NFL Nation: Johnathan Hankins

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's hard to imagine a less visually appropriate nickname for a defensive tackle than "Gumby," and when the New York Giants' Mike Patterson heard that it had been applied to him, he gave a deep chuckle that sounded nothing like anything that little green stretchy character had ever uttered. But he's heard it before and he takes pride in it.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Thomas
AP Photo/Michael PerezDefensive tackle Mike Patterson's ability to twist out of tough blocks has landed him atop the Giants' depth chart.
It was Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty who said it last week, describing Patterson as "Gumby" for his ability to bend and twist his way through blocks. It is clear from talking to teammates that the nickname has been used before, and that they think it's a good one.

"I've seen him recover from positions that you wouldn't think would be possible," fellow defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "I've seen him lose a step and go down to almost a knee and a hand and then be able to fight back out of it and make a play. He's a great athlete."

Patterson doesn't resemble a great athlete any more than he resembles Gumby. He's 6-foot-1 and, by his own count Tuesday morning, 316 pounds. But he was, back in 2005, a first-round draft pick. And even if you're a defensive tackle, you need to be more than just a big, chubby guy to get picked in the first round.

"I'm able to pretty much have a good bend in my hips," the genial Patterson said after he got done chuckling. "A lot of guys are still and not able to get down low and stay low and take on double teams and move around like that. It's most definitely a technique learned over time and something I didn't get right off the bat. But I kept working on it and it became natural."

Frankly, Patterson's just thrilled about where he is right now, in life and in football. Three years ago, Patterson collapsed on a practice field at Lehigh University during training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles. He played the entire 2011 season once he recovered, but the following offseason he was diagnosed with a rare brain condition called arteriovenous malformation (AVM). That required an extensive surgery that involved removing a part of his skull.

Patterson played only five games in 2012 while recovering from the surgery and then signed with the Giants prior to 2013. He performed well enough in a reserve role last year that the Giants re-signed him when they decided to let Linval Joseph leave as a free agent. And when the first depth chart of training camp hit last week, you'd better believe Patterson enjoyed seeing himself listed as a starting defensive tackle next to Jenkins.

"I'm very excited and very thankful that this opportunity wasn't cut down or cut short for me," Patterson said before Giants practice Tuesday. "Since I've been able to get back to that starting role, I'm taking it very serious and very personal to keep it. I want to go out there and do my best to show them I'm still a good player."

The Giants rotate their defensive tackles routinely, and Patterson knows that he and Jenkins will share playing time with Markus Kuhn and 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins. He knows that Hankins may ultimately be ticketed to replace him as a starter, maybe even by the end of this camp if Hankins shows enough. But in the meantime, Patterson's pride in having re-established himself as an NFL starter is evident -- and justified.

"The AVM stuff, I'm just happy to finally put that behind me and just move on," Patterson said. "I've had a lot of questions. People were wondering if I was going to be able to play, things like that. But all that's behind me. Now I'm here, a fresh new year and I'm just excited to be out there with nothing to worry about."

Camp preview: New York Giants

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Dan Graziano examines the three biggest issues facing the New York Giants heading into training camp.

The new offense: All eyes are on new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and a Giants offense that's likely to look much different from the one quarterback Eli Manning ran for his first 10 years in the NFL. The fact that Manning was able to bounce back from his ankle surgery and participate in organized team activities and minicamp was a huge help to the learning process, but it's still an extensive and complex process that could conceivably linger into the season. Pay particular attention to the running game, whose concepts seem to be more complex than what the Giants are installing in the passing game. David Wilson said last month that the new offense gives the running backs the ability to "create and dictate" plays, but obviously a lot of that is going to depend on the ability of the offensive line to get the play blocked. There are a lot of questions to be answered on the offense: Who will the starting center be? Who will play tight end? Will Chris Snee be able to hold up at right guard? Can Will Beatty recover in time to start the season? Do the Giants have enough at wide receiver? Is Wilson healthy enough to be a factor in the run game? But central to everything is the ability of the players on the field to smoothly integrate themselves into a new system -- and to do so in time for the start of the regular season.

The defensive line. The Giants let 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck and top defensive tackle Linval Joseph go in free agency. They believe that Jason Pierre-Paul is healthy for the first time since October of 2012 and can dominate from the defensive end position the way he did in 2011. And they believe that young defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn are ready to take the next developmental steps needed to absorb Joseph's workload and stuff up the middle against opposing run games. But they'll need Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore or Robert Ayers to emerge as a reasonable pass-rush threat on the other side to keep offenses' attention away from Pierre-Paul. And without injured middle linebacker Jon Beason around for camp and possibly the start of the season to get and keep things organized in the front seven, it would help if someone from the defensive line group could fill at least part of the vast leadership void created by Tuck's departure.

