Former Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Polian writes for ESPN now, which is especially handy this time of year because he's actually made NFL draft picks and can offer insight that schlubs like me can't offer. Today, Bill ranks the draft performance of each NFL team over the past three years. (Except the Colts, since he made those picks and doesn't feel he can be objective. Fair enough. If I were ranking the best ESPN.com NFL blog entries of the past calendar year, I'd have a hard time figuring out how to handle the NFC East ones.)
Anyway, Bill's got the New York Giants ranked among "The Best" in his rankings, behind only the Ravens, Lions and Packers. He picks a "best value pick" and a "cornerstone pick" for each team, and for the Giants he lists wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (29th pick, 2009) as the best value pick and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (15th pick, 2010) as the cornerstone. Based on the results alone, these are both very good picks for the Giants, and they offer different types of examples of the Giants' broad-thinking approach to the first round.
Nicks was the fifth of a whopping six wide receivers taken in that year's first round. The Giants, who take a best-player-available approach to the draft and almost never pick based on need, identified that this was a year in which those two concepts overlapped. They needed a receiver, and this was a first round that offered great value at that position. After Darrius Heyward-Bey went seventh to Oakland and Michael Crabtree went 10th to the 49ers, the Giants were locked in on Jeremy Maclin and reportedly had a deal in place to trade up to No. 20 to take him if he fell that far. Instead, the Eagles moved up and picked Maclin at 19. The Vikings took Percy Harvin at 22 and the Giants, with well-regarded Rutgers product Kenny Britt still on the board at 29, went with Nicks.
The Giants believed Maclin and Nicks were both top-15 value picks that had slipped into the second half of the round. They had them rated very closely together and believed each offered something special. With Maclin it was his raw speed and special-teams ability. With Nicks, it was his studious nature and everything they'd been told by his college coaches about his attention to detail and the level of responsibility he'd assumed as a leader of the wide receiver corps at North Carolina. They were ecstatic to get him at 29. If not for the saturation of first-round wide receiver talent in that particular year, they might not have been able to sniff either guy. They took advantage of a rare and exciting confluence of value and need to make that year's first-round pick, and it's paid off.
As for Pierre-Paul, we've been over this story a million times. The Giants were picking in the middle of the first round that year, and the value at that spot was going to be pass-rushers, which is their wheelhouse. Five defensive ends went in that year's first round, and the names of Brandon Graham and Derrick Morgan were being kicked around for teams in the middle of the first round. Pierre-Paul was a mystery man -- raw and inexperienced but unquestionably gifted as a pure athlete. Everybody saw the tape of him doing the backflips. No one -- not even the Giants -- knew for sure how that would translate into NFL football.
But the Giants fell in love. Tom Coughlin went to watch Pierre-Paul work out. They decided that his talent was worth taking a chance on, given the strength of their belief in the ability of their coaches and their veteran players to groom great defensive linemen. Their need was at linebacker, but there was no linebacker in that year's first round that offered value at No. 15. And they didn't need a defensive end who could help right away, since they were already loaded at that position. So why not take the guy whose potential cornerstone talent you believed you could mold into a cornerstone player?
The Eagles traded up to get Graham at 13 -- a move that has subjected them to derision in light of Pierre-Paul's rapid ascent and Graham's health struggles (and the fact that safety Earl Thomas went one pick later). And with the seemingly more NFL-ready Morgan still on the board, the Giants picked Pierre-Paul. They didn't know he'd be one of the best defensive players in the league two years later. They thought maybe he could eventually be that, and that his potential combined with their program made him worth the pick. This was a pick that made more sense for the Giants than it might have made for any other team picking in that spot. They identified that, and again, it has paid off.
Anyway, the other teams in the NFC East are much further down the list, all in the bottom-17 portion of Bill's list labeled "The Rest of the Rest." He picks Sean Lee as the Cowboys' value pick and Tyron Smith as the cornerstone. The Eagles' value pick is Jason Kelce (sixth round!) and the cornerstone pick is LeSean McCoy. The Redskins' value pick is Roy Helu (fourth round!) and their cornerstones are Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, though the Redskins are hoping the real cornerstone is the guy they're picking No. 2 overall next week.