As my colleague Todd McShay pointed out earlier this week, the New York Giants have done an excellent job in recent drafts. That should give hope to fans looking for the Giants to address their top needs through the 2012 draft.
The Giants don't have a lot of glaring issues at this point, but three specific areas could use an upgrade: tight end, inside linebacker and the offensive line. Who might be available to help New York at those positions?
The Giants are clearly set at wide receiver with the likes of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham on the perimeter. However, they could use a tight end to stretch the inside seams and draw some attention away from those outside receivers, and two prospects stand out as options for the Giants at the end of Round 1.
Clemson's Dwayne Allen is perhaps the most complete tight end in the class with his combination of blocking and receiving skills. Allen (6-foot-4.5, 255 pounds) can be a difference-maker in the passing game with his size, length and ability to separate from coverage. He can also make catches against tight coverage when unable to separate.
Allen is a versatile blocker who was used in college both as a traditional in-line blocker and lined up as a lead blocker in the backfield. It's this area that makes him the top two-way tight end on the board.
Stanford's Coby Fleener is not quite on Allen's level as a blocker, though he was vastly improved in that area in 2011. But Fleener is more of a dynamic threat in the passing game. He runs well, has an impressive frame (6-6, 252 pounds) and wide catching radius, and is perhaps the most dangerous tight end in the class in terms of run-after-catch ability. With some work on blocking technique Fleener will become a solid all-around tight end.
Charles is a bit undersized (6-3¼, 245), but he has a ripped-up frame and a ton of pure athleticism. He is sudden in his routes, showing good pop to separate out of breaks, and can make plays downfield. His size will put limitations on his blocking, but he could fill a role in the passing game as a late-second-round pick.
I got an up-close look at Ford at the East-West Shrine Game, where he made some noise with his solid frame (6-63, 258), smooth movement skills and solid hands. He's a fluid athlete who snatches the ball away from his frame, and with his tools and raw ability, Ford could offer good value as a later-round pick who could develop into a good overall player.
Chase Blackburn is set to become a free agent, and it's unclear whether 2011 sixth-round pick Greg Jones will be the answer in the middle for the Giants' defense. The team has lacked a true interior presence since Antonio Pierce retired after the 2009 season, and a pair of 2012 prospects could fill that void.
Alabama's Dont'a Hightower (6-3.5, 260) is a physical linebacker who plays downhill and can control the middle of the field. Hightower has sound instincts coming from Nick Saban's complex system, and he is a heavy hitter with the strength and power to take on and shed blockers at the point of attack. He lacks elite range and comes with some minor durability concerns, but Hightower has flashed the ability to rush the passer with his hand on the ground and would be a good option if New York decides to go with a linebacker.
Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State could be available late in the first round, and at 6-3 and 252 pounds, Burfict is a physical freak and violent striker inside. He has impressive range against the run and in underneath coverage, and his instincts are solid. He has top-20 tools, but the reason he might be available late in the first is because of questions about his maturity and mental toughness.
Burfict shows a lack of discipline at times and often has trouble controlling his emotions, so the Giants would have to feel comfortable with the support system and guidance they could offer Burfict, who will need both in order to flourish and realize his considerable potential.
Finally, Utah State's Bobby Wagner could be an option if the Giants address other needs in the first round. Wagner flew under the radar in 2011 despite finishing third in the nation with 147 total tackles, but he came on strong during Senior Bowl week. He is thickly built (6-0¼, 241), is physical against the run and shows good awareness in coverage. Wagner's instincts are impressive, and he would offer very good value as a potential starter coming out of the second or third round.
Should New York opt for offensive line depth in the late first round, keep an eye on two massive prospects.
Georgia's Cordy Glenn (6-5.5, 346) moved from guard to left tackle in 2011 and struggled early, but he appeared more comfortable late in the season and fared pretty well against some strong pass-rushers at the Senior Bowl. Glenn has the length (35-inch arms) to play on the right side in the NFL, but with his power and short-area quickness, he has the look of a solid guard at the next level. Either way, his versatility is an asset and would give the Giants options up front.
Iowa State's Kelechi Osemele is similarly huge (6-5, 333) and also has impressive length (35¼ arms). Like Glenn, he has potential to play right tackle but is more of a mauler who can swallow defenders up and move them off the ball at the point of attack.
The guard class is also deep, and the later rounds offer up solid prospects such as Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin), Lucas Nix (Pittsburgh) and Joe Looney (Wake Forest), all of whom bring some versatility to the table and would help shore up the depth along the offensive front.