Breaking Down NY Giants GM Jerry Reese's Pre-Draft Press Conference
When it comes to the NFL draft, ‘tis the season to be deceiving, and that’s precisely the approach that New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese takes every year at his league-mandated pre-draft press conference.
It’s certainly understandable that Reese would want to make sure that the team’s draft plans stay in-house—any leak of that information could potentially ruin their hopes and expectations on what they hope to come out of the draft with.
So if you’re looking for any concrete information as to whether it’s going to be Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin, tight end Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or some other prospect that absolutely no one considered as a potential first-round draft pick, then you might want to stop reading right here, because Reese stuck to his insistence of looking for the "best available" player.
However, there were a few nuggets to come from his press conference held at the team’s headquarters in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Thursday afternoon.
Let’s take a look at some of those nuggets and try to break down what they potentially mean for the team moving forward.
The Giants Will Exercise the 5th-Year Option on CB Prince Amukamara's Contract
Jerry Reese confirmed a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the team will exercise the fifth-year option on cornerback Prince Amukamara’s rookie deal.
In doing so, the Giants will ensure that they hang on to Amukamara, the 19th overall pick in the 2011 draft, through next season.
According to NJ.com, Amukamara will earn $6.898M next year, an amount that doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the start of the 2015 league year.
"We think he's a good player, so we exercised the option," Reese said, declining to elaborate.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Amukamara was the 18th-best cornerback out of those who took at least 75 percent of their team’s defensive snaps in 2013.
However, as I noted in my most recent Twitter mailbag in which I cited statistical data from PFF, Amukamara actually saw an unfavorable increase from 2012 to 2013 in some of his key metrics, including percentage of passes he allowed to be completed (+12.5 percent), yards after the catch allowed (+97) and NFL rating (+13.2)
Still, Amukamara was among the least of the Giants' problems last year, and he was solid against the run. By staying healthy, the sky's the limit for this young man.
By picking up the option, the Giants and Amukamara can now work toward a long-term extension that would lower that 2015 cap figure.
However, don't expect that to happen right away. The Giants will probably wait until the middle to later part of the upcoming season in order to see how well Walter Thurmond III and/or Zack Bowman, both of whom were added via free agency earlier this year on one-year deals, pan out.
Eli Manning Is Unlikely to Participate in Any Spring Football
When the Giants initially announced on April 10 that starting quarterback Eli Manning was to have an ankle debridement, the prognosis was that the 33-year-old would be up and running within six weeks.
However, both Manning, and now more recently Reese, have stated that there are no plans to rush the two-time Super Bowl MVP back onto the field this spring, which may or may not be a good thing considering the Giants are putting in a brand-new offense.
Manning should have no problem with getting the mental part of the process down—he’s always been a quick learner. However, learning and doing are two very different things and these early spring OTAs are going to be vital in terms of building chemistry, timing and camaraderie on the field.
Still, he expressed confidence when he spoke to reporters two weeks ago and was asked about adjusting to the likelihood of him not being ready for the spring.
I’ll try to get as many mental reps as possible, get a lot of talking with the teammates and players. I just have to see how quickly I can get back and whether I can get some jog-throughs or just get as many mental reps as possible.
I think right now my number one concern is getting back healthy, number two is learning the playbook. Luckily it’s a little different. This is my second offense I’ve had to learn. I think it’s a little different than 10 years ago when I was a rookie in the NFL trying to learn a system. Now I have an understanding of the game of football better and in a lot of cases it’s the same things just said a little differently.
The important thing for the Giants is to make sure their offense’s leader is fully ready to go when it counts.
"We want him back for the summer; we’re not going to rush him back," Reese said. "We know he’ll be back in the summer. If he can do something in the spring, we’ll be happy to see him out there but we’re not going to rush him back."
When Manning does return to the field, he'll be facing the challenge of showing that last year's 27-interception season was a fluke.
Reese said he's confident that Manning will be able to do just that, even if he has to miss the on-field work this spring.
"Eli is a smart guy," Reese said. "I think he's driven to prove that last year was just an odd year for him. I think he'll bounce back and have a terrific season."
The Rookies Are Going to Have to Hit the Ground Running
Rookie minicamps: The place where NFL stars such as safety Will Hill, offensive lineman Rich Seubert and linebacker Chase Blackburn all got their start.
The importance of rookie minicamp cannot be overstated. A fresh crop of young hopefuls, including those on tryout basis, take over the team’s facility for a three-day period during which they’re taught the fundamentals of the playbook.
The coaches then bring those players out to the field for two practices to gauge not only how well the hopefuls are picking up what’s being taught in the classroom, but to also get their first post-draft look at the rookie class in an environment that they, the coaches, determine.
Thanks to the draft being pushed back by two weeks, most teams, the Giants included, are left with no choice but to toss their rookies headfirst into the deep end of the swimming pool with the hope that they swim and not sink to the bottom.
"Yeah, they’ve got to get in here right away and start working, start learning on how to be a pro and get going," Reese said.
It’s a tough challenge as it is, but when a team is looking to rebuild from a 7-9 season, not having that orientation period for the rookies could potentially be significant.
And no, the draft picks aren't at an advantage because they've been drafted.
