New York Giants’ General Manager Jerry Reese has come under fire over the past few years for the lack of talent he has put on the roster, most notably this past year when longtime coach and 2-time Super Bowl Champion with the Giants Tom Coughlin was fired. Many critics and fans think that it was Reese, and not Coughlin who should’ve been shown the door. I was among those angry Giant fans who saw that this was a team playing with a razor thin roster including linebackers who were off building tiki huts the year prior. The Giants finished the season 6-10 helped by a breakdown the last third of the season. The thing was, though, Big Blue was competing with almost every team the majority of their games. It was really a miracle that Coughlin was able to get six wins out of his dull tools and if the Giants hadn’t collapsed when holding the lead in the final two minutes of the game FIVE TIMES, they could’ve salvaged a 9-7 or 10-6 record and snuck into the playoffs. Then we wouldn’t even be having the conversation about Tom Coughlin being out and former Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo moving up the ranks to be Coughlin’s successor. But, instead, talent won out in the end, as usual in the NFL, and the lowly Giants shrunk to a third straight 6-10 season and fourth straight playoff-less campaign. There needed to be a shakeup, rare enough for the ever stable Giants organization, and they certainly weren’t going to be bold enough to fire their GM so unfortunately Coughlin was the one to go.
Part of Reese’s criticism was his lack of fruitful and productive draft picks. Many times when the Giants would have a poor season and they’d pick at a good spot, Reese would make a head-scratching move and draft players that just wouldn’t pan out. Reese has especially failed when it comes to drafting mid-to-late rounders. As per ESPN’s Mike Sando, since Reese became GM in 2007 the players the Giants drafted combined to play a league-low 10,767 offensive and defensive snaps in the NFL this season. Other teams’ picks over the same span averaged 16,448 snaps per team, or about 53 percent more snaps than the Giants’ selections. That’s just plain awful. It makes sense why Giants fans show their anxiety come draft night. When analysts say that they need to “build through the draft” the Giants have had their opportunities but have miserably failed. How can you expect to compete when you aren’t playing with the guys who you’ve drafted?
The Giants held the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft. It was consensus to many that the G-men were going to either sure up their offensive line or continue reconstructing the league’s worst defense from last year with another pass rusher or linebacker. The Giants’ top choices looked to be Jack Conklin, a rock solid offensive lineman from Michigan State or Leonard Floyd, a linebacker from Georgia. Unfortunately, they sort of got screwed by two people: Laremy Tunsil and the Chicago Bears. If the video of the top prospect and talented Offensive Lineman smoking weed out of a gas mask wasn’t leaked from Tunsil’s hacked Twitter account, he likely would’ve been the first or second Offensive Lineman taken, likely in the top five or ten picks. Instead he fell to 13 where the Miami Dolphins couldn’t resist his talent and took him. What this meant for the Giants was that the teams in front of them didn’t want to take a chance on Tunsil after the video so they opted for another high-caliber lineman, Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame. The Baltimore Ravens acknowledged they didn’t want to take Tunsil after seeing the clip so they selected Stanley and two picks later at 8 the Tennessee Titans picked Conklin. So, now we are the ninth pick, belonging to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At this point I think everyone knew that Leonard Floyd was going to be the Giants’ guy at 10. The Chicago Bears knew it too, and they also had their eyes on that same prize. They proceeded to trade up and steal Floyd from the New York right in front of their eyes. Now the Giants were caught in a bind. Where to go from here? The conservative front office of the Giants certainly wasn’t going to go in on Laremy Tunsil, so they decide to go defense. Why Eli Apple, though? I’m still having trouble figuring it out. He’s a good talent, don’t get me wrong, and he can help them in the near future, but he was projected to be a mid-to-late first round pick, not one in the Top 10. They could’ve taken fellow corner Vernon Hargreaves who was though ahead of Apple, but instead they opted for the Ohio State product. Myles Jack was also an option but I think the injury concerns far outweighed talent and he actually fell out of the first round entirely. Coming out of Thursday night I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel because they took a good player, but were put in a tough position and I think took Apple a little higher than he should’ve been selected.
Enter the second round Friday night. I wasn’t all that sure what the Giants were going to do but I thought that they had to come out of the draft with linebackers and another receiver to backup Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, who insists he is fully healthy but I don’t think anyone is counting on him being the force he was three years ago besides just staying healthy. There was a solid class of Wide Receivers taken in the mid-to-late stages of the First Round which included Baylor’s Corey Coleman, Notre Dame’s speedy Will Fuller, TCU’s Josh Doctson and Ole Miss’ acrobatic Laquon Treadwell. If the Giants were going to select a receiver in the Second or Third Rounds it would likely be Sterling Shepard, Braxton Miller, Tyler Boyd, Michael Thomas or possibly Pharoh Cooper. They ended up taking Sterling Shepard out of Oklahoma with the 40th overall pick. I think that Jerry Reese might have finally struck gold with someone not named Odell Beckham Jr. It didn’t occur to me originally that Shepard would be a guy the Giants would target in the Second Round but once I remembered what this kid did in college I couldn’t help but get excited. He is exactly the third receiver the Giants need to really make opposing defenses sweat.
This season, Oklahoma made it all the way to the College Football Playoff before losing to Clemson in the semifinals. One big reason the Sooners made it all the way to Miami was the play of Sterling Shepard, who helped Quarterback Baker Mayfield have a record-setting season. He was a four-year player and three-year starter on Oklahoma, so it’s not like Shepard had a meteoric rise a la Carson Wentz, who played at little known North Dakota State. In the final two years of his collegiate career Shepard amassed 137 catches for 2,258 yards and 16 touchdowns. That’s pretty impressive stuff. With his great speed and quickness Shepard often found himself wide open, another asset the Giants can use opposite Odell. The one knock on the Oklahoma product is his size. He is just 5-foot-10, 194 lbs, but he plays bigger than his size. Victor Cruz is just 6 feet and Odell Beckham is a humanly 5-foot-11, so the Giants don’t seem to have concerns about drafting another small receiver. With Shepard’s Cruz-like build and skill set, Reese and the Giants’ coaching staff sees him as a possible slot receiver. He has drawn praise from many Offensive Coordinators and scouts as a future pro, moreso than any of the other wide receivers in this draft class. His high character, feisty play and attitude on the field made him a no-brainer for the Giants, who viewed him as possibly the best wideout in the draft. It’s even more impressive that they got the guy they wanted 40th overall considering they liked him as much as any other receiver. Shepard’s precise route running and deep threat ability makes him an extremely valuable asset for a Giants team looking to make it back to the postseason and hopefully beyond. If Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen can provide some sort of consistency in the backfield, which also involves a stable offensive line, the Giants offense can improve upon last year’s rank of eight and possibly vault itself to the top of the league.
I haven’t been very satisfied with the job Jerry Reese has done with Big Blue over the past few seasons since they won Super Bowl 46, but I think this pickup of Shepard Sterling is a great move, one that could pay dividends immediately and for a long time in the future. Shepard makes me even more excited to watch the Giants this upcoming season after a high-spending free agency in which Reese opened the checkbook to revamp a depleted roster. If Victor Cruz can stay healthy the trifecta of Beckham-Cruz-Shepard could help produce Eli Manning’s greatest season to date.