Best player available. It is a term that will be repeated endlessly by general managers and coaches in the coming months.
Teams will insist they’re going to take the best player on their draft boards regardless of position. Of course, it is not completely true. The Indianapolis Colts are not going to select a quarterback in the first round if he’s the highest player on their board. They have Andrew Luck on the roster. New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese is not going to select a safety with the 23rd-overall pick with the team’s recent investments in Landon Collins and Darian Thompson.
To some degree, there is matching early draft picks with need. It’s only natural. The Giants wouldn’t mind if the top player on their board when they pick in the first round was a left tackle, tight end or linebacker. These are positions of need, for the present and future.
Now, that the Senior Bowl is in the books and I've talked with sources and reviewed some draft prospects, let’s see how the early rounds of the 2017 draft align with the Giants' needs. We'll start with the offense and address defense on Tuesday.
Quarterback: The Giants are admittedly looking. Eli Manning is 36, and they likely need to find his successor within the next couple years. This isn’t the best draft for quarterbacks, both at the top and with depth. Unless Clemson's Deshaun Watson slips into the bottom half of the first round, Manning’s successor isn’t expected to be found this year. More likely they might find a potential backup in the middle rounds.
Running back: “It’s a good year to need a running back,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said recently. Even with the top two (Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook) likely gone before the Giants pick, they could find a quality player in the first few rounds. A player such as Stanford’s Christian Mccaffrey or San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey are names to watch with their ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Tight end: The tight end class isn’t anywhere near as strong as the running backs. Alabama’s O.J. Howard may be the only first-round pick of the bunch, and it’s debatable (I’d put it at 50-50 right now) whether he lasts until the Giants pick at 23. But they could desperately use an all-purpose tight end who opens the middle of the field and supports the running game. Howard might be the only real option with Michigan’s Jake Butt recovering from a serious knee injury. The other tight ends are somewhat limited as blockers or pass catchers.
Wide receiver: It’s a solid but not great group, with Clemson’s Mike Williams and Washington’s John Ross at the top. After that, there is a large group that fits near the end of the first round and into the third. That works well for the Giants, who are trying to fill out their wide receiving corps if they so please with a taller threat for the outside to complement Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. Western Michigan’s Corey Davis, Virginia Tech’s Isaiah Ford and Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp are some names to monitor.
Offensive line: This isn’t a loaded class. That top-5 or top-10 offensive tackle doesn’t seem to exist in this draft. Alabama’s Cam Robinson is believed to be the best of the bunch, but he comes with warts. Utah’s Garett Bolles and Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk are options for the Giants at No. 23. After that, there are mostly projects at tackle. It is a decent guard class though. Indiana’s Dan Feeney is the best of the bunch and a potential late first-round pick. Temple’s Dion Dawkins and Western Kentucky's Forrest Lamp are some other guard/tackle options while Miami's Danny Isidora is a more natural guard. The Giants could realistically pick up a potential starting guard in the first two or three rounds.