NFL Nation: Victor Cruz

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants drafted a wide receiver in the first round, and even though they'd lost one in free agency that's not the kind of thing that necessarily conveys a ton of confidence in the quality of in-house options. They know what they have in brilliant slot receiver Victor Cruz, and they think that first-round pick Odell Beckham can handle the split end spot if he gets over his hamstring problems and gets on the practice field.

[+] EnlargeRueben Randle
AP Photo/Bill KostrounRueben Randle is probably the Giants' biggest red zone target, but the receiver is focusing more on separation with a new offense in place.
But Rueben Randle, the third-year receiver out of LSU ... he's still something of a mystery. He led the Giants with six touchdown catches in 2013 but got just as much attention (if not more) for mistakes and miscommunications that helped lead to Eli Manning interceptions. The third year is supposed to be a big one for wide receiver development, and the Giants hope this is the year Randle blossoms.

Only thing is, they're changing offenses this year under new coordinator Ben McAdoo. And while they liked Randle enough as a vertical threat in Kevin Gilbride's system to pick him in the second round in 2012, one wonders whether he'll fit in the new passing game, which operates closer to the line of scrimmage.

"I don't think we have to throw it deep much," Randle said this week, talking about the new offense. "It's going to be on us to create separation, make the catch and make a few guys miss."

Creating separation in short-range areas isn't easy. Cruz is a master of it, with his speed and shiftiness. Randle is a big, tall long-strider who seems best suited to operate down the field. But if he can't use what Cruz has to create that short-range separation, his size (6-foot-2, 208) offers him a tool that can help.

"Sometimes you're not going to get that separation that you want, and with my size, that's something we talked about, creating separation with our arms when there's tight coverage," Randle said. "Especially using my basketball frame to go up and get the ball."

Randle has shown an ability to use his big body to shield the ball from defenders and make plays in traffic. He's likely the best red-zone target Eli Manning will have, as he's the biggest of the wide receivers and also has shown an ability to out-fight a defender for the ball in the air. But perhaps most importantly, Randle has a handle on what he needs to do better than he did last year.

"Create more separation," Randle says, beginning a mental checklist that's clearly right there in the front of his mind when he's asked. "Keeping my body language positive so Eli will know what I'm going to do. And just running out there fast and making plays."

The Giants believe Randle has the ability to be a big-time player for them at wide receiver. Coaches and teammates say he seems newly dedicated and focused this offseason. He may not be an obvious fit in the new offense, but if he can find ways to use his physical gifts to his advantage, there will be a large part for him to play.

"I think he's getting more and more polished every year, and out here it seems like he catches everything," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "I would say he's going to be one of our big big-play guys this season."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- People keep asking the same question: How will the New York Giants' new offense, under coordinator Ben McAdoo, look different from the old offense they ran for the past decade?

If the Giants get their wish, it's going to look very, very fast.

"We're pushing for 70 or more plays per game," Giants wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan said Thursday.

[+] EnlargeBen McAdoo
AP Photo/Seth WenigNew Giants coordinator Ben McAdoo is looking to speed up the pace of an offense that was among the slowest in the league last season.
In case you're wondering, that's a lot of plays. Last year's Giants offense -- admittedly, one of the worst in the league -- averaged 61.75 snaps per game. Only five teams averaged fewer. The Denver Broncos' record-setting offense, led by Eli Manning's brother, led the league with an average of 72.25 offensive snaps per game. The only other team over 70 was the New England Patriots at 71.12. Chip Kelly's famously high-octane Philadelphia Eagles offense averaged 65.88 offensive snaps per game, good for 13th in the league. The Green Bay Packers, of whose offensive coaching staff McAdoo was a part, averaged 67.12.

So plenty of questions remain about whether the Giants can learn all of the new schemes in time and whether they have the personnel in place to accomplish such a dizzying goal. But watching them practice, it's easy to see how they're trying to go about it.

"I'm still waiting for them to call up a huddle in practice," Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "The intention of this offense is to cause chaos."

Playing at a faster tempo is a boon because it can allow the offense to dictate the action to the defense. You can make your substitutions because you know what you're planning to run. But racing to the line and not huddling keeps the defense from having enough time to put the players on the field it thinks are best suited to stop what you're running. A faster pace could also help cut down on delay-of-game penalties. The Giants had seven of those last year, tied for the sixth-most in the league.

