Ross – Risk or Reward?

Ken Palmer and Paul Schwartz discuss the Giants draft and the position change of Mathias Kiwanuka.

Paul Schwartz: As the NFL Draft commenced and the Giants prepared to use the 20th overall selection, I thought they should go with a linebacker, Jon Beason out of Miami ("The U'' for those scoring at home). At the time, I was not sure that the Giants were planning on moving Mathias Kiwanuka from defensive end to strong-side linebacker. Before that move, the Giants clearly had a hole to fill at linebacker and I figured that a fast, proven and driven prospect such at Beason could do the job. It was no secret that linebacker or cornerback was the way the Giants would go and I can never argue too strenuously against taking a corner because, like pitchers (sorry if that is a sore subject for Kenny's Phlopping Phillies), you can never have too many of them. The Jets made a bold move, vaulting up from No. 25 overall to trade up to get whom they consider to be the top cornerback in the draft, Darrelle Revis of Pittsburgh. The Giants, without the luxury of the two second-round picks that the Jets owned, sat tight and took the third corner on their board, Aaron Ross of Texas. It was a no-risk move and probably a smart one, but not exactly an inspired one. There's not much to question about Ross, who has the desired size and speed, and has a playmaking pedigree as a Longhorns star. But he'll be 25 as a rookie and some believe he's more suited to a Cover-2 scheme and not the press coverage that new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo plans to implement. We'll see. Basically, I have no problem with the selection of Ross, which tells me the Giants have little faith that old veteran Sam Madison has much left in the tank and continue to have questions about Corey Webster's ability to bounce back from a bad sophomore season.

Ken Palmer: C'mon Paul, how in the world couldn't you have known about the Kiwi move? I reported it in our own paper last issue. Whether or not that move works out is grounds for (not-much) later debate, but the fact of the matter is the Giants depth chart at linebacker was a lot fuller than most realized heading into the draft – most, excluding your boy KP, of course. That being said, if you want to criticize Jerry Reese, the only problem I see is that he waited until the third round to draft a Penn Stater. Need position or not, taking linebacker Paul Posluszny, who's sure to be a star, would have been a wise choice. But I like the Ross move a lot. He's a playmaker, which is something the Giants have been lacking on the defensive side of the ball for what seems like forever. And I'm not sure where you're getting your scouting reports, but from what I've heard and read, he's every bit the physical player that's perfect to play press coverage. He's exactly the type of corner Spags is looking for in this defense. I really can't get all bent out of shape because they didn't trade up for one of the earlier corners. With a hole-ridden roster, they needed to keep and use all of their picks. The most comical thing of all regarding criticism of the Ross selection is everyone harping on the fact that he'll be 25 years old two weeks into the season, like that's some ridiculous age for a kid starting his pro career. What are the odds that he'll spend his whole career in New York? Actually, what are the odds that he'll even stay with the Giants past his first contract? His age isn't going to be a factor for another decade, at which point it's a topic that warrants concern; until then, it's just idle chatter for those looking to foolishly criticize.

PS: Props to Kenny, who was the first to write and report that the Giants were seriously considering moving Kiwanuka to linebacker. And here I was thinking that the only scoop Kenny knew about was the triple scoop he orders at any and every ice cream stand he encounters. Sure, I heard how general manager Jerry Reese said he doesn't foresee much difficulty in Kiwanuka making the transition. Sure I heard linebackers coach Bill Sheridan wax poetic about how Kiwanuka won't be just a good linebacker, but a great one. It all sounds good, but I'm not as certain. It's a tough transition for a player who is accustomed to putting his hand on the ground and almost always moving forward, charging in at the quarterback as a gifted pass rusher. Now, suddenly, Kiwanuka is going to have to play opposite the tight end and drop back in coverage, not in those gimmick zone blitzes that are designed to confuse an opposing offense but as part of a base defense. From what I saw from him as a rookie, Kiwanuka was destined to be an excellent defensive end. There's a reason why defensive ends make considerably more money than linebackers, especially strong-side linebackers. That's because rushing the passer is paramount and until proven otherwise, this move to linebacker will severely limit Kiwanuka's opportunities to rush the passer. That makes me a bit queasy.

