Almost to a man, they echoed what the scouts and personnel directors had verbalized during the March workouts at the combine in Indianapolis, Ind., that tight end Visanthe Shiancoe of Morgan State might be the sleeper of the entire draft.
He is a 6-4, 256-pounder with 4.66 speed in the 40-yard dash that can move downfield quickly and has big, soft hands, which make him a reliable receiver. "I can see him running the same patterns Jeremy (Shockey, last season's Rookie of the Year)," said one safety, "and I don't think any of us will be happy trying to tackle him."
While this is all to the good, and Giants still took a calculated gamble on Shiancoe, a London-born son of Liberian parents who caught 25 passes for 510 yards and five touchdowns as a senior. His level of competition must be questioned -- playing against such non-powers as Savannah State, Norfolk State, Morris Brown, Hampton, Monmouth and Gardner-Webb. Added to this is the fact that he is still not the blocking tight end the Giants needed the minute Dan Campbell toddled off to sign an Unrestricted Free Agent contract in Dallas.
"We think he can learn to block," says tight ends coach Mike Pope. "He has the size and the strength. He is an intelligent young man and I like the sense of confidence he carries with him."
As Shiancoe was the talk of the combine workouts, so he was with the Giants when a since-trimmed 87-man roster gathered at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Shank, as he is called, flashed incredible athleticism and a quick study in terms of the plays being run.
"I feel good about him," said veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, while Shockey vowed to "help him as much as I can."
Another player, offensive lineman Rich Seubert, took the upside in the not-such-a-good-blocker discussion. "Look, if he can get downfield like Shockey and then we have two of them 15 to 20 yards down, each running hard, what are the linebackers and safeties going to do? I sure don't want to have to tackle him."
This led to an engaging scenario. The Giants open their season at home against St. Louis, where they will find their former right cornerback (of nine years), Jason Sehorn, now a member of the Rams' squad and planted at free safety. "I'm looking at Shockey or Shiancoe catching one of those passes, in stride, looking up and finding Jason waiting," said one of the players. "Jason doesn't like to tackle all that much. He sure won't like getting head-on with one of those monsters."
More to the point, if head coach/offensive coordinator Jim Fassel can find a way to run Shockey and Shiancoe downfield together, exactly which part of the opposing defense is going to cover the wideouts -- especially with the injured Ike Hilliard now sound and re-joining the other starter, Amani Toomer?