"We have the capability of running our entire offense through the no-huddle," running back Rashad Jennings said. "It's just a matter of how much we feel we need to use it per game, or how often the offensive coordinator feels we need to run it."

That pace, especially between downs, will put a premium on the ability of the players to communicate with each other and make sure they're all seeing the defense the same way.

"We have many ways to communicate," Jennings said. "Some of it is verbal, some of it is hand signals and things of that nature. And just being a student of the game, you understand down and distance and what you want to accomplish, and so it becomes second nature after a while."

The pace will be quick post-snap, too, as much of the offense is likely to operate near the line of scrimmage with a premium on getting the ball in the hands of playmakers and allowing them to do something with it. No longer will the passing game revolve around the deep ball, and on the ability of the wide receivers to choose the same read that Manning chooses from a complex pre-snap menu.

"On a couple of routes, you've got a couple of reads, but that's pretty much it -- about one or two reads," Jernigan said. "Not like the old offense, where we had three or four reads, reading the safeties and the corners and stuff. So it makes you play faster. Make one decision and go. Without a doubt, compared to our old offense, this offense helps you out. A lot simpler, nothing too confusing. Just basically run your route and go get it."

On the flip side, the running game could be more complicated than it used to be. You're going to see a lot more zone and stretch concepts than you've seen in the past, and if everything goes to play, the running game could change drastically from game to game, quarter to quarter or even drive to drive.

"It's different from last year, when we were very downhill-oriented, very iso, that type of thing," fullback Henry Hynoski said. "Don't get me wrong -- we have that in this offense. But there's a lot of outside stuff, a lot of zones, a lot of reading schemes as opposed to downhill. So that's where it changes up a little bit. It's a whole bunch of different things, and it really packs our arsenal with a lot of variety."

When they go to their stretch and zone concepts, the Giants will ask their running backs to dictate the action, making choices about where to make their cuts and when to break upfield. The idea there is, once again, to dictate the pace of the game to the defense.

"We have options every time we touch the ball," Jennings said. "We get to set up the tempo. We set the edge of where we want the defenders to actually hit, how the offensive linemen are blocking ... all of it's moreso in our hands as far as our angles."

The Giants want opposing defenses confused, and tired, and wondering what they're going to do next. It's a lot to take in, and they're still early in the process of learning and practicing it all. It may be the kind of thing that takes time -- and maybe more roster moves next spring -- before they have it down perfectly. But there's a chance it clicks right away and things change immediately for the better. They can't get worse than what the Giants put out there on offense last year.

"If it's anything like we see it on film of where Coach McAdoo has been in the past, and if we can instill some of that in our offense with our personnel, it can be a very high-powered offense," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "We just all have to buy in and understand the playbook, and that starts here in camp."

Giants' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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Projecting the New York Giants' 53-man roster before training camp begins:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
The Giants didn't like carrying three quarterbacks last year. They did so because they drafted Nassib as a fourth-round project with the thought that he wouldn't be active for any games as a rookie. But this year, they've come out and said that Nassib needs to win the No. 2 job. He worked as the clear No. 2 ahead of Curtis Painter in OTAs and minicamp, and I think he'd have to fall flat on his face in order to lose the job. If Manning goes down, the Giants are cooked anyway, whether it's Painter or Nassib behind him. So they might as well keep developing the kid unless he's totally incompetent.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Five running backs feels like a lot, so Hillis or 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Cox had to go. It's possible the Giants carry five and Williams could start out as this year's Nassib -- a fourth-rounder who's inactive for at least a little while as he gets his feet wet in the NFL with an eye toward a contribution further down the road. This list also assumes Wilson is cleared for contact by the neck exam he has scheduled for July 21, which is no sure thing. If he isn't, then Cox or Kendall Gaskins could find his way onto the team.