Team chemistry. The Giants don't go away for training camp anymore. They have camp right at the same East Rutherford, N.J., practice facility where they do their work during the regular season. They'll stay in a hotel as if they were away for camp, and they'll spend long days together in meeting rooms, on the field and in the cafeteria. But one of the big stories of this Giants season is the ability of the coaching staff to integrate a group of new players into the team culture and find leaders to replace guys like Tuck, Terrell Thomas, Kevin Boothe and David Diehl, who are no longer around to serve as locker room pillars. The Giants are counting on the ability of venerable head coach Tom Coughlin and his staff to do that, and they believe Beason and Antrel Rolle have emerged in recent years as big-time leaders on and off the field. But the vibe in the locker room is going to be different with so many new faces in place and so many familiar ones gone. It will be fascinating to see how that all comes together, and whether one offseason and one training camp is enough to make it all work.
You used the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter this week, and I thank you for it.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that middle linebacker Jon Beason does not make it back from his foot injury to play for the New York Giants in Week 1 in Detroit. If that is the case (as seems likely), then Jameel McClain is the front-runner to start at middle linebacker.

At this point, the starters on the outside would be Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, but rookie fifth-rounder Devon Kennard impressed coaches in the spring program and could be in the mix to start on the strong side. What's interesting to me is that linebackers coach Eric Hermann had a lot to say Thursday about the improvement Williams has shown as a weakside linebacker in the Giants' base defense. They already love him on the weak side in their nickel package due to his speed and coverage ability. But if they like him there in the base as well, Williams might be ahead of Paysinger to start there even once Beason returns and McClain moves back to the strong side. So to answer your question, I'd expect to see McClain in the middle, Williams on the weak side and either Paysinger or, if he has a big camp, Kennard on the strong side in Week 1.

@DanGrazianoESPN: No. I mean, obviously the short answer is no at this point, because Ryan Nassib, who didn't play at all as a rookie (by design) is still a work in progress.

Giants coaches like his progress. Quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf on Thursday praised Nassib's intelligence and his ability to pick up the new system but said he's still got to work on his accuracy and his timing. Which is understandable, given that he's still a young quarterback who's never played in the league. It's clear they view him as the No. 2 right now behind Eli Manning -- or that they're at least giving him every chance to beat out Curtis Painter for that spot in camp. But no, if Manning got hurt, at this point the Giants would not have honest confidence in Nassib or anyone else who might replace him.

Manning costs the Giants 17 percent of their salary cap. He's the player around whom their team is built. If they don't have him, they simply won't be a remotely competitive team. Even if Nassib comes quickly in camp and becomes a viable No. 2, there's no chance that, in 2014, he offers anything close to what Manning offers as a starting NFL quarterback. All the Giants want from Nassib is continued growth and development, and their hope is that he's a decent backup/emergency option this year and maybe more down the road.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I agree that the Giants' defensive line is questionable behind the starters, and that there's a chance it could be a bad defensive line. They desperately need Jason Pierre-Paul to stay healthy and dominate from the defensive end position, because honestly they're not going to get much pass rush from the other side at this point. Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers are what they are, and they're not the kinds of defensive ends who are going to whip tackles regularly and pile up sacks. And Damontre Moore is still developing.

On the inside, you mention Cullen Jenkins, and I agree he's key because he's the one guy in there who's not a question mark. Coaches were raving this week about the development defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn have shown, and if so then that's a positive thing for them and for the Giants. But there's no way to know until they can practice in pads and play against other teams what they really have in there. To me, the Giants are hoping a lot of people -- namely, Hankins, Kuhn, Moore, Ayers and Kiwanuka -- outperform anything they've yet shown in the league in order to make them strong on the defensive line. It's not nuts to think one or two of them will, but... all of them?

@DanGrazianoESPN: The first-team offensive line in minicamp was, left to right: Charles Brown, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Brandon Mosley, Justin Pugh. Which, no, is not good. They believe Chris Snee could play right guard if he had to right now, but he's working his way back from elbow and hip surgeries and they're taking it slowly with him. And they're also hoping Will Beatty is healthy enough to play left tackle in training camp ahead of Brown, who was signed as a backup. Rookie Weston Richburg is in a straight-up competition with Walton for the starting center spot. So it's possible that by Week 1 it's Beatty/Schwartz/Richburg/Snee/Pugh, which would look a lot better than what they ran out there this week. But as of now, that's your starting five.

