NFL draft: Giants have 15th pick in draft, need middle LB
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Heading into the NFL draft a year ago, most football fans knew the New York Giants needed a receiver.
Weeks before the draft and four months after he shot himself in the thigh in a New York City nightclub, the Giants had released Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress. Coupled with their decision not to re-sign all-time leading receiver Amani Toomer, the Giants went into the draft looking for a wideout and hit it big when Hakeem Nicks was still around at 29th overall.
Value met need that day, and that's what general manager Jerry Reese will be looking for Thursday. The Giants have the 15th pick following an 8-8 season in which they lost eight of the last 11 games.
Again, the need is obvious: middle linebacker. And remarkably, it brings us back to 'Plax.'
Antonio Pierce, who drove a wounded Burress to the hospital in November 2008 after the shooting and later took Burress' unlicensed gun back to New Jersey, was released by the team in February.
His status had been in doubt for months after he missed the final seven games of 2009 with a neck injury. He eventually became one of the many victims in the overhaul of a defense that surrendered 427 points.
Jonathan Goff, a fifth-round draft pick in 2008, filled in for Pierce down the stretch, but didn't play well enough to win the job for this season.
"I think we could improve our team at every position probably; so not just linebacker, any other position," Reese said. "We are looking for seven good players who can give us depth or maybe be a starter at any position, not necessarily linebacker."
The Giants do need help down the middle of the defense.
The tackles played poorly against the run, Pierce lost a step, and the secondary was beset by injuries. Safety Kenny Phillips missed all but two games because of knee surgery, and cornerback Aaron Ross was out more than half the season with a hamstring problem.
While Phillips hopes to be ready for training camp, the Giants signed safeties Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant.
The tackle spot should be OK with Jay Alford coming off knee surgery and Chris Canty healthy after a season of leg problems.
That's brings us back to middle linebacker, and the Giants just might get lucky.
The draft is not deep at the position, but there is a chance Alabama's Rolando McClain and Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon will be available at No. 15.
McClain is the classic inside linebacker. He's 6-foot-3, 254 pounds and has toughness and strength that will serve him well against the run and on blitzes.
Some observers say he might be a better fit for a 3-4 defense, but Reese said a talented football player can adjust to the 4-3 system the Giants use.
Reese added the Giants have some young linebackers he thinks will get better, particularly Clint Sintim, a second-round pick a year ago who showed some flashes in limited action.
With the Giants, never be surprised if they avoid need to take value. That's exactly what they did in 2006 when they drafted defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka. New York already had Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, but did not hesitate to take Kiwanuka.
"You can never have enough pass rushers and big people up front, especially in the league that we play in," Reese said. "You run the ball in our league and there are some big, powerful offensive linemen, defensive linemen. So you have to have big people to match up. So that is important for us as well."
Running back is one area where the Giants might pull another surprise. New York has Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw returning along with Andre Brown, who missed his rookie season with an Achilles' tendon injury.
However, should Clemson running back C.J. Spiller slip in the opening round, the Giants might make one of those value picks.
This draft comes just months after Giants co-owner John Mara put everyone in the organization on notice after what he termed an unacceptable season.
Reese is just as unhappy as Mara. His approach to the draft will remain the same, though. He is not feeling pressure to come up with the big hit.
"We are looking for good players," Reese said. "If we can hit home runs, that is good. If we can get a double, that is good. If we can get a single — we just want to get on base in the draft. We don't want to have a bunch of strikeouts. It is tough when you have a bunch of strikeouts."