FULLBACK (1)

It's a camp battle between Hynoski and John Conner, but the Giants won't keep both. My hunch is that Hynoski has shown enough ability to produce with the ball in his hands that he'll get the edge in Ben McAdoo's new offense ahead of Conner as long as he's healthy.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Holliday is likely to make the team as a return man, though it's possible he could get squeezed out if the team decides Beckham, Quintin Demps and either Randle or Jernigan are enough to handle those responsibilities. The Giants signed Holliday before they drafted Beckham, after all.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

In spite of the lack of quality experienced options, McAdoo's offense does appear to want to use the tight end a lot. Some Giants fans are hoping an outside name or two can replace some of the ones on this list, but as of now, this is what they have, and they'll hope something decent comes of it. They are eager to see what Robinson can do if he can ever keep himself healthy, and they love what Donnell showed them last year on special teams and think he deserves the reward of an opportunity here. Daniel Fells or Xavier Grimble could beat out Davis for that third spot without too much trouble.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

There are injury and health concerns with Beatty, Jerry and possibly Snee that could knock a name or two off this list with an IR or PUP designation. The Giants signed Brown and Jerry as veteran backups. They like Mosley's upside, and he could have the edge over someone like Eric Herman or James Brewer.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

I thought about undrafted Kelcy Quarles for one of the defensive tackle spots, and I guess it's possible he could beat out someone like Patterson in camp. But everyone else on here seems like a lock.

LINEBACKERS (6)

If Beason's foot injury isn't healed in time to allow him to start the season, someone like Terrell Manning or Dan Fox could sneak on here. More likely, the Giants would go with five linebackers while waiting for Beason and add someone on the defensive line or in the secondary.

CORNERBACKS (5)

It helps the numbers that Jayron Hosley will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a drug violation. If he does make the team, the Giants will have to clear a spot for him in Week 5. This group could also swell if the Giants decide they need to keep sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson and/or Charles James for special teams. It's going to be tough to make the Giants' roster as a corner this summer.

SAFETIES (5)

It's going to be tricky to get fifth-round pick Berhe on this roster, but the Giants like him enough to make room at the expense of someone like Brewer on the offensive line or Charles James at cornerback.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Special-teams coach Tom Quinn said there was a kicker competition between Brown and Brandon McManus, so flip a coin on that one. The other two spots here are in stone barring injury.
A 7-9 season and a turbulent offseason has left the New York Giants' roster littered with question marks heading into 2014. There are so many positions -- receiver, offensive line, running back, tight end, defensive line, linebacker -- where they hope they've found answers but can't be sure. A lot is riding on the ability of Tom Coughlin and his coaching staff to bring it all together, and for help with that they will lean on the few positions at which they're sure they are set -- and the few players who remain roster rocks.

Victor Cruz appears to be such a player.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Al Bello/Getty ImagesVictor Cruz continued his quest for self-improvement, even after signing a big contract.
After signing his big contract extension last summer, Cruz showed up at training camp and told his coaches he wanted to work to improve his blocking. Yes, that's a wide receiver, in the wake of signing his big contract, deciding he wants to work on blocking because he knows he's got to get better at it to help the team and make himself a more complete player. At a time in his career when a lot of players might have started coasting, Cruz decided to work even harder at one of the toughest parts of his job.

"He's that way," Giants receivers coach Sean Ryan said last week. "For the kind of quick ascent he's had, none of that has ever gone to his head or to his work ethic. He's the same guy he was the day he walked in here in terms of working hard and being down to earth and wanting to be a complete football player. You've got to respect that."

Cruz did improve as a downfield blocker last year, in the estimation of the coaching staff. Like the rest of the offense, he endured a tough season from a production standpoint, catching only four touchdown passes and none after September. But toward the end of the season, he spoke with pride about the improvements he'd made in his game, and his coaches are eager to see him continue to work at it.

"With those guys and the blocking, it's about want-to," Ryan said. "They've got to want to do it. They've got to want to get in there and dig out safeties. And there's a lot of technique to it, too, just coming down and beating men to a spot versus just running out to where they are now. It's not blocking them where they are; it's blocking them where they're going to be. And I think he took a real interest in doing that and being good at it and making himself a complete player, and we're going to pick up on it and continue to improve on it with him and with everybody. You've got to block to play receiver in the NFL. You have to do it."

The return of Mario Manningham to the Giants brings someone who obviously knows all about that. Rueben Randle has the size to do it effectively if he'll commit to it as Cruz did. Rookie Odell Beckham Jr.? Too soon to know what his commitment will be to that nitty-gritty aspect of his position. But having Cruz around as an example can only help. He stands as an example of someone who's continued to work to get better even after brilliant early-career success.

