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Cover 3: How will Free Agency impact Draft?

Posted Mar 13, 2017

Three Giants writers debate how Free Agency will affect the Giants' draft strategy:

The first wave of free agency brought veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall, hybrid tight end Rhett Ellison, and versatile offensive lineman D.J. Fluker to the New York Giants.

So how will those moves – as well as others around the league -- affect the team’s draft plans? That was the topic in this week’s “Cover 3” on Giants.com.

FILL IN THE BLANKS
By John Schmeelk

The old mantra for draft day decision making is “best player available” and, for the most part, that cliché is accurate. But need does factor into the equation, and that’s where free agency will in some ways affect what the Giants do in the draft.

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In a perfect world, a team fills all their needs in free agency, which gives them the freedom to draft the best available player regardless of positional need. This doesn’t happen for any NFL team. Everyone has a flaw or two or three that need to be addressed when the draft rolls around at the end of April, and those flaws impact decision making on some level.

If a team has a big need for a wide receiver, for example, and in the first round there is a receiver and quarterback with identical grades, the wide receiver would likely win that tie-breaker. The Giants, or most teams, won’t move players up tiers to address a need but when sorting through similarly graded players, it has an impact.

It’s the right way to operate since, more often than not, rookies take some time to develop at the NFL level. Predicting needs years down the road can be tenuous at best. When the Giants drafted Jason Pierre-Paul, for example, they already had Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka. The next season JPP was a starter.

When all things are equal, especially in the first round, “need” can be the ultimate trump card. For many first round picks, you can plug and play them, depending on the position. In other words, free agency does affect the draft because it changes a team’s needs.

SOME NEEDS ALREADY FILLED
By Dan Salomone

Draft gurus don’t wait for the entire draft order to be set before releasing their first mock drafts, so they definitely don’t wait for free agency. They should, though, because those are the two main avenues that front offices take to fill their needs. And, naturally, they depend on each other. While this free agency period wasn’t as momentous as last year’s for the Giants – it rarely is or will be in the future – general manager Jerry Reese and company still made some major moves, notably placing the franchise tag on Jason Pierre-Paul and signing Brandon Marshall. So simple math says defensive end and wide receiver won’t be major needs come late April.

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Additionally, don’t overlook what teams drafting around the Giants are doing in free agency. That will also dictate how the draft unfolds.

BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE
By Lance Medow

Free agency certainly helps shape the Giants’ draft plans, but I don’t think it has a major impact given the goal is to always maximize the value of the pick and take the best player available as opposed to reaching for need.  Case in point, last year entering the draft, the Giants had Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and recent free agent signee Janoris Jenkins on the roster, yet they still selected another corner in Eli Apple in the first round.  Given the injury rate in the NFL, you can never have enough depth at any position.  That’s why free agency shouldn’t fully dictate a team’s draft plans.

Thus far, the Giants have addressed wide receiver (Brandon Marshall), tight end/fullback (Rhett Ellison) and the offensive line (D.J. Fluker) in free agency.  Despite those moves, I could still see them drafting a player at any of those three positions.  For example, on the offensive line, Newhouse has signed with the Raiders, so there’s still room for competition and depth on the roster.  The two positions where I could see free agency having the biggest impact on the team’s draft plans would be defensive tackle and linebacker.  Johnathan Hankins is still a free agent and so are Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard, who both saw time in the middle.  Depending on how things play out with those three players, the Giants may have some voids to fill through the draft specifically two defensive starters.