This is the sixth installment in a nine-part series that will analyze the Giants' needs, position by position, in the upcoming draft.
Position: Special teams.
Depth chart: K Lawrence Tynes, P Steve Weatherford, LS Zak DeOssie, PR Domenik Hixon, KR Jerrel Jernigan, KR Da’Rel Scott, KR D.J. Ware.
Not under contract: KR/PR Will Blackmon.
Scouting report: The special teams saw vast improvement in 2011 from 2010. After beating out Matt Dodge in camp, Weatherford provided clutch and, at times, sensational punting. Tynes converted 19-of-24 field goals and had 34 touchbacks during the regular season.
The special teams coverage units also made a big turnaround from 2010. The punt return and kickoff return coverage units did not give up a touchdown return in 2011. The Giants infused the coverage teams with youth and athleticism by drafting players like Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams, Tyler Sash and signing Mark Herzlich. Even star players like Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul occasionally played some special teams attempting to block punts and field goals. Pierre-Paul may have saved the season with his block on a potential overtime forcing field goal by the Cowboys in Dallas. Another contributor who performed well in a short period of time before suffering a season-ending injury is CB Justin Tryon, who was re-signed in free agency.
Returning, though, remained a weakness as the Giants averaged 6.1 yards per punt return and 23.3 yards per kickoff return. Hixon suffered a torn ACL in Week Two and Aaron Ross and Will Blackmon took turns returning punts. Ross signed with Jacksonville in free agency and Blackmon remains unsigned. Devin Thomas, who signed with Chicago as a free agent, led the Giants in kickoff returns. Scott also got a chance to return kicks, averaging 24.4 yards per return. Jernigan, who was drafted with the hope that he would help the return game, averaged 23.3 yards on eight kickoff returns. Jernigan or Hixon could return punts and Jernigan and Scott could return kickoffs as well this season. Ware has kickoff return experience too.
The Last Time: The last time the Giants drafted a kicker or punter was in 2010 when they selected punter Matt Dodge out of East Carolina in the seventh round.
Potential targets: The Giants are set at punter, kicker and long snapper. But they could use an electric returner to spark both the punt and kickoff return games. Since the Giants can use a receiver for depth and potentially to help fill the third receiver void, finding one that can return could truly help.
Arkansas’ Joe Adams led the FBS with a 16.9-yard punt return average. Michigan State’s Keshawn Martin is a slippery and dangerous returner with big-play ability. The Giants have had Fresno State receiver Devon Wylie in for a look and Wylie can return. Florida’s Chris Rainey can be dangerous in space and can also be a returner at the next level.
Need Rating (On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being of highest importance): 5 (returner).