"He's got that same skill set," Ryan said of Cruz now compared with early in his career. "He's an explosive player. His change of direction is excellent. I think he's gotten rid of, in my opinion, some concentration drops he had early in his career. I don't see as many of those. And from a leadership standpoint, he's really stepped to the forefront in terms of being vocal and being a leader on and off the field in that position."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He is the New York Giants' 2014 first-round draft pick. He was the No. 12 overall pick in this year's draft. But wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is here at the Giants' team facility doing what everybody else on the offense is doing at high speed -- learning.

"It's a new offense for everybody," Beckham said Tuesday. "They just got it two or three weeks ago, so the veterans are all learning, too. So right now, everything's all up in the air."

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham Jr
Elsa/Getty ImagesLike the rest of his new teammates, Odell Beckham Jr. is busy learning a new offense.
Beckham said his goal is to learn every wide receiver position in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system, but he's starting out with the X receiver position. That's the split end, or the receiver that's tied to the line of scrimmage and doesn't go in motion. Based on what the Giants said about Beckham the night they drafted him, they view him as an ideal candidate for that spot, since success there depends on the receiver's ability to beat press coverage and get separation from the defender. Hakeem Nicks, the 2009 first-round pick who left as a free agent this offseason, could not do that last year, and the Giants hope that the replacement they drafted can do a better job with that.

Beckham's LSU teammate, 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle, would then be the Z receiver on the other side with Victor Cruz handling the slot receiver duties. But of course that could change from week to week or play to play, which Beckham knows. At this point, he's just trying to get down what he can.

"Right now for me, it's a lot of learning the offense," he said. "I feel like I'm catching up. There's so much being thrown at you a once, it's all going to take some getting used to."

He said having Randle around helps him some, as does his familiarity with Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who went to the same high school Beckham attended in New Orleans and has worked with Beckham at his passing camps. And Beckham also is well aware of outside criticisms about his size (5-foot-11) and has made his peace with them.

"It's something I don't really think about," Beckham said. "There are a lot of guys in the league my size. Percy Harvin is one of them. Maybe he's a little faster than I am, but he's been successful. Size is not something that matters, I don't think."

If he has speed and the ability to get away from defenders, Beckham's size shouldn't hold him back. Nicks has the size to outfight people for the ball, but his inability to get open with any kind of consistency last year hamstrung the Giants' offense. The Giants don't care how tall Beckham is if no one's covering him. They want to get him the ball and let him run with it.

First, though, he's got a lot to learn.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Don't think the Green Bay Packers and the agents for receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson didn't notice the contract extension that Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall signed on Monday -- even if none of the parties involved had on ABC's "The View."

Nelson
Cobb
Marshall's deal could impact negotiations between the Packers and their top-two receivers, both of whom are entering the final year of their contracts.

Marshall's three-year, $30 million contract extension also came with him entering the final year of his contract. His last deal averaged $11.194 million per season, making him the NFL's sixth-highest-paid receiver, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data.

While Marshall isn't an exact comparison for either Cobb or Nelson -- at age 30 he's closer in age to Nelson (28) than Cobb (23), but he has five Pro Bowls and one All-Pro selection compared to none for either Nelson or Cobb -- every deal signed by a marquee receiver will help shape the market for the Packers' duo.

Nelson's last contract averaged $4.2 million per season, an average per year that currently ranks 32nd among NFL receivers. If nothing else, Nelson's camp certainly has a strong case that he's better than the 32nd-best receiver in the NFL, especially coming off a season in which he ranked 13th among receivers in receptions (85) and 10th in yards (1,314).

Cobb is still playing under his original rookie contract -- a four-year, $3.233 million deal that ranks 79th on the list of receivers in terms of average per year. Again, there certainly are not 78 receivers better than Cobb in the NFL, but the injury that kept him out of 10 games last season could impact the negotiations. Also, the fact Cobb plays primarily in the slot could limit his value. The highest-paid slot receiver is Victor Cruz ($8.6 million per season) of the New York Giants.

As of Monday, there were eight receivers with contracts that average at least $10 million per season led by Detroit's Calvin Johnson ($16.207 million per season) and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald ($16.142 million).

