Commentary

NFL draft: Giants' defensive needs

After spending the offseason loading up on D, Big Blue may not be done just yet

Updated: April 24, 2012, 2:54 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Giants spent most of their offseason trying to strengthen their defense.

The Super Bowl champs signed or re-signed five cornerbacks and two safeties, including bringing back starting cornerback Terrell Thomas. They solidified their linebacker unit by re-signing one of their Super Bowl contributors, Chase Blackburn, and trading for Keith Rivers.

And they may not be done on defense. The Giants enter this week's draft having selected a defensive player with their first pick (first or second round) in six of the past seven drafts.

In the past two years, the Giants went defense with their first two picks, drafting defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, cornerback Prince Amukamara and defensive tackle Marvin Austin.

So perhaps this is the year the Giants use a high pick on an offensive player, but general manager Jerry Reese has vowed to go best player available regardless of position, as always. So it wouldn't surprise anyone if the Giants went defense again with their first or second pick of the draft.

Here's a look at the Giants' defense, position by position, entering the draft:

DEFENSIVE LINE

The Giants are loaded on the defensive line with talent but an argument can be made for adding more to the team's strongest area.

Despite having Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and hybrid linebacker/defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka at pass-rusher, the Giants could draft another defensive end.

Umenyiora's future is up in the air again as the defensive end wants a new deal entering the last year of his contract. He also still views himself as a starter. Reese says he is open to an extension for Umenyiora but if both sides cannot agree on one, the disgruntled veteran could opt to take a stand similar or even harsher than the one he took last year when he sat out practices early in training camp before later opting for minor knee surgery.

Umenyiora isn't the only one entering the last year of his deal. Kiwanuka is in the final year of his contract, as well. With Tuck's contract expiring after next season and Dave Tollefson's departure in free agency, the Giants could easily select another defensive end to stock the team's strongest position, especially if one falls to them at 32. The team does like young defensive end Justin Trattou, who could see some backup snaps this season now that Tollefson is in Oakland.

At defensive tackle, the Giants have starters Chris Canty and Joseph back but could use another space eater inside. Austin is set to finally play football after missing his rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle and the Giants almost feel like they have an additional second-round pick this season with Austin making his debut.

But Reese also acknowledges that Austin is an unknown commodity since he has not played in more than two years after missing the 2010 season at North Carolina due to his alleged involvement in the agent NCAA scandal.

"We're worried about him a little bit," Reese said in an earlier interview with SiriusXM NFL radio. "He hasn't played in a long time now. He has been out for such a long time."

Backup free-agent defensive tackles Rocky Bernard and Jimmy Kennedy remain unsigned. Bernard could return but the Giants could add another defensive tackle in the draft, as well.

SECONDARY

The Giants re-signed Thomas, Bruce Johnson, Michael Coe and Justin Tryon while adding former Patriot Antwaun Molden at cornerback in free agency. They also signed free-agent safeties Stevie Brown and Chris Horton.

Terrell Thomas
AP Photo/Bill KostrounTerrell Thomas missed all of last season due to injury, but he'll be back in the secondary in 2012.
Still, there is some uncertainty surrounding the secondary. The Giants lost Aaron Ross in free agency and cornerbacks Thomas, Johnson, Coe, Tryon and Brian Witherspoon are all returning off of season-ending injuries from last year. Amukamara also had an injection to help his broken foot heal but is expected to be ready for training camp. Considering that only Corey Webster, Thomas and Amukamara are under contract past this season -- and Thomas has to return to form after suffering the second torn ACL of his football career -- the Giants could be looking for a young corner in the draft.

The Giants brought Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in for a pre-draft visit, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. They also have had Arizona State cornerback Omar Bolden in for a visit and workout, according to ProFootballTalk.com.

At safety, Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips return but veteran free agent Deon Grant remains unsigned. Last year's sixth-round pick, Tyler Sash, could be ready for more snaps but the Giants don't have to use their three-safety looks as much now with the addition of Rivers at linebacker. While the Giants did add Brown and Horton for depth, Reese currently has only three safeties under contract past this season in Rolle, Sash and Chad Jones, who is attempting an inspiring comeback after nearly losing a leg in a gruesome car accident in 2010.

So if Reese sees a safety he likes, he could add another one for depth and the future.

LINEBACKER

The linebacker meeting room is going to be crowded and this position may be one of the most competitive on the team in camp. The addition of Rivers should give defensive coordinator Perry Fewell more flexibility. The Giants say Rivers can play multiple positions and they are high on his speed and untapped potential. The former ninth overall pick out of USC has to prove himself, though, after suffering various injuries in Cincinnati.

Rivers' arrival allows Fewell to potentially play Michael Boley at middle linebacker or play Boley and Rivers at outside linebacker with Blackburn in the middle. Kiwanuka could do more pass rushing at defensive end but he improved and got more comfortable with his hybrid linebacker/defensive end role as the season progressed last year.

Jacquian Williams impressed the Giants and figures to play in passing situations or more again this season. The Giants also like the potential of middle linebackers Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich. Clint Sintim will be trying to make his way back from a torn ACL injury for the second consecutive season. Spencer Paysinger and Adrian Tracy complete a position that certainly will be filled with competition in camp.

Still, the Giants brought in Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower according to ProFootballTalk.com. While the draft is always unpredictable, the Giants have shown that they never shy away from taking a defensive player even if they are stocked at that particular position.

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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