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NFL Draft Preview: Giants need safety valve

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants didn’t make quite the splash in free agency as they did a year ago, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t address a few immediate needs.

The Giants picked up running back Shane Vereen, an accomplished receiver out of the backfield who can also provide depth as a runner, from the Patriots. Vereen is projected to fill the role of a scatback/backfield receiving threat that the team initially envisioned David Wilson, now retired.

New York also added receiver Dwayne Harris from the Cowboys, though thus far Harris is more widely known for his contributions as a return specialist. Harris has averaged 26.5 yards per kickoff return and 11.1 yards per punt return, both averages that were higher than what the Giants turned out in each area as a team.

The biggest changes have been to the defensive side of the ball. New York added defensive end George Selvie, also from the Cowboys, and interior lineman Kenrick Ellis to help boost the performance of the league’s 30th-ranked run defense last year.

They also added a pair of smaller, quicker linebackers in Jonathan Casillas, formerly with the Patriots, and J.T. Thomas, who started at both middle and weak-side linebacker for the Jaguars last year.

Thomas is projected to be the new weak-side starter in Steve Spagnuolo’s Giants defense.

The one area where the Giants were not able to address was safety. They tried to add Devin McCourty to the mix, but he re-signed with the Patriots.

At the same time, the Giants lost Antrel Rolle, their long-time defensive captain, to the Bears. Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps both remain unsigned free agents, leaving youngsters Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor, both of whom have never started a NFL game, behind to compete for starting jobs.

The lack of experienced depth at safety appears to be the most glaring shortcoming of the Giants’ offseason activities thus far.

“That is an issue,” head coach Tom Coughlin said at the combine in February. “We do have one more access to bringing in personnel, obviously the draft, and we have a couple guys in the program … We have injured players coming back, but it’s a concern, no doubt.”

The Giants are expected to add at least one safety via the upcoming draft. Various media reports have linked Arizona State free safety Damarious Randall and Syracuse safety Durrell Eskridge to the Giants.

New York is also exploring the possibility of converting some of their cornerbacks to safety. Chykie Brown, who was re-signed in March, and second-year man Bennett Jackson, who spent most of last year on the practice squad/injured reserve list after having microfracture surgery, are two such players who will be receiving crash courses in how to play safety.

The Giants could also be on the verge of re-signing Stevie Brown, who is coming off offseason foot surgery. Brown was reportedly mulling offers from several other teams, though the Giants offer might prove to be the most lucrative in terms of the opportunity to start.

In looking ahead to the draft, the Giants are still in need of a starting offensive lineman, preferably a right tackle, so that Justin Pugh can move inside.

Two other positions that could end up being addressed include depth at tight end and receiver, the latter especially important considering that Victor Cruz, who is still recovering from a ruptured patellar tendon, is still a wild card as far as being ready for the start of training camp, let alone next season.

On defense, in addition to safety, they also could probably use another cornerback as well as another defensive tackle and defensive end.

The Giants might also look to add a middle linebacker given the ongoing injury concerns of incumbent Jon Beason, who last played a 16-game season in 2010.

2014 Record: 6-10, 3rd in NFC East

First Draft Pick: #9 Overall

BEST FIT: T Andrus Peat, Stanford

Unlike some of the other top offensive line prospects, Peat should stay at tackle when he gets to the NFL. He has the potential to be a day-one starter at right tackle, a move that would kick Justin Pugh inside to left guard. Down the line, Peat could even potentially replace current left tackle Will Beatty when the team decides to move on from his contract.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Safety: The Giants not only lack in numbers at this position, they also lack in experience after failing to re-sign veterans Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps. While this year’s safety class is thin, the Giants will probably try to grab a free safety candidate and hope that one or both of Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor shows he is ready for a starting job.

2. Tackle: New York signed journeyman Marshall Newhouse and re-signed John Jerry, but neither offer any long-term benefits to the offensive tackle spot. With no other true depth behind incumbent starters Will Beatty and Justin Pugh — and Pugh could potentially be moved inside if the Giants get a tackle prospect they really like — tackle is the most glaring need on the offensive line.

3. Defensive tackle: The Giants added Kenrick Ellis via free agency to be their run-stopping force in the middle and they are hoping that second-year man Jay Bromley can wrestle away the starting job held the last two years by 34-year-old Cullen Jenkins, who is entering the final year of his contract. Markus Kuhn has a good motor, but he tends to absorb blocks more than he does dish out the punishment, so he might not be around longer at defensive tackle. Adding a young prospect, perhaps on Day 3, would help boost the depth at this position tremendously.


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