hakeem Nicks: the next Michael Irvin?

Britt, a local favorite, who at 6-3 has a “Plaxiconian” mix of size and athleticism, could quickly provide the red zone threat the Giants lacked in the final games of last season. He knows how to read the field and has the ball skills to develop into a…Plaxiconian…playmaker.

Robiskie is not projected to go as high as the other two, however his pedigree and athleticism make him as appealing to some scouts as Nicks and Britt. He is the son of esteemed NFL receivers coach Terry Robiskie, and fittingly, possesses a high football IQ. He is a solid athlete and performed well at the Combine and Senior bowl. Robiskie strikes some scouts as the most “pro-ready” receiver in the draft.

OSU WR Brian Robiskie

Round Two

If the Giants do not use their first pick to select a wide receiver, they still have two second round picks on day one that they could use to address the position. If Britt or Robiskie aren’t available when the Giants pick 45th, there are some other players Jerry Reese and company might have their eyes on.

Mike Wallace (Mississippi) is tremendous speedster who could blossom into an NFL big-play threat. Juaquin Iglesias (Oklahoma) has great hands and route-running ability, and was selected to the All-Big 12 Conference team. He has an impressive skill-set, but one that is probably best-suited for a West Coast offense (i.e. not for Big Blue). Hakeem Nicks’ teammate at UNC, Brandon Tate, was once projected as a first round pick, prior to injuring his knee midway through last season. In addition to his receiving skills, Tate was also a force in the return game. Again, this dexterity could make him an appealing option for the Giants at the end of the second round.

Day Two

The Giants’ draft moves at wide receiver should not be limited to Day One. They do need to find a #1 receiver one way or another, but they also need to improve the depth and competition in the receiving corps going into training camp. (As I mentioned, they currently only have five proven receivers on their roster.)

Louis Murphy (Florida) is a projected third round pick with size, speed and athleticism. He has a lot of impressive physical tools for a WR, as well as some special teams ability, however he was not overly productive in college. He could be a developmental project for the Giants if they think he’s the right fit.

Derrick Williams (Penn State) is another fast athlete at the position. He has sound ball skills, blocks well, and makes plays after the catch. He has been inconsistent throughout his career though and does have a tendency to drop catchable passes. His return abilities could endear him to the Giants’ front office.

Ramses Barden (Cal Poly) is one of the tallest receivers in the draft at 6’6. His height could make him an appealing target for Eli Manning, who, to put it one way, likes to throw it up there. Barden is an excellent athlete with a terrific skill set and a knack for finding the end zone. He’s also a sound blocker. Although he was extremely productive at in college, he never played against top-notch talent and could struggle against press coverage at the pro level. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants gave him a look in the third round, as Reese has an eye for small school talent (Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss, etc.).

Other Day Two Prospects

In the middle and later rounds, the Giants will most likely look for good character, developmental talent with special teams and kick return promise. Some names to keep an eye on later in the day Sunday include Brandon Gibson (Washington State), Demetrius Byrd (LSU), Brooks Foster (UNC), Mohamed Massaquoi (Georgia), Kenny McKinley (South Carolina) and Sammie Stroughter (Oregon State).

Byrd and Foster have a lot of raw talent and upside, but will need to develop. Massquoi has a sound skill set and experience against elite competition. Most of these guys have questions about their durability…

"A Receiver in Jail is Worth Two in the Draft" (Wha?)

Wide Receiver is arguably the position of greatest interest for the Giants, though not necessarily the greatest need. There are a number of questions Jerry Reese and company need to answer before the draft puzzle can be solved. Where will the Giants’ next No. 1 receiver come from? Is he already on the team? Is he already in the league?

If the answer to the second question is “no,” I believe the Giants will trade away their first round pick in a package for a veteran wide out or an elite rookie prospect. Among the top receiving prospects, Maclin might get the edge because his kick return prowess would allow him to make an immediate impact in at least one phase of the game.

If the Giants do hold on to their top pick, I don’t know that a WR would be the most prudent choice. While Nicks, Britt and Robiskie all offer a lot, I don’t know that it would be the best value at that position or the safest investment. Wide receivers take time to develop and first round draft choices should be able to start at some point their first year.

The Giants could get great value and great talent at WR with their first second round pick. I suspect they will look for a receiver with the same criteria on the second day as well.

Click the following links to read the first two installments of the Draft Preview series - Part 1: O-Line & Part 2: Secondary.

Click here to read Part 4: Linebackers.

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