Before the Packers began signing their latest round of rookie contracts last week, they had $15,078,037 in salary-cap space available for this season.
After the New York Giants took LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with the No. 12 pick in the draft Thursday night, I wrote this about the risks inherent in falling in love with a player and trusting your own evaluations. This was a very specific, 500-word analysis about the Giants' methods, and it had nothing to do with the player himself or what the Giants liked about him.

But they obviously like him a great deal and for a number of reasons, many of which they went into Thursday night after making the pick.

"He's a dynamic receiver, dynamic punt returner and a dynamic kickoff returner," GM Jerry Reese said. "You're getting a guy that can score touchdowns in three different ways for you. There's no way we would pass him up."

Three different ways is a pretty cool concept, especially if you're picking someone to replace Hakeem Nicks, who scored touchdowns in no different ways in 2013. The Giants clearly fell in love with Beckham's ability as a player who can help them score points. Picking him sends a clear message that they're more concerned with exciting playmakers than with rebuilding the foundation of their crumbled offensive line. Not the way I'd have gone, as you know, but they believe this guy will be enough of a difference-maker to justify the decision.

"We're talking about the quarterback needing help, and this guy is a weapon," Reese said. "We need a weapon on the outside. Victor [Cruz] is more of an inside receiver. Victor can't play on the outside. We have Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan and we got Mario Manningham back, so we're trying to get the quarterback some weapons. You need weapons in this league. We think this guy is a weapon."

Everything you hear about Beckham as a player backs up the evaluation. High-end speed, showcased at the highest level of college football in the SEC. Can take the top off a defense, force safeties to play deep, open things up underneath for Cruz and others. Reese described Beckham as "almost pro-ready," which indicates they expect a contribution at some point during his rookie season. And coach Tom Coughlin pointed out that Beckham's learning curve may not be that significant, given that the veterans, too, are learning a new offense this offseason under new coordinator Ben McAdoo.

"I think a young man of Odell's skill and his level of intelligence will pick this up relatively quickly," Coughlin said.

And good for the Giants if he does. They also raved about his abilities in the return game, which struck me as kind of odd after they spent free-agent money on return men Quintin Demps and Trindon Holliday. But when asked about potential redundancies there, Reese bristled a bit.

"It doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter," Reese said. "The more return guys you have in the building, the better. We haven't had any in the building in some time. So the more the merrier. We have some options there, and whoever wins the job, it's fine with me. Holliday is a fast guy. This guy is a fast guy. Speed kills."

The Giants really do get the benefit of the doubt a lot, though given Reese's draft track record I continue to fail to see why. When the Dallas Cowboys or the Oakland Raiders ignore long-range offensive line needs in favor of fun, speedy skill position players, they get ripped for it. Yet that's exactly what the Giants did Thursday and people seem OK with it. Yes, there are some offensive line options still available Friday night, but there are wide receiver options still available, too, so that argument doesn't really mitigate anything.

The Giants like a lot of things about Beckham, and he's put a lot on film for them and everyone else to like. If he's the player they imagine he'll be, then they'll be happy with the pick. The inherent flaw in the draft is that everyone imagines these best-case scenarios and they don't all come true. In the case of the Giants and Beckham, the excitement of what's imaginable carried the day.
All right. It's time. Well, it's not actually time, since NFL draft doesn't start for eight more hours and the New York Giants aren't likely making their pick at No. 12 for at least nine more hours or so. But it's time for me to tell you what I think will happen, for whatever that's worth.

My prediction is that the Giants will select Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin with the No. 12 pick in the draft.

Why Martin? I think he'll end up being the best player available, in their judgment, at No. 12. I think they see too many red flags with guys like Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan and North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. I think they will decide (if they haven't already) that Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is too small to play defensive tackle for them. I don't think they will or should be willing to pay what it would take to trade up for Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans. And while they went 13 years without drafting an offensive lineman in the first round before taking Justin Pugh last year, they recognize that they've let the offensive line erode to a detrimental extent. Martin is fine value at No. 12 and, like Pugh last year, can play a variety of positions along the line. So going forward, they can play him or Pugh at guard or center and the other at right tackle. Or if they decide to cut ties with Will Beatty next summer, they could play first-rounders Pugh and Martin at the tackle spots long term. The point is to load up on top talent at a vital and neglected position. Martin would represent the best player available at this point at a position of both short-term and long-term need for the Giants.

