NFL Combine: Top 8 first round prospects

The Giants Beat takes an inside look at the top eight firt round prospects that could be on Big Blue's draft board come April's draft.

The NFL Scouting Combine is here with a vast number of prospects in Indianapolis to begin their pro football journey. The New York Giants have a variety of needs to fill on their roster, so, of course, they will be keeping a close eye on the prospects they believe would be good fits with the franchise.

General manager Jerry Reese has had some success through the NFL Draft process, but his classes have had less impact recently since the team won the Super Bowl in 2011. The 2014 class produced some promising stars, such as wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and linebacker Devon Kennard, but there is still much work to be done if the Giants are going to be legitimate championship contenders again.

Before things officially get underway at Lucas Oil Stadium, here is a look at eight first-round prospects worth following that may be on the Giants’ radar:

8. Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida

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The former Gator is a versatile athlete who played at a multitude of positions during his time at the University of Florida. Fowler might be a better fit as a 3-4 strongside linebacker who can set the edge. Still, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is an adaptive coach and he could make good use of a talent like Fowler in his scheme.

NFL.com compares Fowler to Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack. For anyone who has seen Mack’s game film, that’s one heck of a compliment for last season’s third-overall selection.

He’s an agile athlete who was productive in college, but he’ll need to refine his pass-rush technique if he’s going to serviceable pass rusher at the pro level. As of now, his athleticism makes him a first-round talent. A coach like Spagnuolo could develop him into a lethal threat off the edge much like Jason Pierre-Paul.

7. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami

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The Giants’ offensive line was improved in 2014, but there are still great strides to be made. For the time being it looks like Will Beatty is entrenched at left tackle. A move for Justin Pugh to guard should not be out of the question, however, if it will benefit the G-Men.

Flowers is an intriguing prospect projected to go in the middle of Round 1. He’s a raw talent, which generally makes me wary when it comes to offensive line talent in the first round, but he is an adept run blocker who can anchor the right side of the line.

The 6-foot-6, 325-pound tackle would be a good fit with the Giants in their zone-blocking scheme through his time with the Hurricanes. He is a natural right tackle and should transition well to the pro game, though it would likely take some adapting much like it did for Pugh.

6. Shaq Thompson, S/OLB, Washington

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He’s a linebacker in a safety’s body. Whether or not that’s a good thing for Spags and the Giants is unknown, but he has an intriguing skill set that could make him a versatile asset in New York.

Because of Thompson’s prototypical safety size (6-foot-1, 228 pounds) with some big-time success at linebacker for the Huskies, he may have been a better fit a year ago under Perry Fewell. Still, Spags does a lot of innovative mixing and matching on defense, and it’s possible, because of Thompson’s prowess in coverage and against the run, that he could be an unconventional first-round project for the G-Men.

He diagnoses plays quickly and reacts accordingly, showing great routes of pursue and an adept ability to wrap up the ballcarrier and make the tackle (though he does tend to go for the big, shoulder tackle in the open field too often).

Despite his undersized stature, he has had little issue going up against opposing offensive linemen, shedding the block and making the stop. That may become a bit more difficult to do in the NFL, but Thompson is an enticing prospect who can contribute on special teams from Day 1. That’s always a bonus for Jerry Reese, Tom Coughlin and the Giants.

5. La’el Collins, OT, LSU

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Justin Pugh showed a lot of improvement in his second season at right tackle for the Giants, finishing as the team’s second-best offensive lineman behind the left tackle Beatty. Because of that, the G-Men may be wise to keep Pugh at right tackle and look to bolster the interior line—they desperately need to.

With Weston Richburg likely to move to center and John Jerry unfit to remain a starter opposite Geoff Schwartz, Iowa’s Scherff could be a perfect option to fill the void. He’s a big boy, standing in at 6-foot-5, 325 pounds, and he plays like one, too.

A left tackle in college, Scherff projects best as a guard in the NFL and draws comparisons to rookie Pro Bowler, Zack Martin, yes, the one many Giants fans wanted in last year’s draft. He shows great technique and plays with a mean streak, something the Giants lack on offense. Scherff’s versatility and athleticism make him a viable option for the G-Men, who love players (like Pugh) they can move around if the need arises.

3. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

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Another big (6-foot-7, 316 pounds), strong tackle who can improve the Giants’ offense from the get-go. Peat starred as a left tackle for the Cardinal, but his struggles against explosive, wide rushers are cause for concern if he’s to remain on the blind side.

He’s a better fit at right tackle and should be on Big Blue’s radar because of the power and attitude he brings to the game. Despite his big size, Peat is a quick and athletic tackle who explodes off the line and delivers some serious punch off the snap.

Unlike many left tackles, he is a very good run blocker, which should bode well for him if a move to right tackle is in store down the line. He keeps his hips square and his feet churning, able to use his obvious size advantage to create holes in the defense.

2. Landon Collins, SS, Alabama

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The Giants have a clear need at safety. Neither starter, Antrel Rolle or Stevie Brown, may be back in 2015, and frankly, the G-Men may be better off that way.

If that’s the case, however, they will need to fill the voids left by their departures. There is no better option than Alabama’s Landon Collins.

Collins is easily this class’ best safety. He’s got prototypical size and the skill set every team is looking for in a starting strong safety. He’s brutal, physical specimen who can lower the shoulder and deliver the big hit, or he can drop back in coverage and make a spectacular play on the football—catching the football is another story.

Collins would be a welcome addition to a Giants defense that will lack a leader in the huddle. His performance does plenty of the talking for him and his aggressive style should fit in just fine with Spags’ scheme on defense.

1. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri

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If this article hasn’t made it clear yet, the Giants need pass-rushing help. At the No. 9 pick, there won’t be a better option than Missouri’s Shane Ray, assuming he’s still available.

A lot of teams will be looking to add this athletic pass rusher. He could use a little bulking up (just 245 pounds), but even despite that, there aren’t many weaknesses to be found on the game film. He’s a versatile rusher who will be able to do a number of things well for Spags, though putting him on the inside likely won’t be an option often.

Ray’s explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and his potent ability to get after the quarterback are needed in New York. The pass rush has been a weakness for some time and if the Giants are ever going to get back to being the championship contenders they desire to be, their defensive success depends on generating a stellar pass rush to shut down the pass. Hopefully, JPP will be back to help alleviate concerns in that department, but unless the Giants are that high on %%MATCH_30%% and %%MATCH_29%%, they should be looking to add a defensive end like Ray early in the draft.


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