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Fact or Fiction: Options for draft, free agency

The Giants have more roster work to do on defense this offseason.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - Dan decided to start this week with a layup. By the time the second half of the season came along, the Giants had morphed into the team I thought they would be at the start of the season: they scored enough points to win but couldn’t get the needed stops at the end of the games to secure victories. Even though the run defense had issues throughout the season, the pass defense must improve. It starts up front with the rush off the edge and up the middle, but it would be foolish to rule out adding players on the back end of the defense, too. It will be a focus of free agency and the draft.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – Three-fifths of the offensive line needs to be settled, and so does the position it is tasked with protecting. The last we heard from general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur was at the end of the season, and they were just beginning the evaluation process, not committing one way or the other to the most important position in sports. Since they spoke at the top of the new year, the draft field has been finalized and combine invites have been sent. The Giants’ plan will be rolled out in the not-too-distant future as we approach the combine in Indianapolis, the March 13 start of free agency and the draft in late April.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - When you look across the board from a statistical standpoint, I think that makes a clear case for why the Giants have more work to do on the defensive side of the ball. The Giants finished 24th overall, 23rd against the pass and 20th in defending the run. On top of that, the Giants collected just 30 sacks, tied for 30th in the NFL. I think bolstering the pass rush and adding depth in the secondary are two priorities for the Giants. The nucleus of the offense is in place, especially at the skill positions.

Edge rusher has the best hit percentage when it comes to the draft.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Edge rusher actually has one of the highest “miss” percentages. Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report did a fascinating story on this back in 2015. The premium positions are generally (there are exceptions) the ones that garner the most failures on draft night. Teams know how important it is to find pass rushers, so they will sometimes reach for players at those positions, leading to higher bust rates. Moving from college to the pros can be a tough adjustment for players who go against far better offensive linemen every game and have to play both run and pass every down.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – Interior offensive linemen seem to be pro-ready at a higher rate than other positions. They tend to be multi-year starters with a lot of snaps under their belts, not one-year wonders. That means they have experience. Their positions also require them to have a big-picture view of the offense, making the NFL playbook not as cumbersome when they get it on Day 1 as a pro.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Based on the depth at that position in this year’s draft class, I think this statement will hold true for 2019. As far as NFL history goes, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the same. If you have a knack for getting after the quarterback in college, that gives you a head start when you take your game to the next level. Yes, offensive linemen are bigger and stronger on the professional level, but the fundamentals and techniques don’t change much. Athleticism and smarts still help you win your battles on the highest level. Quarterback and offensive lineman are the most difficult positions to project when it comes to the draft. I’d put corner and wide receiver right behind that group. The only other position that you can make a case for a very strong hit percentage is running back, given how so many mid to late round picks have emerged as starters, especially over the last few seasons.

Improving the pass rush is the Giants’ top priority heading into 2019.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - On a daily basis, I go back and forth whether a really good pass rusher or a really good right tackle will be the Giants’ top target in free agency. General Manager Dave Gettleman has made it clear that both are priorities, but at his season-in-review presser, it was pretty clear he is looking hard at trying to find playmakers on defense. “It’s not easy to win games when you don’t have playmakers,” Gettleman said. “We need to improve the defense. Just like I looked you right in the eye last year and told you we’ve got to fix this O-line, we’ve got to get better on the defensive side.” It doesn’t take a genius to translate “playmaker” to “pass rusher”.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction – It goes back to my answer at the top. The Giants need to shore up center, right guard and right tackle. The way Spencer Pulley, Jamon Brown and Chad Wheeler came together down the stretch certainly gives the Giants something to think about in-house. And don’t forget about Jon Halapio, whose season-ending injury in Week 2 threw the first stick in the spokes.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - This is right in line with my response to statement number one. The Giants registered only 30 sacks in 2018, tied for the second lowest total in the league. If you don’t make the opposing quarterback uncomfortable, you put pressure on your secondary, have a tendency to give up big plays and struggle to get off the field. All of those factors came into play for the Giants last season. That’s more of a reason why finding another complement to Olivier Vernon should be priority number one this offseason. Despite missing five games, Vernon still led the team in sacks with seven, but only one other player had at least five (B.J. Hill). You can never have enough pass rushers, and the Giants know that first-hand given that depth helped them win a pair of Super Bowls in 2007 and 2011.

Aside from quarterback, teams tend to gamble the most on offensive tackles in the draft.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact – Other than quarterback, there is no tougher position to find in today’s NFL than a good offensive tackle. Their cost in free agency is exorbitant. Often, there aren’t more than a few first round worthy offensive tackles in any given draft. Teams take an offensive tackle because they have the traits to play the position, even if they didn’t do it at a high level in college. For teams that aren’t swimming in cap space, it is the only other option if you have a need at that position. Because of the schemes at the collegiate level, offensive tackles are not being developed for the pros like they used to, and with limited practice time in the NFL, it is harder to develop them.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact – Teams reach for quarterbacks because they are so important, so it only makes sense to take more chances on the guys protecting them. The problem is, just like the signal-callers, they are tough to project from the college to NFL ranks. Both positions are as much cerebral as they are physical. There are ways to judge the intangibles, but as we have seen, it is not an exact science.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - After the quarterback, what’s the most important position in football? How about the players responsible for protecting your signal caller, especially on the edges. The more crucial a position is to a team’s success, the more likely a team will take a gamble. If you can’t win in the trenches, it makes no difference who you have under center. That’s why offensive tackle is clearly number two on the list.

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