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Giants draft needs: Playmaking linebackers, O-line help

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

For the third straight season, the Giants tripped down the stretch, missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. But look what they accomplished: A 10-6 finish, and if you don't think that's an achievement -- particularly with all the injuries they absorbed -- you weren't listening to coach Tom Coughlin's locker-room retort to critics after a season-ending defeat of Washington.

"They can kiss my a--." I think you get the idea. So did Coughlin's critics.

The Giants are talented, experienced and playoff-ready, but there are a couple of hurdles to overcome. One is the NFC East. It's always a minefield, especially when you play Philadelphia and Dallas twice a year. Second is that late-season slump. The Giants could have iced a playoff berth last season with a defeat of either Philadelphia or Green Bay in December, but they failed.

So they lost two of their final three. In 2009, they lost three of their final four. The year before, it was four of five -- including a playoff defeat against Philadelphia.

That better change or the coaching staff will. There were too many injuries, too many Eli Manning interceptions and not enough big plays when needed to propel the Giants to the playoffs. But give Coughlin and his team credit: They held up under duress, and it wasn't easy. Now, they need to figure out how to return to the playoffs.

QB: Manning hasn't experienced a losing season since his rookie year, which means this is one position you don't need to touch. However, you might want to tinker with it -- er, him. Manning committed too many mistakes (interceptions) last season and is on notice to be more accurate or take the sack, not give it away. Manning is one of the highest-paid players in the game, and while those 31 TD passes are what you're looking for, the 25 interceptions are not. It's time he starts playing like one of the best in the game. The Giants are stocked in backups, with Sage Rosenfels No. 2 and Jim Sorgi the third-stringer. Rosenfels was acquired after Sorgi was hurt in August and didn't take a snap, but I like him as a backup. He can step in and win critical games in a pinch.

Five possibilities: Giants
Mike Pouncey, G, Florida: Shaun O'Hara is 34 and winding down. Pouncey can play center. He can play guard. The Giants need players up front. Connect the dots.
Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: David Diehl is OK at left tackle, but the Giants need better than OK. Castonzo is big, smart and a product of Tom Coughlin's former ballclub.
Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: There is never too much of a good thing. The draft is deep in left tackles, and Derek Sherrod, Castonzo or Gabe Carimi could be there when the Giants choose.
Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: No position is as needy as linebacker, and the Giants aren't going to get Von Miller. So get one of the next best outside linebackers.
Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois: The Giants need linebackers of every sort, and Wilson is the best inside 'backer on the board -- though he might have to move outside in a 4-3.
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RB: The Giants put only a second-round tender on restricted free agent Ahmad Bradshaw, the team's leading rusher, which could mean he exits. That could be a concern because Brandon Jacobs is as predictable as the stock market -- one week looking like a premier back, the next throwing his helmet into the stands in disgust. Bradshaw replaced him as the starter, and while the Giants ranked sixth in rushing, they never seemed dominant in that department. Jacobs not only made it through the season without missing a game, he improved on his fumbling. Unfortunately, Bradshaw didn't and it cost him, with Jacobs getting more play while Bradshaw sat. Third-stringer Danny Ware played sparingly, but the Giants discovered a fullback in former tight end Bear Pascoe, who stepped in after Madison Hedgecock bowed out with a season-ending hamstring injury.

WR: I like Steve Smith, but I worry about him. He underwent micro-fracture surgery for a season-ending knee injury and his status for the beginning of this year is uncertain. Hakeem Nicks picked up the slack, producing a team-high 79 catches for 1,052 yards and 11 TDs, while Mario Manningham was a surprisingly effective deep threat -- but one who still commits a rash of mental mistakes. The club is still waiting on Ramses Barden, who looked like a legitimate red zone threat when he was drafted, while guys like Derek Hagan, Michael Clayton, Devin Thomas and Domenik Hixon fight for reserve spots. Once upon a time, the Giants were short at this position; not anymore.