Mosley's an interesting case. They like him and think his development has been hurt by injuries. But the fact that Snee and John Jerry (knee surgery) haven't been able to get on the field helped Mosley get a lot of first-team reps this spring. And that can only help him if they need to turn to him to play a starting role in camp, in the preseason or in the season.

Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the first weekend of summer. 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A year ago at this time, Jason Pierre-Paul was not on the field for New York Giants minicamp. He was in California, beginning a back-surgery rehab that would limit him throughout a disappointing 2013 season. Fully healed from that and from the shoulder injury that showed up halfway through the season on top of it, Pierre-Paul is feeling fantastic and rarin' to go.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsNew York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul says he's ready to put a disappointing 2013 season behind him and rebound with a "crazy" 2014.
"When your body's fresh, you can put all of that behind you and pretend it never happened," the Giants' defensive end said after minicamp practice Wednesday. "I've got something to prove this year. I want to shut a lot of people up. I know what I bring to the table. I know what I can do. It's going to be crazy."

Pierre-Paul has collected a total of two quarterback sacks in the Giants' last 23 games dating back to the middle of the 2012 season. That's a far cry from the 16.5 he turned in during the 2011 regular season en route to a Super Bowl title. But now that he's healthy, he says, "the sky's the limit" for what he can do. Which is a good thing for the Giants, because however much money they spend on cornerbacks this offseason, Pierre-Paul is still the most important defensive piece they have.

The organization that has lived by the idea that "you can't have too many pass-rushers" operated this offseason as though it didn't think it could have too many cornerbacks. The Giants said goodbye to 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who were their two best defensive linemen last year. The only replacement they signed was former Broncos first-round pick Robert Ayers, who's known as a strong run defender from the defensive end position. They spent big money on free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and also signed Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman and Trumaine McBride to go along with incumbent starter Prince Amukamara at that position.

Now, cornerback looks like a strength of the roster, but the front seven looks a bit thinned-out. The Giants are basically counting on 2013 draft picks Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore to make big steps forward in 2014 to help fill the holes created by the departures of Joseph and Tuck. If not, they're going to test the old theory about how a strong pass rush helps the secondary more than a strong secondary helps the pass rush.

"We all work as one," Pierre-Paul said. "But they've been doing a great job, because we've been getting to the quarterback in practice."

That can work for a time, I think. And there are plenty of people out there who will point to the Seattle Seahawks having won the most recent Super Bowl with a strong secondary. But first of all, this group has a long way to go before it can claim it belongs in the same discussion as the one Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are running out there in the Pacific Northwest. And second of all, too many people overlook the fact that Seattle's 2013 defense relied heavily on a strong and deep rotation of defensive linemen that wore out opposing offensive lines late in games.

For that reason, the Giants absolutely must play big and strong up front on defense. It starts with Pierre-Paul, who's the one player in their defensive front we've seen perform at a truly elite NFL level. But they will need to be able to rely on a rotation of Hankins, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Markus Kuhn and maybe rookie Jay Bromley at defensive tackle. And they'll need to get contributions from some combination of Moore, Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end on the side opposite Pierre-Paul. If they don't -- if they get pushed around physically on the defensive line and can't force the action by invading opponents' backfields -- then quarterbacks are going to find open receivers against them downfield, no matter how good their corners are.

Pierre-Paul's bravado is fun in June, but it needs to turn into production -- for him and for his defensive linemates -- come September and October. That's the way they've always won with defense around here, and it's foolish to think the formula has changed.

Giants offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New York Giants' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Schwartz
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants knew they needed help on the offensive line, so signing Geoff Schwartz was a move in the right direction.
Best move: Signed to start at left guard after a season in which the interior of the Giants' offensive line crumbled completely and decimated the offense, Geoff Schwartz will be an immediate upgrade at a key position and should help the run game as well as Eli Manning's protection in the passing game. The Giants needed to make the offensive line a priority, and signing Schwartz at the start of free agency showed that they understood that.

