Jerry Reese plays it close to the vest at his annual pre-draft news conference, but the Giants' general manager uncharacteristically revealed the identity of a player the Giants would consider selecting.
"If Andrew Luck's down there, you think we wouldn't pick him?" Reese said today in the Timex Performance Center.
There you have it. Should the player who will likely be No. 1 on most teams' draft boards somehow go unselected in the first 31 picks, the Giants would grab him at 32.
And now back to reality. Luck – the only draft-eligible player Reese mentioned by name in his 20-minute meeting with reporters – will go first to the Indianapolis Colts. The Giants will then have several hours as the first round unfolds to see who remains on the board for them. As defending Super Bowl champions, they will make the final selection in the first round next Thursday, barring a trade.
Reese said choosing 32nd is a lot like, say, selecting 19th, where they secured cornerback Prince Amukamara last year.
"The only difference is you see a lot of really good players come off of the board in front of you," Reese said. "But we feel like there is going to be from pick 15 down to pick 32, there are going to be some very similar kind of players that we like in the row. Again, we talk about rows in our room instead of rounds. We don't think there are 32 guys that should be picked in the first round, but in the first row you have to pick somebody, so that's how we have them ranked. And more than likely, the guys where we are, we think those guys probably should be picked in the second round."
In another comment about picking at the bottom of the round, Reese said, "I don't think it's more gray area when we pick at 32. You just wait and see if somebody is going to fall to you or if there is somebody, you may be able to move up, that you're in love with. It's always a good problem to have when you're picking 32. More likely, somebody we have ahead of our 32nd pick in our first row, more than likely will be down there where we want to pick. Again, at the bottom of that first row, we think those guys are second round picks, unless we have somebody pretty high that falls. But we'll see. We could easily have somebody fall down. I think guys are going to come off the board all over the place early on."
As always, Reese steered away from discussing the Giants' needs, the strength or weakness of specific positions in the draft and, of course, the players who will enter the NFL next week. Actually, the news conference was more like a state of the team address. It was Reese's first public appearance since the scouting combine in February and thus, his initial meeting with reporters since Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham and Aaron Ross departed and Martellus Bennett, Keith Rivers, Sean Locklear and Antwaun Molden arrived. So Reese gave what was almost a position-by-position evaluation of the team.
Well, not every position. Despite throwing out Luck's name, Eli Manning and his two Super Bowl victories are comfortably entrenched at quarterback.
But what about running back, where Jacobs' departure creates an opportunity for someone to share the workload with Ahmad Bradshaw?
"We have some running backs, a couple of young running backs," Reese said. "Andre Brown, Da'Rel Scott, we expect them to step out of the shadows a little bit and see what they can do. We like those guys. We know what Brad(shaw) can do, we know what Danny Ware can do. We'll continue to look in free agency. We'll look in the draft as well and see if there's a running back there that we think can help us."
A similar situation exists at wide receiver, where the Giants must identify someone to line up with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz after Manningham joined Jacobs in San Francisco.
"(Ramses) Barden, we want him to get healthy and play," Reese said. "We picked him high (third round in 2009). We think he has talent. He's done a decent job when he's been able to get some snaps in the game, but we expect him to stay healthy and show us what he can do. And Jerrel Jernigan, he showed a little more confidence as the year went on last year. We think he's a good player as well. Domenik (Hixon) is back. We have some other receivers that we like. We'll continue to look at that position as well, just like all positions."
Tight end is another heavily-scrutinized position. Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum each underwent surgery after tearing their ACLs in Super Bowl XLVI. Beckum said today he hopes to play in the first regular season game. Ballard, however, said the earliest he would return to action is midseason. The Giants signed Bennett, the former Dallas Cowboy, and still have Bear Pascoe.
"We'll see what the doctor says about those guys (Ballard and Beckum)," Reese said. "It looks like Jake is going to take more time than Travis. Travis, he's very confident and he feels good. He thinks he's ahead of schedule, but we have to be careful about that. We don't want to push him out there too quickly and have a setback. Bear has done a terrific job for us. He's kind of a joker for us. He can do the fullback. He can do the H-back. He can do the tight end stuff. And Martellus, he's going to have a great opportunity to show us what he can do. We like his skill set. We think he probably can thrive in this offense and we're really excited about his chances. We'll continue to look for guys in free agency and the draft as well."
The primary questions on defense concern the linebackers. Rivers, obtained in a trade with Cincinnati, was the ninth overall selection of the 2008 draft. But he has been plagued by injuries and missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing wrist surgery. Rivers plays on the weak side, a position Michael Boley has capably manned the hree previous three years.
"I think the injuries are the number one reason he hasn't produced like he was ranked," Reese said of Rivers. "We had him ranked high on our board. Obviously, he got picked high and unfortunately, as a rookie, he got his jaw broke. Then he had a wrist injury, missed all of last season. But if you put all of the tape together and piece together his performance, his profile tape, he did some nice things that we like. It's a new, fresh start for him. He's excited about being here. He's got to prove that he can do it. He's going to be in a great scheme. He's going to be playing behind a pretty good front and he's going to have a great opportunity to show us what he can do."
That leads to a logical question – if Rivers lines up at weakside backer, will Boley move to the middle?
"He plays middle linebacker in the nickel a lot for us, anyway," Reese said. "I think he can play any position. We like our linebackers to be versatile, to play different positions. I think he can play any of the linebacker spots. I think Rivers can play any of the linebacker spots. I think the young guy, Jacquian (Williams) - I think he's a WIL, though. I think he's an outside backer just because of his size. But he could probably play SAM in some schemes as well though. We like those guys to be versatile. They'll play all over the place. That's the coaches job to figure out where they play. It's our job in personnel and my job to try to find a lot of players to give them some choices to pick from."
Reese touched on several other topics that were not related to the draft:
*He said he was "still open" to discussing Osi Umenyiora's contract, which expires after the 2012 season.
"There's been a little bit of talk, but it's a long way to go before we play and a lot of things still for us to do," Reese said. "That's on our plate as well. … Osi has a year left on his contract. He's not a free agent. We'll try to address as many of those situations – Osi's situation and other situations that we have – moving forward."
*Cruz has joined the vast majority of working Americans by intimating that he would like a raise.
"Everything is on our plates," Reese said. "All of those things you guys can think of, it's on our plate."
*Reese was asked if Bradshaw can put his foot problems behind him. The Giants' leading rusher the last two seasons has been plagued with foot issues, missed four games last season and recently had a procedure to promote healing in his foot.
"I don't know about that," Reese said. "I'm not a doctor, but he's had problems, but he always seems to get out there and play. But he's had different procedures. Hopefully, he'll be able to stay more healthy than he's been in the past. Usually in a big game he always plays and he always plays tough."