Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald has become a more popular name in recent mock drafts for the New York Giants at No. 12 in the first round. And it's easy to see why. Donald is a fearsome playmaker on the interior of the defensive line -- a spot at which the Giants have subtracted and not added during their free-agent-heavy offseason so far. He'd be a fun and fine pick for the Giants at 12 -- immediate and long-term help at a position where they value quality depth.
But if they don't take him -- if he's gone before 12, or if they decide their better choice there is someone who plays offensive line or some other position -- the Giants will be counting on people who are already on their roster to help fortify the defensive line for 2014.
"We have guys who need to step up," Giants GM Jerry Reese said in his pre-draft news conference last week. "We brought in some defensive linemen in free agency. We have some guys from last year. [Cullen] Jenkins. We have [Johnathan] Hankins from last year. We have [Markus] Kuhn coming back from the knee injury, so we have some defensive linemen. Jason Pierre-Paul is coming back from his injury. So we have guys that we like. Damontre Moore. We want to upgrade everywhere. We'll try to upgrade our defensive line as we move forward as well."
Now, first of all, they did not bring in "some defensive linemen" in free agency. They brought in one -- former Broncos first-rounder Robert Ayers, a defensive end who's known to play the run well but hasn't been a big sacker of quarterbacks so far in his career. The only other defensive lineman they signed was Mike Patterson, who was on their team last year and therefore can't be counted as an addition. They lost Linval Joseph at defensive tackle and Justin Tuck at defensive end, and there's little doubt that those were their two best defensive linemen in 2013.
Getting a healthy Pierre-Paul back would be like adding a whopper of a free agent, since Pierre-Paul was a non-factor in 2013 due to injury. Beyond that, Reese is hoping 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins and Moore, a 2013 third-round pick, can take on much larger roles as key starters on the defensive line. If they can do that, things will be good. If they can't, we're going to be sitting here a year from now convinced that defensive line is the Giants' biggest draft need.
So what they have right now is potential internal solutions that are, at this point, question marks. I am often told by readers that Hankins and Moore will ascend the way Joseph and Pierre-Paul did in their second seasons, and they may. But to assume they will is to insult Joseph and Pierre-Paul, who are star-caliber players at their positions and whose accomplishments are difficult standards to impose on young players still developing. The hope, obviously, is that Hankins and Moore are stars in the making. It's the job of the Giants' coaching staff to make that happen. But until it does happen, there's always a chance it won't. So at this point, the Giants are holding their breath on the defensive line and hoping/working to make their young players into productive starters.
As for Donald as a potential helper in the first round, Reese was asked a question about him specifically. The criticism of Donald is that, while he was tremendously productive in college, he's a bit undersized (6-foot-1, 285) for an NFL defensive tackle. Reese was asked how important size was when evaluating that position.
"Well, it's important, but making plays is important as well," Reese said. "It's a combination. We like guys who can make plays. We like big guys. We like fast guys. We like smart guys. We like tough guys. That's what we like."
All righty then. Three more days, folks.