Riskiest move: Letting defensive tackle Linval Joseph leave for Minnesota in free agency. Joseph is still just 25 years old -- younger than any free agent the Giants signed. He and Justin Tuck (who left and signed with the Raiders) were the Giants' two best defensive linemen in 2013. The Giants are hoping 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins can fill Joseph's shoes, but letting him go risked leaving the Giants too thin on the defensive line -- a position of renowned strength during their last two Super Bowls.

Most surprising move: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and in general the amount of free-agent attention the Giants paid to cornerback. They spent big to acquire Rodgers-Cromartie and also signed Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman at Trumaine McBride. They obviously needed to replace Corey Webster (who they should have replaced last offseason), but the extent to which they beefed up at the position was surprising for a team that appeared to need more help on offense than on defense.

Draft pick impact: First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. has a chance to make a rookie-year contribution as Hakeem Nicks' replacement at wide receiver if he can learn the offense quickly. Ditto second-round pick Weston Richburg, who has a chance to beat out J.D. Walton for the starting center job. And fourth-round pick Andre Williams, who led all of college football in rushing yards last year at Boston College, could get into the mix early at running back. The Giants are counting on their draft picks to help fill holes on the offensive side.
So far in the 2014 NFL draft, the New York Giants have made one pick. I have spent some time over the past 16 hours or so analyzing that one pick, which is my job. Many of you have responded to my analysis by informing me that there are still six more rounds to the draft and that the Giants have six more picks (two in the fifth, none in the seventh, as it turns out). I sincerely appreciate your help in this regard.

Tonight offers us the second and third rounds of the draft. The Giants hold the 11th pick of the second round and the 10th pick of the third. Those are the 43rd and 74th overall picks in the draft. Good picks. Picks that should produce important, helpful players that develop into backbone types for good teams. The kinds of picks on which the Giants have missed too many times in recent years with guys like Marvin Austin (No. 52 overall, 2011), Clint Sintim (45, 2009), Ramses Barden (85, 2009), etc.

The jury's still out on some of the more recent second- and third-rounders. Last year, the Giants picked Johnathan Hankins 49th overall and Damontre Moore 81st, and the year before that they took Rueben Randle 63rd. The ultimate judgment of their 2012 and 2013 drafts will rest in large part on the performance of those players in the next couple of seasons.

So yeah, it's fair to call this a big night for the Giants. They need to maximize the value of tonight's picks. They need to come up with good players that help them restock their talent pipeline in key spots. Fortunately for the Giants, this is a deep draft that offers them good choices in tonight's rounds, or possibly the chance to move back and add picks if they don't like those choices.

Let's look at some of the players who could be available for the Giants tonight and would be helpful to what they need to do long-term:

Joel Bitonio, OT, Nevada. The Giants spent time with this player before the draft and like him a lot. He's the pick for them in our second-round mock draftInsider put together by Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl. Todd McShay ranks Bitonio as his second-best remaining available offensive linemanInsider, behind Virginia tackle Morgan Moses, whom Todd mocked to the Giants in the first round of the mock draft that was based on what he'd do if he had the pick. Obviously, this indicates that Moses also would be a strong pick here if he's available. Other still-available, highly-rated offensive linemen include UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and centers Marcus Martin of USC and Weston Richburg of Colorado State. The Giants should have their choice of quality offensive linemen in the second round, and as I'm sure you know by now, I think they'd be foolish not to grab one here. It's not crazy to think that a center they take at 43 could start for them right away, given what they have at the position right now.

Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. Lots of you wanted Eric Ebron in the first round, but he went No. 10 to the Lions, and honestly I don't think the Giants were going to take him if he was still there at 12 anyway. I don't think they're motivated to take a tight end in the second round, either, be it Amaro or Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Sure, it's possible they like one of those players more than I realize and could take him for that reason. But I don't believe the Giants are going into Friday night thinking they need to pick a tight end. They don't value the position that highly and I believe that they are willing at this point to give the guys they already have a shot at more playing time.

Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame. Unlike Pitt's Aaron Donald, who went to the Rams one pick after the Giants took Odell Beckham Jr. on Thursday night, Nix has the kind of size the Giants look for in a defensive tackle. Same could be said for Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, who's also still around, if the Giants decide to use one of tonight's picks to beef up in the middle of the defensive line.

Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame. They also could use pass-rush help, and you know they're always looking for it anyway. Missouri pass-rusher Kony Ealy is also still on the board.

Just a few names to whet your appetite. Round 2 starts at 7 p.m. ET. On ESPN, of course.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The man who's signed more free agents than any other this NFL offseason didn't come out and thump his chest about it Thursday. New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese had a lot more to say in his news conference about all of the work that remains to be done than he did about the work he's done over the past two months.