TE: Kevin Boss had half as many receptions (21) last season as he did in 2009, but he also missed half the season with injuries. Still, there are concerns: He had 11 drops and struggled with his blocking. Backup Travis Beckum is a mystery, missing time while he was out of camp and nursing injuries.

OL: This has to be one of the top two areas of need, and take your pick -- right or left tackle. Heck, center Shaun O'Hara turns 34 this summer and missed all but six games, so the club can start grooming a replacement there, too -- unless, of course, you consider Rich Seubert a potential heir. Seubert is the left guard but was forced to play some center as the Giants last year went through more lineup changes than Spiderman: Turn off the Dark. My concern is left tackle, where David Diehl is better suited inside. I want an upgrade there, especially with that position protecting Manning's back. Will Beatty was supposed to be the next left tackle but he couldn't pass the audition -- partly because of injuries and partly because of poor technique. Shawn Andrews went in at right tackle for the injured Kareem McKenzie but his history of back trouble makes him undependable. Kevin Boothe is a decent backup at guard and center, while Adam Koets played well enough at center to earn a two-year extension -- and maybe consideration as the future at center. The Giants did well to go as far as they did with the holes they had here, but I would like them to find a franchise left tackle to protect the franchise quarterback.

DL: Defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were forces, tying for the team lead with 11½ sacks and Tuck leading the league in fumble recoveries with five. Umenyiora was irrepressible, forcing a league-high 10 fumbles while playing with a painful hip injury. The two comprise one of the best set of bookends anywhere, and they're backed by Jason Pierre-Paul, who made the most of his limited opportunities and finished with 4½ sacks. Barry Cofield had his best season, but he's a restricted free agent and with a second-round tender the Giants will probably lose him. Defensive tackle Chris Canty held up well vs. the run until a neck injury slowed him down. Rocky Bernard was solid against the run, too, while reserve tackle/end Dave Tollefson played consistently and was active on special teams. I'm not sure what the future holds for Mathias Kiwanuka, who's an effective pass rusher when healthy, but a season-ending neck injury has the club so concerned that nobody is certain he will play again. Ever. Nevertheless, the Giants are talented and deep here. If they draft for the position, it will be down the board ... and I mean way down the board.

LB: This is the greatest area of need, and look for the Giants to spend early picks on the position -- with middle linebacker a top priority. Keith Bulluck was supposed to be the starter here, but he was moved to the strong side where he did OK -- and where his snaps were limited because of the Giants' three-safety package. But Bulluck is 34 and not getting any faster. Jonathan Goff took over in the middle and was effective vs. the run but struggled in coverage -- enough that the Giants must upgrade the position. They need someone to pull this group together as Antonio Pierce did, and Goff is not that guy. Michael Boley, who rarely left the field, made plays but not enough of them. I guess my complaint is that there's no hint of a physical game with him. Clint Sintim had his crack at starting outside but flopped, then had a season-ending knee injury, and it may be time for him ... and the Giants ... to move on. He has had his chances, and he hasn't taken advantage. Chase Blackburn is a decent special-teams player, but the Giants need starters who can rush the passer, defend the run and drop into coverage. In short, they need people who make a difference, and there's no one here who fits that description.

DB: The Giants led the league in takeaways with 42, including 25 turnovers, and credit that to an improved pass rush and improved play by the secondary. But they also surrendered 42 passes of 20 or more yards -- including seven in a 45-17 meltdown vs. Green Bay -- and that needs to be addressed. Kenny Phillips is the glue that holds this group together, but he wasn't the player he was before getting hurt in 2009. Maybe that's inevitable, especially with Phillips coming off micro-fracture surgery, but the Giants need more intensity, more big hits, more of a presence, from someone who looked like an All-Pro in the making. Cornerback Corey Webster bounced back nicely from a disappointing 2009 and often covered opponents' top receivers. Terrell Thomas led the team in interceptions but was inconsistent at the other corner. Aaron Ross is a solid nickel back, Antrel Rolle overcame some struggles in coverage and Deon Grant fit in nicely in the club's three-safety package.


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