What if Martin is gone already? My sleeper pick for the Giants at this point is LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. I think that's the guy they'd take if Martin were taken in the top 11, and I think there's an outside chance they could take him even if Martin is still there. Beckham has incredible speed and is known as a playmaker with the ball in his hands. New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is installing a system that's likely to resemble Green Bay's West Coast-style offense and lean on the idea of getting its playmakers the ball and letting them function after the catch. Like current Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, Beckham fits this description and would be a fun toy for McAdoo and Eli Manning. I personally don't love the idea of Beckham at No. 12, since he seems a little too much like Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan. I think this is a very deep wide receiver draft and that the Giants could find good value at the position in the second or third round if they really want one, and that they would do well to draft one with size. Rueben Randle hasn't yet shown that he can handle the outside job full time, and Manning has shown in the past that he would benefit from a taller receiver on the outside. I think they need that more than they need a guy like Beckham. But that's just my opinion, not theirs.

What if they're both gone? I guess maybe Ebron, though I still don't think so. Maybe a trade down, though that's going to be tough at that point in the round with so many other teams thinking along the same lines. If they stay put at 12 and can't get either of their top two choices (assuming those are Martin and Beckham), your guess is as good as mine. But just to throw one out, I'll say Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Yes, I still believe they need to address offensive here. But Clinton-Dix would be good value at No. 12, and Cooper Taylor is the only Giants safety currently under contract beyond 2014. The Giants have taken a defensive back with their first pick in four of their last nine drafts, so it would also be in character, as fallback plans often are.
Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both have new mock drafts out Tuesday. Both are Insider, so I can't fill you in on all of the juicy details, but I can tell you who they're picking for the New York Giants and give you some of my thoughts on it if you like. That work? Mkay, great. Here goes.

Mel's mock Insider has the Giants taking Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald at No. 12 overall. This is with North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron and Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin still on the board. You know me, if I'm picking for the Giants here, I'm taking the offensive lineman. But I have no issue with a defensive lineman, especially one as fearsome as Donald, who could add instant depth to the defensive tackle rotation and likely flourish as a long-term starter on the interior of the Giants' defensive line. Having let Linval Joseph leave in one of the free-agent moves I still struggle to understand, the Giants could use an infusion of talented youth in there, and Donald would be a fun pick. We'd go to bed next Thursday writing that they need to address offensive line in the Friday night portion of the draft, but they likely can do that.

In Todd's mock Insider, Donald and Martin are still on the board at 12, though Ebron is not and neither is Mike Evans. Todd gives the Giants LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who could conceivably team with fellow former LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle to round out the Giants' wide receiver corps behind Victor Cruz. Beckham also would be a fun pick, and would make Giants fans feel better about the array of weapons for quarterback Eli Manning in the passing game. But I don't know if I love the pick at 12. I think the Giants' biggest big-picture problem is the erosion of top-end talent up front. I think you need a foundation piece if you're drafting in the first half of the first round. And I think they'd be better served looking at what Bill Polian calls "fat guys" -- lineman of either the offensive or defensive persuasion -- with this high a pick.

Just my opinion, though, and Mel's pick and Todd's pick both make sense on some level. The fact there's such a spread with regard to the Giants' best options in the first round indicates just how many spots on their roster still need long-term solutions.
The New York Giants made 18 of their players available for media interviews on Tuesday afternoon. Some faces were familiar, others were new. Here are four quick things I took away from the day:

1. Eli Manning's ankle injury may not turn out to be a huge deal, but it's not a small one either. Manning is getting around on crutches right now, though he ditched them before he came out to stand in a walking boot in front of cameras and answer questions Tuesday. (I don't blame him for that, by the way. I'd probably do the same.) Asked directly whether he would be ready for the start of training camp, Manning said, "I think I'm safe to say I'll be 100 percent by the start of training camp." Then he paused and made that face he makes when he's not all the way comfortable with something and said, "I would hope so."

Now, it's important to note that the Giants start training camp a week earlier than usual this year due to their participation in the Hall of Fame game. So it's possible that Manning would be ready by the usual start of training camp but not by July 22, when the Giants are likely to start this year. But regardless of those semantics, it definitely appears that Manning and the Giants are prepared for the likelihood that Manning will miss the on-field portions of OTAs and probably the June minicamp. Manning is a stickler for practice and never misses a chance to discuss the importance of everyone being on the field practicing together. So if his arrival on the practice field is delayed by a month or more, that has to have an impact on his mindset, if nothing else.