[+] EnlargeReese
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesHaving filled holes in free agency this offseason, Giants GM Jerry Reese is ready to build the roster through the draft.
"We had a lot of work to do in free agency, so we worked hard in free agency, and after that, I actually liked the couple of weeks' extra time to get ready for the draft," Reese said. "The draft stands alone. We try to take the best players we can in the draft. In free agency, you try to fill some holes."

The clear message was that next week's work is the real roster-building work. Free agency, in Reese's words, is about filling holes. The Giants went into the offseason with a large number of holes, and the free agents they signed fit several of them in ways the Giants liked. They tend to be between 27 and 29 years old. They play positions at which the Giants have recently lost key contributors or were in need of an upgrade. Square hole, square peg. Round hole, round peg. Free agency is puzzle-solving work, designed to make sure you can field a team.

The draft, however, is where the Giants (and nearly every other team) prefer to build the backbone of their roster. It is in the draft where the Giants hope to find the true, long-term, cornerstone solutions to their biggest problems. It is in the draft where they have, in too many recent years, failed to find enough such players.

"We try to get more right than we get wrong, but nobody's batting 1.000 in personnel," Reese said. "We always take it hard when guys don't make it that we think are going to be good picks for us. It's always hard, but it happens, we claim it, we move on and we try to pick better players as we move forward."

This was not a general manager gloating about how awesome his roster looks after signing 26 free agents. This was a general manager being honest with himself and his audience about a Giants roster that it still very much a work in progress. It's possible Reese will feel a lot better about the state of the Giants after next week's draft is over, but it doesn't seem likely that he'll feel he's got everything just right. There was more work to be done on this roster than could fit into a single offseason, and after listening to Reese on Thusday I think that's the way he sees it too.

He seemed uncertain about the state of the offensive line, mentioning it as a place where upgrades have been made but also as one where more might be necessary. He doesn't seem to think they're all the way set at center, and while everyone's optimistic about Chris Snee at right guard, Reese struck the proper we'll-see tone about an 11-year veteran coming off two hip surgeries.

Reese also talked about the defensive line, and the team's hope that young players such as Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore are ready to move into starting roles. He addressed tight end by saying they have young guys they hope are ready to step forward. He didn't address wide receiver, because he wasn't directly asked about it, but surely Rueben Randle could be viewed in the same light there in which Hankins and Moore are viewed on defense -- as a player they hope is ready for more. He talked about safety, and of the team's looming decision on Will Hill as he faces a third drug suspension in as many years, and said they wouldn't be afraid to draft a safety if one were there that they liked.

He seems confident about Eli Manning's chances for a bounce-back year at quarterback, and Manning obviously has enough track record to deserve such optimism. But Manning also is going to miss spring practices while recovering from ankle surgery, so he has to get thrown into the question-mark bin as well. If he doesn't get to practice as much in the offseason as he always has, will it take a while to get his season going in a new offense?

There are a ton of questions with this team, and I credit Reese for not acting otherwise. He's a man who has faith in himself and his process. He took last year's 7-9 season hard, and he's clearly disappointed with the results of his recent drafts. But while anything is possible in this league and especially this division -- and while the Giants' coach/quarterback combination is always likely to give them a fighting chance at playoff contention -- I think it's important for Giants fans to at least temper expectations for this coming season. This is a team in the middle of -- not at the end of -- a major roster rebuild. And this was a GM on Thursday who sounded as though he knows that.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There's no getting around the fact that the New York Giants haven't drafted well in the middle and late rounds for the last half-decade or so. General manager Jerry Reese isn't hiding from it either. At his annual pre-draft news conference Thursday, Reese trotted out an old line about how "nobody's batting 1.000," but he also didn't defend the indefensible.

"We sure want to do better than we've done in the last few drafts with the middle and late-round picks," Reese said.

Of the 26 players the Giants drafted in the second round or later from 2008-11, only five are on their current roster. One of those five, Mario Manningham, spent the last two years with the 49ers and only re-signed this offseason. Of the five, the only projected starters are left tackle Will Beatty and linebacker Jacquian Williams, and neither of their spots is exactly rock-solid at this point.

