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Giants Eying Future with Latest Draft, and That’s Okay

The 2016 NFL Draft is behind us, with minicamps all over the league starting. Teams are now focused on the upcoming season, including the Giants, who look to rebound after a thoroughly disappointing 2015 season. But looking at the Giants’ draft, you wouldn’t guess that the 2016 squad is their main focus right now.

The raised eyebrows began when the Giants’ made their long-awaited first pick at No. 10. The Giants under Jerry Reese have never been a team to draft players based on what the roster needs, instead focusing on drafting the best player available, regardless of the position. But many thought that strategy would change with Reese’s job seemingly on the line.

For better or worse (which will be hard to evaluate until a year or two from now), the Giants did not draft a position of need, instead selecting Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple with the tenth overall pick.

The audible groans and shouts of confusion and outrage at the Giants’ draft party at MetLife Stadium seemed to define the situation: Why would the Giants use such a high pick on a position where they already have two highly-paid starters?

Newly selected Giants CB Eli Apple with Commissioner Roger Goodell at the NFL Draft on Thursday (Photo: AP).

Newly selected Giants CB Eli Apple with Commissioner Roger Goodell at the NFL Draft on Thursday (Photo: AP).

The answer is as strategic as it isn’t crowd-pleasing. Drafting Apple shows the Giants are looking towards the future with this draft, rather than filling holes that need to be filled now.

This isn’t to say the Giants as a whole are looking past this season – in fact, I’d argue the opposite. The big money deals they gave to Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins show the Giants want to contend immediately. But instead of adding to those immediate weapons in the draft, they opted, for the most part, to add pieces for the future.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Apple was the Giants’ top choice. The Bears, who were set to draft immediately after the Giants, likely wouldn’t have traded up to No. 9 if they didn’t catch wind that New York was set to draft Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd. Linebacker is a huge position of need for Big Blue, and Floyd would have fit the bill pretty well.

The selection of Apple is a bit frustrating considering he won’t see starts if Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie remain healthy. But DRC just turned 30, and he won’t be with the Giants forever. Apple was a hard-working playmaker who know what it’s like to win at Ohio State, and his long-term prospects are strong, even if he spends most of his rookie year in the slot and learning from the veterans.

The surprises kept coming in Round 2. With linebacker and offensive line viewed as the team’s biggest needs, the Giants stunned many when they selected Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard with their second pick.

This isn’t as shocking as the Apple pick – the Giants don’t have much depth at wide receiver behind Odell Beckham Jr. – but it’s still noteworthy the Giants opted not to address a more pressing need with the pick. Shepard has a better chance to contribute right away than Apple, as the former could end up as the Giants’ No. 2 receiver even if Victor Cruz stays healthy. But it’s still a move mostly for the future, as the Giants hope they now have a dominant receiving duo of Beckham and Shepard for years to come.

The Giants continued to ignore fan pleas to address positions of need in Round 3, when they selected Boise State safety Darian Thompson. Safety could be viewed as a position of need, since there isn’t a set starter opposite Landon Collins. But will the Giants have more confidence in Thompson than they have in in-house options like Nat Berhe, Mykkele Thompson, Bennett Jackson, and Cooper Taylor?

The Giants finally addressed the need for a linebacker when they took Clemson’s B.J. Goodson in Round 4. But in the here and now, could the rookie constitute an upgrade over guys like J.T. Thomas, Devon Kennard, Keenan Robinson, or Mark Herzlich? Probably not, which is why I imagine we’ll see Goodson contribute mostly on special teams in 2016.

The future was certainly the focus when the Giants selected UCLA running back Paul Perkins in the fifth round. While most draftniks consider Perkins to be the perfect fit for the Giants, he’ll likely have to earn his stripes behind Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen early on.

Finally, the Giants took South Carolina tight end Jerell Adams with their final pick in Round 6. Adams is not a flashy player, but projects well as a blocking tight end who could carve out a career as a specialist over time.

No doubt there are fans that are outraged that the Giants didn’t address positions of need in the here and now in the draft. Specifically, it could be frustrating to see a top ten pick like Apple fail to make an impact when called upon as a rookie.

Frankly, I was a little surprised to see Reese employ such a long-term strategy after spending so frivolously on the free agent market. But I understand and admire what the Giants have done with this class.

I spent much of this post talking about “positions of need”, and how the Giants didn’t address many of them in the draft this year. But by adding guys like Apple, Shepard, and Perkins now, the Giants are hoping they’ll evolve into players good enough to not have those be positions of need in the future.

The outrage from the Giants fanbase is understandable to a point, as the team has failed to make the playoffs since 2011, and many want to see results now. But we need to remember that there will be another season after 2016, and another one after that, and so on. The pieces need to be there to build that team, just as they are to build the 2016 roster. If Apple, Shepard, Thompson, Goodson, Perkins, and Adams become quality starters over the next few years, the complaints will stop.

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