Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Giants: draft talk

We look at the Giants season last year with disappointment, largely because the Giants lost 4 out of their last 5 games, including the awful playoff loss to the Eagles. I share in that disappointment, but it should not color our judgment of how good this Giants team was and how good a season they had last year. The Burress injury and the match ups against good defensive teams that could take advantage of the Giants weakened offense resulted in two bad losses to the Cowboys and Eagles towards the end of the regular season and a crushing loss to the Eagles in the playoffs. The meaningless loss to the Vikings in the season finale was more like a preseason game than a regular season battle, so I'm not concerned about that one.

The Giants were 11-1 following an impressive win against the Redskins in their first game without Burress. Burress was injured and was questionable for the game, but the Redskins had to prepare for the Giants as if he might play. The shooting accident occurred too late in the course of the weekend for their defensive game plan to change radically. Zorn and the Redskins defensive coaches are not sharp enough to take advantage of this absence anyway - but it was a dominating performance by the Giants.

After that game, the Giants were 11-1 and were the highest scoring team in football. Without Burress, their offense slumped in yards and points. But here's some points for you to chew on that measure how good a season the Giants had last year:

  • Giants are the only team to have beaten the two Superbowl teams, Cardinals and Steelers; and they beat them on the road, in their home stadiums.
  • Giants also beat the two conference finalists, Eagles and Ravens, one on the road and one at home.
  • Overall, the Giants regular season record against all the teams that made the playoffs last year was a very impressive 5-2, which includes the meaningless last second loss to the Vikings, when the Giants gave the starters off in the 2nd half.
The decline in the Giants offense was completely due to Burress; there is no denying that, based on statistics and results. So all of you that shed a tear for poor Plax and wish the Giants hadn't treated him so harshly by cutting him, I say: he cost the Giants a sure run at the Super Bowl last year. No guarantee, of course that the Giants would have won and gotten that far, because they were beaten badly by the Eagles, but my gut feeling is that they would have gotten to the big game if Burress had played.

Consider this: Giants are a strong team coming off a 12 win season that strengthened itself significantly in the off season by signing three very strong free agents. Furthermore, besides Burress, they lost no player of great significance (RB Ward was very good player but not the starter and S James Butler is a decent player, but definitely replaceable). As I proposed a few times on this blog, with that strong a team coming back, the Giants have to plan carefully what to do with their draft picks. Giants have 10 draft choices, 5 of them in the top 100 picks, and there is no way that 10 draftees are going to make the team. Giants would be best off to package a few of the picks and move up in the first round, above the 29th slot that they no occupy.

The sweet spot in the first round is picks 10-20, because the drop off in talent from the top 5 picks or so may be small, especially this year where the draft class is considered to be very deep and strong. While the drop off in pure talent is not that great to slots 10-20, the drop off in the compensation package that you have to pay these players is enormous, so your team does not get burdened with salary cap constraints in the future. I would almost rather be in slot 10 than in slot 1. Last year, Parcells was trying to trade down and get out of that first slot with the Dolphins, but nobody would take it.

The sweet spot in the whole draft is the 2nd round, IMHO, applying the same logic as above: huge drop off in salary commitment to the draftee and the team can still find very talented players. This is especially true if Jerry Reese and the Giants scouting department are running your draft. The obvious strategy that I outlined above is to package some of these picks and move up around 14 or 15 in the 1st round, but an alternative might be to keep the 29th slot in the first round and package some of the lower round picks with the Giants own 3rd round pick (not the compensatory pick which cannot be traded) and move up to nab another 2nd round pick. If what I asserted is true, that the 2nd round is the sweet spot in the draft, i.e. the optimum balance in favor of the team between talent received and compensation paid - then maybe the Giants should maximize their 2nd round picks. Take a package of 4 picks that includes their own 3rd, 4th, 5th and the 5th from New Orleans and they might be able to squeeze out a 2nd round or early 3rd round pick. Alternatively they could modify that package and replace the 3rd round pick with their 6th round pick, to get another 3rd rounder. This last alternative is not particularly exciting - moving earlier in the first or into the 2nd seems smartest to me.

At the end of the day, it is all about talent evaluation by the GM and the scouting department and matching talent to need. There are a lot of good WRs in the draft this year as well as some good OTs, both areas that would improve the team. There are some play makers at the LB position as well and the WR pool is deep enough so that if the Giants can get a great LB, they may just wait until the 2nd or 3rd round to draft WR. Giants have the advantage of not drafting for great need, which always compromises the talent that you bring onto the team.

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