EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants may not know who their starting middle linebacker will be this season, but general manager Jerry Reese is doing his best to build a defensive wall in front of that player.
Reese passed on linebacker again and took East Carolina defensive tackle Linval Joseph with the Giants' second-round pick at 46th overall to go with South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was taken 15th overall in the first round.
With their third-round pick, the Giants stuck with defense and drafted LSU safety Chad Jones at 76th overall.
When Reese said he would not draft simply for need, he wasn't kidding. With his first three picks he went for what the Giants considered the best defensive value, drafting athletic juniors with considerable upside who are versatile and add depth. It is clear the Giants didn't think highly of the middle linebackers available after Oakland drafted Rolando McClain, since they still have a gaping hole left there after the release of Antonio Pierce.
With many thinking the Giants would go after a linebacker in the second round, Reese opted to beef up his defensive line with the massive 6-4, 315-pound Joseph.
"He's a big man, a powerful point-of-attack player," Reese said of Joseph. "He holds his ground, clears up lanes for the linebackers. I wouldn't call him a pass rusher, but he is disruptive."
After an injury-ravaged 8-8 season which saw the Giants give up 40 or more points in three of their last four games, the team has given new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell three new toys to play with.
"We are coming; we are coming," head coach Tom Coughlin said when asked how he likes his defensive line now. "Get some of these guys that are here healthy and competitive again. That is a good thing."
Joseph is considered to be one of the strongest players in the nation. He had weight issues early in his college career, ballooning to more than 370 pounds his freshman year which led to a back injury that required minor surgery. Joseph said his hospital stay was a life-changing event.
"It just got to a point where I was like, this is disgusting," Joseph said on a conference call with reporters. "It's hard for me to breathe and it's hard for me to tie my shoe. It was just too much.
"I guess when I got hurt and had back surgery that freshman year, I got tunnel vision. I saw that a lot of people don't really care about me because I was in the hospital and three people called me -- my mom, my coach came to see me and a girl. Ever since then, I figured out my real friends from my fake friends. I knew what I want to do and knew what I had to do to do it."
Joseph lost 70 pounds after that and he had 60 tackles last season. Joseph said he currently weighs 315 pounds and Reese said the team has no concerns about his weight or back.
In the third round, the Giants opted for the best athlete available with Jones, who played baseball and football for LSU and helped the Tigers win a 2007 BCS football title and a 2009 College World Series crown. He throws a 91 mph fastball and was drafted by the Astros in 2007 in the 13th round. He pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings while striking out two in an 11-4 win over Texas in the final game of the 2009 College World Series.
He was the consensus best all-around athlete on the LSU football team and had 73 tackles last season and five career interceptions. Marc Ross, Giants director of college scouting, believes Jones has some of the best hands in the draft and the Giants hope he will also be a playmaker on special teams as a returner. Of course, the Giants already have Kenny Phillips, who is on the mend, while having added Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant this offseason at safety.
In taking Joseph, the Giants passed on linebackers like TCU's Daryl Washington, who was taken with the next pick by Arizona, and the best middle linebacker available at the time in Penn State's Sean Lee, who was drafted at No. 55 when the Cowboys traded to grab him.
Ross said there is a "big drop-off" at middle linebackers in the draft after McClain, who was taken eighth overall by the Raiders.
"When I set the board up, I set it for value," Ross said of the Giants not taking a linebacker. "What we have done so far is we got value picks."
Reese believes Joseph will help his middle linebacker -- whomever that turns out to be.
"If you have some space eaters up front, the linebackers can make a lot more plays," Reese said. "So this sure helps. We are cognizant of what people consider our needs and what we consider our needs are. But our most important need is good football players."
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.