Commentary

Reese got what he wanted in 2011 draft

New York Giants received talent upgrade, met linebacking need over weekend

Updated: May 3, 2011, 12:16 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

When four quarterbacks vanished in the first 12 picks, it became apparent some teams were going to draft based on need, which resulted in some reaches.

New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese, however, entered the draft vowing to stick to his guns, opting for value over need.

When the Giants finally were on the clock at pick No. 19, a Heisman Trophy-winning running back and a couple of massive left tackles were still on the board.

[+] EnlargePrince Amukamara
AP Photo/Jason DeCrowNebraska defensive back Prince Amukamara fell into the Giants' lap at No. 19.

Reese's greatest needs were at linebacker and offensive line and on special teams. He could have taken Alabama running back Mark Ingram with Ahmad Bradshaw's contract up. He could have plugged Boston College left tackle Anthony Castonzo into his offensive line.

Instead, Reese took the best player available, a cornerback ranked in the Giants' top 10 players on their board. The Giants drafted Nebraska's Prince Amukamara, the second-best corner in the draft, to join Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross.

And then in the second round, Reese passed on linebacker and offensive line again, and added talented North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin to an already-crowded situation on the defensive front.

"We came to work with basically the same objectives -- to take the best player available," coach Tom Coughlin said.

You have to love the way the Giants were steadfast with their approach, even in an uncommon draft that preceded free agency. The Giants aren't that far off from being playoff contenders after barely missing the 2010 postseason.

In the two critical games they lost to the Eagles and Packers down the stretch that cost them the playoffs, the Giants were a step slower than their opponents (just ask Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings). So entering the draft, they had areas to upgrade, but overall they could use a few more playmakers, better tackling and improved special teams play.

The Giants leave the draft ecstatic, feeling they got two players who are top-15 talents in the first two rounds. Amukamara gives the Giants a fourth cornerback, and one widely considered to be the second best in the draft behind LSU's Patrick Peterson, to combat the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers this season. And Austin gives the Giants a defensive tackle who could have gone in the first round had it not been for an NCAA scandal involving improper benefits. He's also insurance in case Barry Cofield isn't re-signed.

But the Giants did more than hand defensive coordinator Perry Fewell a few more toys to play with. They went for speed and started the process of strengthening their Achilles' heel -- special teams.

Reese might have found a new returner in the third round in Troy wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan. Jernigan is a Swiss Army knife-type of player, a do-it-all multithreat who models his game after Minnesota's Percy Harvin. He can play in the slot, return punts and kickoffs, and play the Wildcat. Jernigan ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the combine and scored on a 100-yard kickoff return and a 75-yard punt return last season.

The Giants could have used that kind of speedy home run threat last season when they finished second to last in the NFL, averaging just 6.1 yards per punt return and 19 yards per kickoff return.

Even with Domenik Hixon expected to be ready for the season opener after tearing his ACL last summer, the 5-foot-9 Jernigan will be given a chance after setting the Sun Belt conference record with 5,972 all-purpose yards.

Besides value, production is a sexy word in the Giants' war room. It is exactly why the Giants are giddy about two sixth-round picks. Reese might have waited on a linebacker, but he landed a highly decorated and productive one with the 185th pick in Michigan State's All-American middle linebacker, Greg Jones.

Jones is a tackling machine, recording at least 100 tackles in three straight seasons in East Lansing. As a junior, he was the Big Ten defensive player of the year and one of the best linebackers in the country after compiling 154 tackles and nine sacks.

Fewell, who often played two linebackers and three safeties, is looking for another linebacker to either play alongside or spell Jonathan Goff and Michael Boley.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
Brett Davis/US PresswireJerry Reese values production in the draft, and Greg Jones was a tackling machine at Michigan State.

"One of the things that the late [director of player personnel] Tom Boisture taught me is when you scout guys, you respect production," Reese said. "This guy has tons of production. This guy has sacks. He has tons and tons of tackles."

After Jones, Reese stayed in the Big Ten and took Iowa safety Tyler Sash, a physical, instinctive safety who recorded 217 tackles and 13 interceptions during his career at Iowa.

In addition to taking value over need and finding highly productive players, Reese likes to take chances on athletic late bloomers oozing with upside. He believes he found two. In the fourth round, he selected massive Indiana offensive tackle James Brewer, a former high school basketball player who has nimble enough feet to play both tackle spots, according to Reese.

And in the sixth round, the Giants went back to the South Florida/Fort Scott Community College well for the second straight year by taking linebacker Jacquian Williams. Williams played with last year's first-round pick, Jason Pierre-Paul, at both schools. And like JPP, Williams caught the Giants' attention with his athleticism, speed and untapped potential.

Reese finished his draft with speed in the seventh round by taking Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott, who ran a 4.34 at the combine.

The goal was to get faster, and he did that with Amukamara (who has gunner experience and ran a 4.43 at the combine), Jernigan, Williams and Scott while adding tacklers in Jones and Sash.

"All of those guys will play on special teams," Reese said. "That's a little bit of the method to the madness up there. We try to get a lot out of every pick. Everything goes into consideration. How does this guy help us on special teams?" The Giants won't know until likely three years from now whether this draft is as good as they think it is.

But in one weekend, the Giants got faster and appear to have gotten better on special teams. It's just the first step toward getting back into the postseason.

The next step is re-signing many of their players whenever free agency begins. Right now, the Giants feel like they've added two more talented defensive players to the mix.

"On paper it looks pretty good, but they have to get out there and do it," Reese said of Amukamara and Austin. "It's on paper right now. They have to get out there and show us that they're top-15 picks. Hopefully they will do that."

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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