"We don’t give guys positions. We don’t draft you in the first round and say, ‘OK, this is your position.’ You have to come in and earn your spot just like everybody," Reese said.
The Giants View Zack Martin as a Versatile Offensive Lineman
As we get closer to the draft, the growing feeling is that the Giants will draft an offensive lineman in the first round.
Certainly Jerry Reese did little to dispel that sentiment when asked about what they’ve done so far with what was perhaps the biggest weakness on their team last season.
“We think we’ve upgraded in some places, and obviously we’ll continue to look and see if there are more players available,” he said.
The problem is they still have a number of unresolved question marks. Left tackle Will Beatty is progressing in his recovery from a broken leg, but he might not be ready until training camp at the soonest.
If he’s not ready to go, Reese said that Charles Brown, formerly with the Saints, is “probably the next option there behind Will.”
Reese also noted that Justin Pugh, who played so well at right tackle last year, is an option for the left side, though Pugh’s lack of a long wingspan probably doesn’t bode as well for him to play on the quarterback’s blind side at this level.
“We’re just keeping all of our options open. Again, Pugh is one of those guys that can play all over your front. We like the flexibility he brings.”
Chris Snee is another question mark. While there remains a high level of optimism that Snee will be able to come back from surgeries on both hips and an elbow, it would be playing with fire to expect him to make it through an entire 16-game season.
That brings us to offensive lineman Zack Martin out of Notre Dame, who I believe will be the pick if the board falls the way I think it’s going to fall.
(Spoiler alert: Martin is my first-round pick in my full seven-round mock draft for the Giants that comes out early next week.)
Martin is a college tackle with virtually no experience at guard, even though that’s where analysts such as Rob Rang and Derek Stephens of NFL Draft Scout have projected as his best position once he hits the pros.
“I just see him as a good offensive lineman. That’s how I see him,” Reese said. “I think he has some flexibility to play both but I just see him as a good offensive lineman.”
So does NFL Network's Mike Mayock, who in a conference call with reporters described Martin as "about as safe a player" as there is in this year's draft.
"Even though I have him fourth as a tackle, he'd be my number one center or my number one guard," Mayock said.
"I believe that he is the only player in this draft that could start and play at a high level at all five offensive line positions."
If the Giants agree with Mayock's assessment, and he's there at No. 12, don't be surprised if that's the direction New York takes.
They Might Have a Backup Center Already on the Roster
While Reese has admitted that there’s still work to be done along the offensive line, one position that many people on the outside believe is a high priority but which might not be as big of a need in the team’s eyes is the center position.
To recap, the Giants signed J.D. Walton, who didn’t play at all last year, to a two-year contract. He is projected to be the starter assuming he’s over the ankle issue that kept him sidelined all last season.
When looking at the depth behind Walton, many people seem to forget about Dallas Reynolds, an exclusive-rights free agent whom the Giants re-signed this offseason, and a player who in 2012 started 15 games for the Eagles.
Reese also noted that Chris Snee can line up at center if necessary, though at this point, I’d think they’d probably be happy just having confirmation that he can get back to a competitive level at his right guard spot before they try moving him around.
There’s also the remote possibility that Justin Pugh, who Reese said, “is one of those guys that can play all over your front” could move inside to center.
And let’s not forget the draft, where the Giants might take a player who’s listed as a tackle, but who in reality projects to an interior lineman at the NFL level.
“We like guys who are versatile players,” Reese said. “We’re not going to pass up a left tackle who we think is only a left tackle because he can’t play guard or center or different positions, but the more you can do in this league, the better off you are.”
Doubts Remain About Running Back David Wilson's Immediate Future
Two weeks ago, running back David Wilson stood before reporters and said that he "expects" and "wants" to be cleared for the start of OTAs.
Before that happens, he said that the doctors need to "see what they want to see," which is an MRI showing that the procedure he had to fuse two bones together has completely healed.
Jerry Reese has been very clear in pledging his support for Wilson's recovery, more so from a quality-of-life perspective than anything else.
However, when it comes to football, while Reese shares Wilson's hopes and expectations that the young man will be ready, he remains cautiously optimistic.
"Obviously if we have him, then it gives us more depth at the position," Reese said. "We brought (Rashad) Jennings in and we had Michael Cox from last year who we’re hoping is developing, but David Wilson—he’s really kind of a bonus for us if we can get him back and we expect him. He’s on schedule to be back and we’re very hopeful that he will."
Reese, who hasn't been shy when it comes to contingency planning at the running back spot, reiterated that Wilson's status will not affect their plans moving forward.
"It’s not going to affect the draft regardless if he’s back or not back," he said. "It’s not going to affect us and how we pick. If there’s a good running back at some point and we think he can help us, we’ll pick him."
Still, don't be surprised if the Giants do pick up another running back to go along with Jennings, Cox and Peyton Hillis, especially one that comes from a program where he did a lot of pass blocking.
Remember, new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, in his only public comments made to reporters on a conference call back in February, wants any running back that plays for him to be able to protect the quarterback.
"You’d like to have a complete back," he said in late February. "Obviously, it’s ideal to have a guy who’s functional out of the backfield catching the football, but at the end of the day, if they can’t protect the quarterback, they’re going to have a hard time getting on the field.”