All but one of the seven players the Giants took in the 2012 draft are still on the team, but the only ones who could be starters this year are second-round wide receiver Rueben Randle and maybe, if he develops and they don't upgrade, fourth-round tight end Adrien Robinson. Again, no sure things there. Last year's second-rounder and third-rounder, Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore, could be starters but are also question marks. The point remains that the Giants' inability to find and/or develop mid-round talent is the main reason their roster hollowed out to such an extent that they had to sign more free agents this offseason than any other team in the NFL.

"There are different reasons why guys don't make it," Reese said. "Sometimes you just miss on guys, and we've done that. Sometimes there have been injuries why guys didn't pan out, and some of the guys have panned out. It's personnel, and nobody's batting 1.000 in personnel."

Given the importance Giants ownership places on stability in leadership positions, and the relative lack of turnover in the Giants' GM office over the past several decades, I am not of the opinion that Reese is on the "hot seat." I think he's going to be the Giants' GM for a long time to come, regardless of the results of this draft or any other.

For that reason, Reese is invested in the need to do better than he's done in recent years. He's a proud guy and doesn't give away too much in these settings, but he can't hide from the past draft misses. And it's clear that while he doesn't intend to do that, it does weigh on him. Reese is an old scout who believes in his scouts and want to see better results. So for that reason, I think he's feeling the pressure to have a better draft this year. The Giants don't want to keep finding themselves in the position of having to sign 16 outside free agents every spring. They need to build and maintain a deep roster, and those middle rounds of the draft are the place to do that.
The New York Giants hold the No. 12 pick in the first round of this year's NFL draft after their 7-9 season in 2013. Even after signing 14 outside free agents and re-signing 10 of their own, the Giants have a variety of specific needs and an overall need to improve the quality of the depth of their roster. You could reasonably make a case for them to draft an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, a wide receiver or even a tight end with that first pick.

Todd McShay's fourth mock draft of 2014 is out today. It's an Insider post, but it stretches two rounds. His choice for the Giants in the first may not be the exciting pick for which Giants fans are hoping.

The New York Giants hold the No. 12 pick in the 2014 NFL draft following their 7-9 season. The Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far in free agency, signing a total of 13 free agents, including 13 from outside their own organization. They have filled a lot of holes, but that doesn't mean they are without needs both immediate and long-term.

Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out today. If you're an Insider, you have access to the three-round mock and will see that his first-round pick for the Giants fills a glaring present-day hole with a pick that could bring long-term benefits as well.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The signing of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a good move for the New York Giants. I wrote Sunday night that it would be if they signed him, and now that they have, I reiterate this. He's a good player who's played in the Super Bowl and will only be 28 when the season starts. Five years, $39 million with $15 million guaranteed is a whopper of a deal and likely will force a contract restructure or two elsewhere on the roster, but Rodgers-Cromartie has the kind of ability on which it's worth placing a bet, and part of my problem with the Giants' offseason this year has been their seeming unwillingness to place a big bet. So I'm not going to rip this move. One of the Giants' goals when this offseason began was to strengthen their secondary, and they have done so. On paper, it is clearly the strongest part of their roster as currently constructed.

Which brings us to the forward-looking portion of today's program, where we must remind ourselves that the Giants' roster is not yet fully constructed. In fact, it still needs a great deal of work before this can be labeled a 2014 title contender. And if I were making the decisions in East Rutherford, my next focus would be on the line. Either line, defensive or offensive. Because they both need a lot of work.

For argument's sake, and because most of the Giants' offseason work so far has been on defense, let's start with the defensive line. Their best two players on the defensive line last year were, without much competition, Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph. Tuck is now a Raider and Joseph a Viking, which (a) is terrible news if you fear an invasion by marauders and (b) requires the Giants to contemplate their replacements.

Even if you believe that Damontre Moore and Johnathan Hankins will be ready to step into starting roles in their second years and replace the production that Tuck and Joseph delivered in 2013, the Giants still need to add depth at positions where deep rotations are critical. And believing that Moore and Hankins will be ready to do that is a major, major leap of faith in players who didn't see the field much as rookies. Holes remain at this critical spot on which the Giants have built their championship teams, and there's nothing that makes a secondary look bad quicker than an absent pass rush.

As for the offensive line...

Wait a second. Let's call this section "the offense in general." The Giants still have only one viable outside-the-numbers receiver, and that's the still-green Rueben Randle. They have no real tight end, they're hoping banged-up war horse Chris Snee can answer the bell at right guard and their choices right now at center are (a) J.D. Walton, who was a terrible player in 2011 and hasn't played since September of 2012 or (b) Eli Manning hikes the ball to himself like you do in the front yard when your brother is screaming "One Mississippi!"