KP: Perhaps some of that queasiness stems from your fourth go-round at the Schwartz family buffet? I suppose you'd rather Chase Blackburn lining up on the outside next to Pro Bowler Antonio Pierce? If Kiwanuka proved one thing during his rookie year, it's that he knows how to play the game of football. He's very smart, mature and one of the very few – if not only – guys on the defense that could make this switch. Now, all of a sudden you have another pass-rusher on the field. Kiwi is way too good to leave on the bench and only give occasional reps – especially when the outside linebackers are hardly anything to write home about. He'll have had all offseason to make the move and there's no reason to believe he won't make it with a splash. It's not exactly like the Giants have gotten Pro Bowl play from their strong-side linebackers of late. You can't really blame LaVar Arrington last season, because he was clearly out of position. But how about guys like Carlos Emmons, Ryan Phillips, Marcus Buckley and Corey Miller, all who have lined up at SLB in the last decade? Exactly, we're not talking about playing quarterback here. Just the fact that Kiwi is on the field all the time will far outweigh whatever deficiencies arise while he learns to play the spot. It also seems that everyone is forgetting how well Justin Tuck was playing before he got injured. And you want to know the absolutely, positively best thing about the decision to move Kiwanuka from defensive end to linebacker? That decision was made by Steve Spagnuolo, not Tim Lewis.

PS: Sometimes your knowledge of football floors me. Kind of like the same way I feel about Charlie Manuel's control of Kenny's beloved, beleaguered Phillies. OK, our next assignment is to evaluate the Giants' overall draft. Of course, it takes two or three years to properly grade a draft but, as usual, Kenny wants to make a preemptive strike. So here we go. I loved the choice of Steve Smith out of USC in the second round. When the Trojans needed big plays in the passing game, Smith was the one who consistently delivered. He'll make an impact as a rookie. I presume that Kenny will be gushing about Jay Alford out of some lame Big 10 also-ran school. Alford was productive in college but let's reserve judgment. How can you not like taking Zak DeOssie, even if he is out of Brown of the Ivy League? If he's anything like his father, the Giants are getting a top competitor. Otherwise, it's the usual crapshoot. Kevin Boss can't block and needs to get stronger at tight end but may develop. Any time you take a left tackle in the sixth round (Adam Koets out of Oregon State) you can't be expecting big things right away. The last two picks were strictly need-based picks. I'd say Reese in his first draft as the GM had a solid, unspectacular performance. But check back in three years for the true grade.

KP: I'm not sure what everyone was looking for Reese to accomplish here. He wasn't exactly sitting at number two with a North Carolina linebacker named Taylor staring him in the face. The Giants had many more holes than draft picks. He would have needed six first-round picks in order to satisfy Paul's desire to upgrade all the obvious spots. He took some big-time players from some big-time schools that hopefully will be ready to play immediately. One of which is Alford, who might just turn out to be a real good one. Let's see, all he has to do is beat out Barry Cofield, who limped to the finish line, and William Joseph, who limped through his entire New York career, and he's in the starting lineup? You can count on that happening sooner rather than later. As an aside, I hope all you readers have thoroughly enjoyed the work of our NFL/Draft expert/insider Jim Sabo. After his write-up of Alford in this issue, we – I should say I – were forced to give Big Jimmy his walking papers. While he'll surely be missed, we just don't allow such negative talk about our – I should say my – Nittany Lions in these here parts. OK, seriously now, the Smith pick looks good, but how many first-day receivers have flopped here with the exception of Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard and Joe Jurevicius from … you bet, Penn State? And JJ didn't really excel until he got out of New York and was actually allowed to play. Do Thomas Lewis, Brian Alford, Ron Dixon and Tim Carter ring a bell? As far as the second-day draftees, only a fool would offer an opinion on those guys at this point and for that we thank Paul from the bottom of our hearts.

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