This is the first of an eight-part series analyzing each Giants draft choice. Without further ado…

CB Aaron Ross, Round 1 (20):

 

casinoThe Giants had a lot of holes going into the draft – most notably on the O-Line, at linebacker, and at the corners – and between these positions, it was hard to determine which we needed most. So to a degree, we were in a position to take the best player available at any of them. If a stud corner fell to us at 20 (which Leon Hall almost did), we could and should have snatched him up. If an ill linebacker fell to us there (Lawrence Timmons, perhaps), maybe we would have taken him.

As it turned out, the stud guy at a need position that fell to us was Joe Staley, the athletic left tackle from central Michigan who projects as a potentially great pass blocker to replace Luke Petitgout (who, as Cody astutely points out, Jerry Reese may have had designs on re-signing at a bargain price, only to see it backfire when the market for offensive linemen went through the roof [see Davis, Leonard] and the Bucs snatched him up).

All of us who watched the ESPN draft knew that Kiper thought we should have taken Staley, and so did I. Having a good corner or outside linebacker is great, but with the exception of quarterback, there is no position on the field more important than left tackle. Considering that the consensus best player available was a left tackle, we really should have pounced.

On the other hand, Staley is considered by some to be more of a project than an NFL-ready left tackle at this point, which is certainly a mitigating factor. Also, the apparently open competition between Dave Diehl and Guy Whimper at that spot hopefully means that we’re high on Whimper as a tackle-of-the-future, though it could of course mean that we’re not so high on Diehl as a tackle-of-the-present.

But anyway, we passed on Staley to take Aaron Ross. No disrespect to Ross – we’ll talk about him on his own merits later – but there are two troubling things about this pick, especially when taken in conjunction with our second-round pick, Steve Smith (we’ll get to him again later too).

1) Redundancy:

In ’05, we tried to address the corner by taking Corey Webster, and in ’06, we tried to address wide receiver by taking Sinorice Moss. Given this, our first two picks this year have to be seen as an admission that those two picks haven’t worked out as well as we would have wanted.

Both Webster and Moss were about as disappointing as possible last year. In Moss’s case, a mulligan is in order – a terrible, injury marred rookie year, while certainly not a good sign, isn’t an automatic disqualification for a successful career. Webster’s second year performance, on the other hand, has us all seriously wondering whether this guy will ever even be a competent NFL cornerback, let alone the asset that his high draft status would have us want him to be.

So by taking Ross and Smith, management has essentially told us that there’s a real chance that both Webster and Moss are perilously close to becoming busts.

There’s also the related fact that over the past three drafts, we’ve devoted four of our five early-round (first or second) round picks to these two positions. That’s a steep opportunity cost, and it will be tough for this group – whoever of the four emerges as a productive player for us – to justify it.

2) Leon Hall:

Of the top three corners, it was Leon Hall and Darelle Revis running a close one-two on most boards, with Ross a distant third. Most people had Hall as the best guy, but the Jets traded up to 16 and took Revis. Fair enough, he was their guy.

If Ross were Our Guy – like, if we thought that he was on the same level as Hall and Revis – I would have had no problem with our taking him instead of Staley. But he wasn’t, because as Mike Garafalo reported, Jerry Reese tried to trade up to take Hall, only to decide that the price was too steep.

So this raises the following questions: 1) If we needed a corner so much, why didn’t we try to trade up two picks (!) to take the superior Hall?; and 2) If we didn’t think he was on Hall’s level, why didn’t we draft Staley, who was considered a better player at a more important position of which we were in equally urgent need. (And if you think we’re comfortable having Dave Diehl at left tackle, then why did we try so hard to sign the mediocre, perpetually underachieving Leonard Davis?)

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Despite the Giants approach, though, it’s hard for me not to get excited about this Ross guy. He’s an athlete, he’s a legit ballhawk (6 picks last year!), and he could be a huge asset as a kick returner. And that, among other things, is what this team needs: athletic ballers.

Beyond that, it was tough for me to get a sense of exactly what this guy’s strengths and weaknesses were from the scouting reports I read. I’m a huge fan of scouting reports, but very often they turn out to be contradictory bullshit. Check out these reports from NFL.com and ESPN.com, which contradict each other on just about every topic:

Re: Speed/Hip-fluidity

From NFL.com:

Uses his speed well to mirror receivers throughout the route… Is better in trail technique than in press, as he has the valid feet and loose hips to turn and run without breaking stride.

From ESPN.com:

Lacks ideal hip-fluidity and has problems in man-to-man coverage as a result. Footwork is inconsistent…Ross lacks ideal hip-fluidity and recovery speed in man-to-man coverage. He also has room to improve his footwork.

Re:Strength/Press Coverage Technique

From NFL.com:

Has a lean frame with marginal playing strength…Lacks good press coverage technique… fails to generate the punch to press or the placement to reroute.

From ESPN.com:

Has a strong upper body and does a good job redirecting receivers in press coverage.

Re: Instincts

From NFL.com:

Not the most instinctive player on the field and is slow to diagnose plays…Lacks field intelligence and will bite on pump fakes and misdirection… Lacks an ideal feel for seeing plays develop and will need time to learn the proper techniques of diagnosing and reading keys… Liability in zone coverage, as he is late to locate the ball and lacks a good feel for handling the switch-off.

From ESPN.com

Shows good instincts and rarely gets caught out of position…He possesses a very good blend of size, speed, instincts, and ball-skills.

Contradictory reports notwithstanding, three qualities emerge from both:

Whether it’s because of his technique or his speed, the guy has a way to go as far as being a shut-down corner (see above).

The guy’s ball-skills are as good as Will Allen’s were bad:

From NFL.com:

Has the leaping ability and timing to get the ball at its highpoint…. Does a good job tracking the ball in flight, demonstrating an explosive vertical leap to win most jump-ball battles… Has the natural hands to extend for the ball outside the frame…

From ESPN.com:

Is tall and can compete for jump balls…Possesses very good ball skills, flashes the ability to make the big play in coverage…

The guy’s ability to return punts and kicks might make up for whatever deficiencies he has in pass coverage — optimistically, he may do a fair impression of Devin Hester for us.

From NFL.com:

Has the second gear to elude in the open field on returns, reminding some of Chicago’s Devin Hester for his ability to put on the afterburners and simply explode with the ball in his hands…. Shows very good judgement picking a seam to gain big yardage on his runbacks. [Contrast Ross, because of this quality, to Sinorice Moss, who seemingly always picked the wrong hole]

ESPN.com:

…is a dangerous open field runner…. Has experience returning punts, has shown big-play ability in this role and should contribute on special teams in the NFL.

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So there you have it, folks. Aaron Ross is a tantalizing talent who will make some picks (thank God), make an impact on special teams, but might not ever develop into a cover-corner in the Leon Hall/Darelle Revis mold. He’ll push Webster, Madison, and R.W. for snaps this year – hopefully, out of those four, at least two will emerge and give us more production than we got at corner last year. As for his other qualities… well, since the scouting reports aren’t gonna be of much help, we’ll just have to figure that out for ourselves.

Can we use this type of player, and should we get excited about this type of player? Most definitely. But should we have passed up a potential pass-blocking ace for him….? I don’t think so.

(Apparently, Ross had a bad minicamp, which was the subject of a day’s worth of Giants articles. Ross attributed his struggles to his problems memorizing the defensive sets, saying that he was a step or two behind mentally. I’m willing to believe him – it’s way too early, and way too small a sample, to get worried about.)