2. Chris Snee is a big wild card. We've been treating the Giants' veteran offensive lineman as a question mark, and until we see him back on the field and playing the way he used to play, we'll continue to do so. But Snee said his offseason program has been completely different from what it was last year -- that he's been able to do much more in terms of strength and conditioning work and that he's basically going through a normal offseason of preparation, ready for full practice when the time comes. The potential benefits of a fully healthy Snee to the Giants' offensive line simply cannot be overstated.

3. The new offense will be very new. Lots of talk about new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and what he's installing. Everybody thinks it's going to look a lot like what they run in Green Bay, which is where McAdoo came from. Victor Cruz talked about the simplification of the passing game routes under McAdoo versus the option routes on which Kevin Gilbride's offense relied. There's a lot of learning to be done, and especially with Manning on the shelf you wonder how quickly they can become proficient with it. But the Giants are going to look a lot different this year when they have the ball.

4. They were on message on Will Hill. The Giants have a good media relations staff, and with the news breaking in the morning that safety Will Hill had failed another drug test and was in the process of appealing a potentially lengthy suspension, the players were prepared to answer questions about Hill. Everyone who was asked used the word "support" and talked about Hill as a good guy and teammate who needs help dealing with his issues. I question the characterization of a player who keeps getting suspended as a good teammate, since a good teammate is generally an available one. And I have my doubts about how far the Giants organization's "support" will extend if Hill loses his appeal. I have to think he's probably done here. But Stevie Brown is a question mark as an ACL recovery case, and Quintin Demps was signed more for his kick-return abilities than for his safety abilities. So it's possible they let this play out and see just how mad they want to get about Hill's latest headache.

Victor Cruz, one year later

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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Victor CruzAP Photo/Bill KostrounVictor Cruz's consistent play in 2013 meant far more than his absence from voluntary workouts.
A year ago, as the New York Giants opened their offseason program, star wide receiver Victor Cruz was not present. Cruz and the Giants were working on a long-term contract extension, which they eventually would complete, and Cruz made the decision to stay away from the voluntary portion of the offseason program as long as the deal was not yet done.

This was Cruz's perfect right, as it is the right of every player this time of year not to participate in the voluntary workouts. The criticism of players for their personal decisions not to attend the portions of the offseason programs that aren't required of them is one of my least favorite things about the NFL. "Voluntary" means voluntary, and when coaches and writers and fans get on guys for taking the time off that's available to them, I think that's just plain lousy.

But it happened to Cruz, as everyone from Tom Coughlin right on down to the fan base made it clear they were upset with Cruz for not attending non-mandatory practices. There was concern expressed about his absence's potential effect on the season and what it said about Cruz as a person, a player and a teammate.

Well, the season was a wreck all the way around, and it's hard to say anything that happened in April or May was the reason. But here's what Cruz's absence from voluntary work a year ago said about him as a person, a player and a teammate: absolutely nothing.

As the Giants' mess of a 2013 season unfolded, Cruz was one of the few consistent positives. Yes, I am well aware he didn't catch a touchdown pass after September. But he was playing in an offense that was, in the words of the team's owner, broken. The line couldn't protect the quarterback; the quarterback couldn't stop throwing it to the other team; the running game didn't exist; and the top outside receiver didn't want to play. Once defenses realized Hakeem Nicks no longer cared about trying to get open, they double-teamed Cruz and took the Giants' passing offense's one remaining threat out of the game.

Cruz's reaction to this terrible situation was to continue to play hard, fight his way open whenever possible and work to improve the parts of his game that needed work. For example, Cruz was a liability as a downfield blocker in his first two seasons in the league but a vastly improved one in 2013. He went to his coaches in training camp and told them he wanted to improve that critical and often overlooked aspect, and he did it, earning praise from the coaching staff and teammates behind the scenes. He worked hard in practice, even helping mentor backup slot receiver Jerrel Jernigan and helping develop him behind the scenes to the point that Jernigan was effective in place of an injured Cruz in December.

