The NFL’s offseason began in earnest on Monday, as the league descended on the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis to begin preparations for the NFL Draft. When the week-long meat market is over, free agency will only be two weeks away.
The Giants obviously still have plenty of holes to fill as they begin to climb from the ashes of their 4-12 season and get the Joe Judge Era off to a good start.
Here’s a look at the five areas – in order of importance — that GM Dave Gettleman will need to address the most over the next few months:
1. EDGE RUSHER
If you want to flip 1 and 2 on this list, go ahead. But the Giants have some serviceable (and some promising) pieces along the offensive line. They do not have a game-wrecking pass rusher on defense, and it simply isn’t going to drastically improve without one.
Yes, Markus Golden had 10 sacks last season, but he got most of them more out of persistence than dominance. Besides, he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.
The Giants believe they have promising young players at every other position on defense, and that they will all show growth this season. But they know that without a stud up front — that Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora or Justin Tuck — it’s not going to work. Whether it’s a true defensive end or an outside linebacker will depend on what new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham thinks he needs for his scheme. But finding help here is at least as important as anything else the Giants will do this spring.
Combine players to watch: Chase Young (Ohio State), Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State), A.J. Epenesa (Iowa), K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU).
Free agent players to watch: Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler, Bud Dupree
Gettleman’s greatest failure as GM has been his inability to fix the offensive line as quickly as he indicated he would. He’s only drafted two offensive linemen in his two drafts with the Giants, and only one (guard Will Hernandez) has contributed.
Now, Hernandez and guard Kevin Zeitler are definitely a good start. But the Giants have no long-term answer at tackle, and given the middling performances of Nate Solder and Mike Remmers last season, they could use a short-term boost, too. They also might be in the market for a center, depending on how Jon Halapio’s recovery from a torn Achilles in December goes.
The Giants believe they have the makings of an explosive offense. But they can’t run it if they can’t block for Saquon Barkley and protect Daniel Jones.
Combine players to watch: T Tristan Wirfs (Iowa), T Mekhi Becton (Louisville), T Andrew Thomas (Georgia), T Jedrick Wills (Alabama), C Cesar Ruiz (Michigan).
Free agent players to watch: T Jack Conklin, T Anthony Castonzo, T Daryl Williams, C Ted Karras
The Giants drafted DeAndre Baker in the first round because they believe he can be a No. 1 cornerback some day, though his rookie season certainly raised some doubts. They still believe Sam Beal and maybe Corey Ballentine could be good corners, though maybe their ceiling is as a third corner or possible depth.
They’re all very young, though, and with Janoris Jenkins’ exiled late last season, they need a veteran leader. And while it’s hard to see why they’d draft a corner early, the position is so important it can’t be ruled out. Regardless, they’re not going into next season with Baker, Beal and Ballentine as their top three corners. They need to be better than that.
Combine players to watch: Jeff Okudah (Ohio State), Kristian Fulton (LSU), Bryce Hall (Virginia)
Free agent players to watch: Chris Harris, Byron Jones, James Bradberry, Brian Poole, Prince Amukamara
Outside of edge rusher, no defensive position is filled with more uncertainty than linebacker. Alec Ogletree is likely to be a salary cap casualty. Lorenzo Carter is entering his third season and hasn’t lived up to the hype (and might soon be passed by Oshane Ximines if he doesn’t). And while they liked what they saw out of Ryan Connelly, his rookie season was cut short after four games so they don’t yet know what they have.
Especially if they cut Ogletree, they need a leader in the middle and probably could use a talent upgrade overall. It’s not the place where they need to spend the most money and draft capital, but they certainly need to spend some.
Combine players to watch: Isaiah Simmons (Clemson), Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma), Anfernee Jennings (Alabama), Zack Baun (Wisconsin).
Free agent players to watch: Cory Littleton, Joe Schobert
Notice a defensive theme to this offseason? The more defensive help they can get, the better — and almost regardless of position. But with veteran Antoine Bethea likely gone, they’ll need someone to play next to Jabrill Peppers. Julian Love has some potential, but it took more than half his rookie season for him to crack the lineup, and then he was only OK. Michael Thomas could be back, but he’d probably be the third safety.
Peppers can be a difference maker at this spot, but they could use a veteran and could also use someone who is a true ballhawk. They don’t have to jump into the deep end of the overprice safety pool, but there’s value in the shallow end, too.
Combine players to watch: Xavier McKinney (Alabama), J.R. Reed (Georgia), Jordan Fuller (Ohio State), Antoine Winfield (Minnesota).
Free agent players to watch: Devin McCourty, Tre Boston, Tony Jefferson