The Giants have fewer holes than they did a week ago, but they still have plenty of them. And I think that's the cautionary point I'd make here. Yes, there are still free agents to sign, but we all know this process offers no perfect solutions. Yes, the draft looms in May, but how many right-away starters can you hope to get from a draft? Two if you have a good one, three if you really nail it. The Giants, as of this morning, were not Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie away from the Super Bowl, and they remain in the midst of a significant roster rebuild. Some of the choices they have made over the past week will turn out to have been good ones. Others will not. A year from now, they'll re-assess them all and continue working.

But continue working is what the Giants must do. Their 2013 team was a terrible one -- a wheezing husk of a championship team that won seven of its final 10 games because it kept fighting when teams that had more talent but less character rolled over. The manner in which the Giants have operated this offseason so far shows that they weren't fooled by their strong finish and know how large the project that lies in front of them still is. They must and will continue to keep working, because they still have a lot of work to do.
To me, Linval Joseph is the kind of player you work to keep. He's 25 years old. He's an accomplished run-stuffer who also can crash the pocket from the interior of the defensive line. He's a solid, well-liked teammate who carries himself like a pro and doesn't do anything to embarrass your franchise on or off the field. He's missed one game in the past three years. He's a Super Bowl champion. He was a second-round draft pick who really panned out.

And yet, the New York Giants did not keep Joseph, who has agreed to a five-year, $31.5 million free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings. It doesn't even appear as though the Giants made a real effort to keep him, which I think was a mistake. I understand that they have a lot of needs and a fair bit of depth at defensive tackle, but Joseph strikes me as a player they will miss.

The plan for replacing Joseph is easy to figure out. The Giants drafted defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins in the second round last year and liked what he showed them as a rookie. They also still have Cullen Jenkins under contract and could easily bring back Mike Patterson, who performed well at the position in 2013. They need a pass-rushing end, a middle linebacker, a cornerback, a tight end, a center and a wide receiver -- even after the early signings they made Tuesday. So spending $6 million-plus per year on a defensive tackle likely didn't seem like a smart play. They looked into Arthur Jones, but he signed with the Colts for $6 million a year. It's possible they just don't want to be in the high-end defensive tackle market.

And who knows? Maybe they don't like Joseph as much as I do (or as much as the Vikings do). Maybe they have some reason to worry he'll break down, even though he won't turn 30 until the final year of this deal he just signed. We can't predict the future or how guys are going to play, and neither can the Giants' front office. All they can do is use the data they have in the present to make the best possible decisions and hope they work out. To me, though, it seemed as though the data on Joseph made him look like a player to bring back. I'm willing to bet they will miss him.

Brandon Jacobs inactive as expected

October, 27, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who did not practice all week and was listed as doubtful on the team's most recent injury report, is officially inactive for the second game in a row due to his hamstring injury. Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox will share running back duties for the Giants on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles as they did in Monday night's victory over the Vikings.

Also inactive for the Giants are running back David Wilson, cornerback Jayron Hosley, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, tight end Adrien Robinson, center Dallas Reynolds and third quarterback Ryan Nassib. None of those is a surprise, as the first three already had been ruled out due to injury, Robinson hasn't played all year due to a foot problem, Reynolds is new and Nassib is more or less redshirting.

Rogers being inactive means that rookie Johnathan Hankins will be involved in the defensive tackle rotation, as he was in Weeks 5 and 6 against the Eagles and the Bears. Hankins was inactive Monday against the Vikings with all of the veteran defensive tackles healthy.

Michael Vick will start at quarterback for the Eagles, as Nick Foles is inactive due to a concussion. Vick has not played since injuring his hamstring in the second quarter of the Eagles' Week 5 victory over the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

In other Giants news, Adam Schefter reported on ESPN on Sunday morning that the team is "resisting all overtures" for wide receiver Hakeem Nicks in advance of Tuesday's trade deadline. That's not to say there's no chance Nicks gets dealt, but as we have discussed here, his value isn't very high right now and the Giants haven't yet given up on their season or the idea of keeping Nicks beyond this season. Perhaps that changes if they lose Sunday, but either way, it's obviously unlikely they trade Nicks by Tuesday.