The injury is the only thing that kept Cruz from a third straight 1,000-yard receiving season, and it came on an effort play as Cruz was leaping to catch a pass in the third quarter of a hideous 23-0 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Not only was Cruz still trying to make something of a lost game and a lost season, there were times when it looked as though he was the only one who was.

Why bring this up now? Because it hasn't been brought up very much. And if Cruz had gotten his big contract and then loafed through the Giants' season -- especially after they started 0-6 -- that would have been brought up a heck of a lot, and in very damning ways. Cruz went the other way, though. He went through the negotiation dance this time last year and ended up getting his money, and he reacted by working even harder and trying to get better so that everyone could see he deserved it.

It bears mentioning that a player whose priorities and focus were being questioned this time last year ended up being one of the best and most reliable players on the team. Of all the things that happened last year, signing Cruz to a long-term contract appears to have been one of the few the Giants absolutely got right.
You've got questions, I've got answers. Especially if you used the #nygmail hashtag with your question on Twitter.
 
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.

Did you use the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter this week? No? Well, then your New York Giants question is not among these. Sorry.
 
Look there's nothing wrong with the New York Giants meeting with wide receiver Mario Manningham on Monday. He's a former Giant, a Super Bowl champion who'll be 28 when the season starts, a guy Eli Manning knows well and ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...

Sorry. I just fell asleep trying to write up yet another mediocre free-agent move by the Giants. My bad. I'll try and stay awake a little longer and make my way through a quickie analysis that I hope will explain the way I feel about the way the past six days have gone.

There's nothing wrong with Manningham, or with taking a look at him and his wrecked knee. Even if this is nothing more than a favor to an old friend looking for work, it's fine. The Giants need depth at wide receiver, and they just got through a season with Louis Murphy on the roster and active every week. Manningham, if he's healthy, surely would offer more than Murphy did.

[+] EnlargeMario Manningham
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMario Manningham made one of the most iconic catches in Giants' history, but his possible return to the team is nothing to get excited about.
My point is this: The Giants entered this offseason so supremely messed up and lacking at so many spots that this is almost what they had to do -- find average or below-average solutions with which to patch the many holes in their roster. Manningham wouldn't be an impact addition in any way. He's not better than Victor Cruz or Rueben Randle, and based on the way December went, he wouldn't necessarily deserve playing time over Jerrel Jernigan. He hasn't had a 60-catch season since 2010, and he's never had more than 60 catches in a season. He's just a guy. He's a guy who made one of the most important and thrilling catches in franchise history, which is why Giants fans likely feel more excited about this news than they should, but he's really just a guy.

The Giants let Hakeem Nicks, a 26-year-old Super Bowl champion, walk out the door without making an offer. They let 25-year-old Super Bowl champion Linval Joseph walk because they didn't want to spend on him. Each of those players is better than anyone the Giants could possibly get to replace him at this point, and therein lies the problem. Rather than actually upgrade the Giants at wide receiver on the front end of the roster, signing Manningham would simply fill in behind what they already have, pushing Randle and Jernigan into larger roles whether they're ready for them or not. The Giants were terrible in 2013, but it's hard to believe they would have been much better if only the backups had been getting more playing time.

The Giants have made some decent moves this offseason. Guard Geoff Schwartz was a fine and essential pickup. But they're taking chances elsewhere, bringing in guys like Rashad Jennings at running back and J.D. Walton at center with no proof that either guy can handle a starter's role. They're still thin on both lines, average at wide receiver after Cruz and have absolutely nothing at tight end. Right now, Trumaine McBride remains one of their starting cornerbacks.

Again, not all of this is their fault. They entered the week with lots of cap room, but they had so many doggone needs that the cap room vanished rather quickly even though they weren't really overspending. This is the reality of where the Giants are right now -- rebuilding their roster at nearly every position. The good news is that quarterback isn't one of the positions of need, and that there are still a number of free agents out there and the draft still to come in May. The bad news is that one offseason doesn't look as though it's going to be enough to rebuild the offense around Manning, and that this could be the beginning of a longer and slower process than many fans realized.

So if they want to sign Manningham, there's nothing wrong with that. But there's nothing about it that should get you excited about their chances this year, either. And to this point, I think that's a fair assessment of their offseason as a whole.

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