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How the 2017 NFL draft matches with the Giants' defensive needs

If the Giants can't re-sign pending free agent Jason Pierre-Paul, they'll be in the market for a pass-rusher early in the draft. Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire

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 is 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. I've already addressed the draft's potential impact on their offensive needs. It’s on to the defense.

Defensive end: The Giants could be in search for a pass-rusher if they’re unable to re-sign pending free agent Jason Pierre-Paul. Adding a rusher then would be a priority. Fortunately for the Giants, this draft is deep with pass-rushing ends. While the likes of Myles Garrett will be long gone, the Giants should still have a shot at some quality ends. Michigan’s Taco Charlton, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Missouri’s Charles Harris and Stanford’s Solomon Thomas are considered mid-to-late first-round picks. And even if Pierre-Paul stays, you can never have too many pass-rushers. This draft is loaded with them, from the first into the later rounds. Lots of opportunities for the Giants to pick up useful players.

Defensive tackle: It’s a good, not great, crop of defensive tackles, which could come in handy if the Giants are unable to re-sign Johnathan Hankins. Alabama’s Jonathan Allen is out of their reach. He could be the No. 1 overall selection. But players such as Washington’s Elijah Qualls, Michigan’s Chris Wormley and Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson are options at pick No. 23 or in the second round. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see the Giants try to fill the Hankins void (if necessary) in the first three rounds.

Linebacker: It’s in the realm of possibilities that the Giants take a linebacker in the first round for the first time since they selected Carl Banks third overall in 1984. The streak almost ended last year when the Giants targeted Leonard Floyd, only to have him snatched from their grasp by the Chicago Bears. But this could be the year. This is a strong and deep linebacker draft. UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, Florida’s Jarrad Davis, Alabama’s Tim Williams and Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham are all potential explosive options at No. 23. They would add much-needed speed and pass-rush ability to the position. If the Giants opt not to address this position in the first round, there are some quality options in the middle rounds, such as Louisville’s Devonte Fields and Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt. A linebacker is almost certainly in the Giants' draft future.

Cornerback: This may be the strongest position in the draft. There could easily be eight first-round picks among the group. “Absolutely loaded,” one NFL talent evaluator said of this year’s cornerbacks. The Giants are heavily invested in last year’s first-round pick, Eli Apple, and Janoris Jenkins. They’re highly unlikely to take a cornerback in the first round. They could, however, land a high-quality player in the middle rounds as a result of this group being stacked. Players such as Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis or Iowa’s Desmond King likely won’t crack the first round. The Giants are always on the lookout for cornerback depth. This should be no different.

Safety: It’s not just the cornerbacks who stand out in this draft. There are loads of talented safeties, with LSU’s Jamal Adams, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers destined for the top half of the first round. This won’t benefit the Giants, aside from taking players off the board who don’t fit their needs. They're set at the safety position, with second- and third-round picks from the previous two drafts.