Jacobs out, Cox to make first start

October, 21, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eleven days after rushing for 106 yards in a loss to the Bears, New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs is inactive for Monday night's game against the Vikings due to a hamstring injury. That means rookie Michael Cox, who was the second-to-last pick in this year's draft and has not had a carry yet this season, will be the starting running back for the Giants on Monday. Newly signed veteran Peyton Hillis and fullback John Conner are the only other two active running backs for the Giants, who have lost David Wilson, Andre Brown and Da'Rel Scott to injury so far this season and are 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

In other player-eligibility news, cornerback Corey Webster is active for the first time since Week 2. He's been out with a groin injury, and he may not be all the way healthy yet, as the team lists Trumaine McBride as a starting cornerback and Webster as a reserve for this game. Center David Baas is active for the first time since he injured his neck in a Week 3 loss in Carolina, and he is starting at center.

Jacobs missed practice Saturday with the hamstring injury and couldn't recover in time for the game. Cox, who has contributed on special teams but hasn't yet contributed as a running back, was coming along in practice and apparently has shown enough to earn the coaches' trust as the Giants continue to look for their first victory of the season. It remains to be seen how the carries will break down between him and Hillis, and what the Giants will do with their running backs on third downs and in pass-protection situations. But when they list a guy as the starter, he tends to be the one who gets the most work. (Unless he does something crazy like fumble twice in the season opener against the Cowboys.)

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who was active for the last two games, is inactive as he was for the first four games of the season. The Giants are deep with veterans at defensive tackle, and when all of the defensive linemen have been fully healthy this year, Hankins has been the odd man out. He played very well against the Eagles in Week 5, a little bit less well against the Bears in Week 6, and while the Giants like him and wouldn't hesitate to use him, they believe guys like Mike Patterson and Shaun Rogers are better bench options for them at that position at this time.

Also inactive for the Giants besides Jacobs, Wilson and Hankins are quarterback Ryan Nassib, tight end Adrien Robinson, safety Cooper Taylor and cornerback Jayron Hosley. Of those, Nassib (who is the third quarterback and has been inactive for every game) is the only one who has not been dealing with an injury of some sort.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's not necessarily by choice, but if you look at the New York Giants' defensive line rotation in Sunday's game against the Eagles, you might see a couple of new -- and younger -- faces. Rookies Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore could be significant parts of the defensive game plan in Week 5.

Starting defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins missed practice Wednesday due to injuries. Backup Shaun Rogers also sat out with an injury. That led Giants coach Tom Coughlin to mention Hankins, the second-round draft pick who has been on the inactive list for each of the first four games, as a guy who could make his debut Sunday.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Hankins
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesRookie Johnathan Hankins may finally get a chance to contribute.
"I liked Hankins' work a week ago," Coughlin said. "I thought he was a really difficult guy for us to block in practice from an offensive standpoint, and I really felt like John was ready to contribute, and I feel the same way right now. I'm looking forward to watching him play."

Hankins has been healthy, but has been inactive every game due to the veteran depth the Giants have at defensive tackle. With injuries eating away at that depth, and having had an extra month to develop his NFL game in practice, it may be time for Hankins to show what he can do. Which is ...

"Stopping the run," Hankins said. "That's what they brought me here for. It's not going to be easy against Philadelphia. They have a great running back and a great quarterback who can run. But I am ready for the challenge."

Hankins has impressed his teammates in practice as well.

"Hank has done a good job out there in practice, and our confidence level in him is huge," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "He was a second-round draft pick for a reason, and I think he can get the job done."

Moore has played on special teams and played well, but to this point the coaches have been hesitant to put him into a game on defense. The Giants drafted him in the third round this year in part because he had high sack numbers last year in college and they felt he was someone who could help the pass rush right away. He missed a month in preseason with a shoulder injury, which set him back. But the Giants have a league-low four sacks so far this season, and the pass rush could use some help. So how about ...

"The eager puppy that's ready to get in there and go play," Moore said. "I feel real confident in my skills and in the schemes my coaches are giving me. They don't come up with anything ridiculous. They put in you situations you can handle. So far everything they have told me has come true, so I'm not about to start doubting them now."

Coughlin said Moore "will get an opportunity to contribute as well. He's done a nice job on special teams. He has good energy, and hopefully we can build on that."

The Giants have had some strong performances, in spots, from players at the second and third levels of their defense this year. Cornerback Prince Amukamara has played well, and linebackers Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich made some plays Sunday. But the line is the defense's bread and butter, and it hasn't been disruptive enough. Perhaps an infusion of youth will help.