Commentary

Giants gamble with troubled Austin

With character concerns surrounding the UNC DT, Big Blue took a huge risk in Round 2

Updated: April 30, 2011, 10:35 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants got a steal in the first round of the draft.

In the second round, they gambled and made a risky pick. The Giants selected talented but troubled North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin with the 52nd overall pick in the second round.

Like Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara (the team's first-round pick), Austin's talent and value were too much for the Giants to pass up despite needs on the offensive line and at linebacker.

Unlike Amukamara, Austin comes with the kind of baggage that scared some teams away. The 6-foot-1, 309-pound defensive tackle was one of three Tar Heels who missed this past season due to an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct.

Prior to picking Austin, coach Tom Coughlin spoke with the defensive tackle on the telephone and made it clear what the Giants expect of him.

"We took a very talented defensive lineman that has had some issues, without a doubt," Coughlin said. "We did a lot of studying on this guy, with probably seven or eight of our people that were at the workout at North Carolina. We had a private interview with him at the combine.

"And I spent quite a few minutes on the phone with him prior to telling him that we would be drafting him in the second round and that there were some very high expectations for him if he were to come here and be a New York Giant. I think he understood that."

General manager Jerry Reese said Austin was too much value to pass up. The Giants will be keeping "a close eye" on Austin like they have with some other players who experienced trouble off the field in college, such as Ahmad Bradshaw did at Marshall.

"We did a lot of work on him," Reese said. "He was very highly rated on our board. The value was tremendous at that point. We did a lot of homework on him. We couldn't pass him up."

In the third round, the Giants added speed to their special teams and receiving unit with Troy's diminutive but speedy Jerrel Jernigan.

The 5-foot-9 Jernigan runs a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, can play as a slot receiver, can return punts and kickoffs, and was Troy's Wildcat option. He set the Sun Belt conference record with 5,972 all-purpose yards.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Austin
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMarvin Austin had problems staying on the field at UNC. Will that carry over to the Giants?
But the Giants' first two picks will ultimately define their 2011 draft. Marc Ross, director of college scouting, believes the Giants got two top-15-type talents in Amukamara and Austin.

"The first couple of tackles taken were [Marcell] Dareus, [Nick] Fairley ... talent-wise, he is right in the mix," Ross said. "If he were clean, he would have been a top-15 pick, I believe."

Ross and his staff did a lot of research on Austin, and are satisfied that he is not a bad apple.

"Certain people you take a chance on if they're habitual problems," Ross said. "For instance, we took a chance on Mario [Manningham]; we thought he was an isolated incidence where he made bad mistakes and we thought he was a good kid. We did a lot of work on him, and he loved football, a good kid, he made bad decisions. Whereas other people you don't look at it in the same way. With Marvin, we think this kid loves football, loves to compete and is genuinely remorseful about what happened."

Austin hasn't played since 2009, when he had 42 tackles and four sacks and had some talent evaluators likening him to Ndamukong Suh. But Austin has had some difficulty staying on the field. In 2008 and 2009, he was benched for two games each season. Austin said he was late to a class and that was the reason he was benched in 2008. In 2009, he was benched for inconsistent play.

When asked whether there are any other issues with Austin outside of the improper benefits scandal, Reese said, "That is it; no other problems."

Austin, 22, said he is remorseful, motivated to prove that he is not a bad guy and inspired to play football again.

"I feel like I'm one of the best athletes in the draft, and I feel like I'm ready to go out there and perform," Austin said. "I learned that every decision you make is an important decision. Some of the things that are said and the way people are saying it, I feel that some people feel that I am a bad person, which is not the case at all. I am just a good guy who made a bad decision, and I am ready to move on and ready to become a Giant."

Austin now joins a crowded and talented defensive front line. The Giants already have Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and last year's promising second-round pick, Linval Joseph. And there's Barry Cofield, who is coming off his best season as a pro but will be a restricted or unrestricted free agent based on whatever the new collective bargaining agreement rules are.

Cofield says he wants to return but also made it clear he does not want to play for the one-year restricted free-agent tender for a second straight year. The defensive tackle who has been a starter since he was drafted in 2006 will consider asking for a trade if that's the case.

The Giants also want to re-sign defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka. But before free agency begins, the Giants are loaded again on the defensive line.

"The more, the merrier," Coughlin said of what will happen to Cofield with Austin's arrival. "That's the way I look at it. The more quality football players you can have, the better off you are going to be."

But was Austin worth the risk? The Giants and Austin say yes.

"He is explosive," Reese said. "This guy can get off the ball with tremendous speed. He has got a nasty motor ... mean demeanor about him. Somebody described him as Keith Hamilton, not the body type but that nasty demeanor. So I like to have some big nasty guys in your front."

Austin promises to keep that nasty disposition on the field. He told Coughlin as much when the two talked by phone.

"Me and Coach Coughlin had a good conversation," Austin said. "A very healthy conversation. He told me what's to be expected of me. I told him I am ready to be a professional and ready to come in.

"Just given my situation, it was an extremely humbling experience to go from one of the top players in the country to being a guy that nobody wants to talk about. It was extremely humbling."

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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