Injuries force Giants out of comfort zone

The New York Giants tend to do the first round of the NFL draft well. A look back at their past decade and a half doesn't find too many misses. William Joseph in 2003, maybe. Ron Dayne in 2000. But other than that, the list of Giants first-rounders this century includes guys who became solid starters, reliable contributors and more than a few stars.

Based on that, the idea that the Giants go into 2013 with last year's first-rounder, David Wilson, and this year's first-rounder, Justin Pugh, as offensive starters is not, on its face, a worrisome one. The Giants' track record tells you that these will turn out to be good players in time. In Wilson's case, you've already seen glimpses of potential greatness.

The only issue that gives you pause is the timing. Because while the Giants tend to find good players with their first-round picks, one reason their track record is so good is that they don't rush them.

We have discussed here many times that the Giants look at the draft in a very specific way. They persistently avoid drafting to fill immediate needs, instead viewing the draft as a means of building and maintaining a deep roster from which they can ultimately fill holes created by age, free agency or salary-cap crunches. They drafted Pugh this year not because they needed him to play right tackle in Week 1, but because they looked down the road and saw potential needs at several offensive line positions and they believed they could develop him into a player who could fill one of them -- even if they didn't yet know which.

They drafted Wilson last year not because they needed him to be their starting running back. They had Ahmad Bradshaw and, as it turns out, Andre Brown to handle the carries. They drafted Wilson because they loved his raw talent, knew they wouldn't have Bradshaw forever and believed they might be able to develop him as a key part of their offense down the road -- a starting running back maybe, but a useful piece even if he wasn't up to that.

As they head into Sunday night's season opener against the Cowboys in Dallas, injuries to Brown and offensive linemen David Diehl and David Baas have thrust Wilson and Pugh into more significant roles than those the Giants had planned for them in 2013. Wilson was expected to be the starter at running back, but Brown was spelling him in key situations -- at the goal line, where he excelled last year, and on passing downs, since he was more comfortable and experienced with the protection schemes. Pugh was still learning the NFL game from Diehl and others. He lost some training-camp practice time to a concussion. He may have been in the plans as a starter at some point in 2013, but only if he developed into one -- not because they needed him to be.

Yet here they are, being asked to do things the Giants don't tend to ask of their first-round picks this early in their careers. Wilson and Pugh are being asked to handle starting roles whether they're ready or not. And that's not the way the Giants are most comfortable handling young players.

They could both be fine. Jason Pierre-Paul was a first-round pick who had 16.5 sacks in his second year. Hakeem Nicks had 79 catches for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 13 games in his second year. The players the Giants pick in the first round are talented, and recent history offers hope that Wilson could make an impact this soon. Pugh might have some growing pains as a rookie starter on the offensive line, but it's not as though they have him at center or left tackle. They won a Super Bowl two years ago with the remains of Kareem McKenzie playing right tackle. If Pugh isn't perfect, they can weather that. They just need him to be capable. Not overwhelmed.

The Giants have faith in their ability to pick first-rounders and develop them into very good players. It's just that they usually like to take a little more time with that second part. Heading into 2013, they're going with Wilson and Pugh as starters on offense and asking a lot of them very early in their careers. It could work out, but it's not the way the Giants are most comfortable doing it.