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New York Giants 2011 NFL Draft Review: Late-Round Picks Prove Valuable

After reviewing the New York Giants' 2009 and 2010 drafts, two factors bear repeating.

First, the initial reaction to some higher-round draft picks often turned sour -- even though Jerry Reese quickly proved his mettle with his very first draft in 2007. That year, all eight Giants draft picks played in a postseason that culminated in a Super Bowl XLII victory.

But when Hakeem Nicks was taken in 2009, wide receiver wasn't seen as the biggest need. When Jason Pierre-Paul was selected the following year, the Giants had too many defensive ends.

The second notable factor relates directly to the first -- no matter how frustrated Giants fans might be with Reese's drafts, it doesn't matter. Reese has won two Super Bowls with his five draft classes, and as Sports Illustrated's Peter King recently pointed out, more than half of those draft picks have played in Giants playoff games.

This is all relevant to a discussion of the 2011 draft class. Between getting Prince Amukamara, a widely regarded top-ten talent, at No. 19 and the uber-talented Marvin Austin in the second round, Reese was praised for seemingly his strongest draft class.

But of course, neither Amukamara nor Austin contributed close to what most expected after draft day. Amukamara, after a brief holdout, fractured a bone in his foot in his very first training camp session, limiting him to just seven games. Austin fared even worse, tearing a pectoral muscle in the Giants' second preseason game. He missed the entire season.

Yet the draft class wasn't so warmly accepted simply due to the steals of the first two picks. In Round 3, the Giants got the "burner" in Jerrel Jernigan that fans had been clamoring for what felt like a decade. Two of the three sixth-round picks were spent at linebacker, a move bound to please the legions of Giants fans desperate for an improved defense. In Round 7, Da'Rel Scott was largely unheard of, but upon learning he was the fastest running back at the Scouting Combine, everybody perked up.

If anything, Reese's 2011 draft proved something maybe none of his others did. Even if the early-round picks don't pan out immediately, patience is warranted.

Round 1, pick 19: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

Between being the last first-round draft pick of 2011 to sign a contract, suffering an injury in his first practice and then underwhelming once he finally found his way onto the field, Amukamara had just about the worst rookie season conceivable.

Yet from fans to the front office, barely any enthusiasm surrounding Amukamara has disappeared. Simply put, how often can you grab bona fide top-ten talents without any character concerns at No. 19? graded Amukamara's season, which began in Week 11, at minus-1.8. Had he played enough snaps, Amukamara would rank between Antonio Cromartie and Cedric Griffin as the No. 55 cornerback in the league. Hardly good, but enough for an injury-shortened rookie season.

The Giants' secondary figures to have a different look next season, between the offseason signing of Antwaun Molden and the expected return of Terrell Thomas. The latter is expected to reclaim his starting job, though two torn ACLs in the same knee is nothing to ignore. Aaron Ross signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason, so he will leave one spot vacant.

Round 2, pick 52: DT Marvin Austin, North Carolina

After being dismissed from the Tar Heels and garnering additional pre-draft character concerns, Austin fell to the Giants in the middle of the second round.

Back in March, Reese expressed concern the team was having about Austin having not played football in two seasons due to the dismissal and his pectoral injury. Finishing his junior season at UNC as a second-team All-ACC selection will keep fans excited about his prospects, but Austin has his work cut out if he wants to crack the defensive tackle rotation behind Chris Canty and Linval Joseph.

Round 3, pick 83: WR Jerrel Jernigan, Troy

Jernigan brought his sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash to New York, and with it came the suggestion that the Giants would finally have a lightning rod on offense and special teams. However, Jernigan was unable to crack either the wide receiver or returner depth charts and appeared in only eight games as a rookie.

Depending what Reese does this weekend -- wide receiver has been mentioned as an early-round possibility -- Jernigan figures to be in line for more playing time, both as a wide receiver with Mario Manningham gone and as a returner. Domenik Hixon is returning from injury and will be his primary competition for the kick returner job, while Scott and D.J. Ware will battle for the top punt returner spot.

Round 4, pick 117: OT James Brewer, Indiana

Drafted purely as a developmental prospect, Brewer wasn't expected to see much playing time for a few years. But given how age is rapidly catching up to the Giants' offensive line, Brewer could see significant time at right tackle in 2012.

Again, that's all reliant on this weekend's draft. But with Kareem McKenzie all but assured to be playing elsewhere, the right tackle spot is currently wide open. The Giants did add veteran tackle Sean Locklear in free agency, though he's hardly guaranteed the starting job, let alone a roster spot.

Round 6, pick 185: LB Greg Jones, Michigan State

Jones, a somewhat undersized linebacker at 6-foot, 248 pounds, appeared in all 16 games last season and started five. He finished with 31 tackles, a solid but hardly spectacular total for a player who eclipsed 100 tackles in three of his four college seasons.

Jones was most valuable early in the season, when he started the Giants' first two games as an injury replacement. He recorded a combined six tackles in both, including four in Week 1. However, his lack of coverage skills hinders his ability as a three-down linebacker.

The acquisition of Keith Rivers from the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this month also muddies Jones' future, though it greatly enhances the flexibility the Giants will have with their linebackers. Either way, Jones was a valuable special teams contributor in 2011 and will likely continue to serve that role.

Round 6, pick 198: S Tyler Sash, Iowa

Like Jones, Sash appeared in all 16 games last season, though he didn't start any. He finished with 17 tackles and one forced fumble in the Week 9 win over the New England Patriots. Sash, Reese's fourth Big Ten selection from this draft class, was also a valuable special teams contributor, adding to his value as a late-round pick.

Round 6, pick 202: LB Jacquian Williams, South Florida

A college teammate of Pierre-Paul's, Williams was another extremely raw USF product Reese had his eyes on. Williams played only two seasons at South Florida (he first spent two years at Fort Scott Community College) but showed enough talent to make his way to the NFL.

In fact, Williams was the rookie the Giants saw the most of in 2011. He played 597 snaps and earned a minus-5.2 grade from Pro Football Focus, though he started playing his best football in a stretch of games beginning in Week 16 and lasting through the playoffs.

Williams will likely enter 2012 as a backup outside linebacker behind Rivers or Mathias Kiwanuka, though he did spend a lot of 2011 on the inside.

Round 7, pick 221: RB Da'Rel Scott, Maryland

Based on his sheer speed, many figured Scott would at least get a few opportunities for home-run plays in 2011. He did have a 97-yard run in the second preseason game against the Chicago Bears, but played just 17 snaps in the regular season. Scott was also briefly used as a kick returner, as he fielded 14 kicks for 341 yards (24.4 per return).

Scott is currently the third running back behind Ahmad Bradshaw and D.J. Ware, though the Giants seem likely to add a back this weekend -- perhaps as early as the first round. If that's the case, Scott could be fighting for a roster spot come training camp.