When you draft a safety from the University of Miami, it’s understood that you’re receiving a tremendous athlete who has the ability to become an elite defender in the National Football League. Just like the late great Sean Taylor and the best defender in the game today, the Baltimore Ravens Ed Reed, Kenny Phillips comes from the school otherwise known as the “U” and is about to break out from the shadows and create his own legend on the gridiron.
In his first-year in the league, Phillips, the No. 1 prospect in the Giants organization, began the season as a situational defender and special team’s player. He played in all 16 games, starting three, and made his first career start against Philadelphia when James Butler went down with an injury, giving the New York fan base a taste of what they can expect for years to come. Phillips finished the season with 67 tackles and an interception. This offseason, Phillips showed up at OTA’s 16 pounds heavier; Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin insisted that, “It’s all muscle.” The extra weight shouldn’t hurt Phillips’ agility and speed, but it will allow him to play physical and with more confidence. After a year of learning, Phillips is ready to take the next step and solidify himself as the next great safety from Miami.
The Giants have done a nice job of retooling their team over the years through the draft, and this past April was no different. When the Giants decided to release talented, but troubled wide receiver Plaxico Burress, the first thought was who would replace him. There were rumors about the Giants making a deal with the Cleveland Browns for Braylon Edwards or with the Arizona Cardinals for Anquan Boldin, but in the end they decided to do what they’ve done best over the years: build through the draft. So, they used their first round pick on North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks, who I believe will be the best receiver from the ’09 class and immediately validate his status as the No. 2 prospect in the organization. As successful as I believe Nicks will be, it’s hard to replace a Pro Bowl receiver in their first-year in the league. Nicks is a complete receiver who runs precise routes, has great quickness and strong hands. But the transition for a receiver from college to the pros may be the toughest transition of all. The Giants have a nice young core of receivers on their roster, which should ease the pressure off of Nicks’ shoulders for a bit, but as the season progresses, expect big things from No. 18.
It’s hard to say that a 26-year old, who turns 27 during the season, is still a prospect, but Aaron Ross, the No. 3 rated prospect in the Giants organization, fits the profile in this series and is just entering his third season in the league. As a rookie, Ross played in 15 games, starting nine, and recorded 42 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three interceptions. Ross was a major contributor during the Giants Super Bowl Championship run in ‘07, starting at cornerback in all four playoff games. He used his outstanding cover skills and instincts to his advantage during that run and was physical contributing 12 tackles. Last season, Ross continued to show why the Giants selected him in the first round, improving in many areas and totaling 52 tackles and three interceptions. To date, Ross has returned two of his six career interceptions for touchdowns, showing the kind of playmaking ability he possesses. Ross is a player who has a lot of confidence in his ability, and this season it’s all about him taking his game to another level and growing into the shutdown corner he has the potential to become.
Another player that the Giants are hoping has a breakout year this season is tight end Kevin Boss. The No. 4 prospect in the organization, Boss enters his third season with the Giants and has improved each year he’s been in the league. Just like Ross, Boss was a member of the Super Bowl Championship team and had a memorable play during that game. Eli Manning spotted Boss down the seam and threaded a pass to him for a 45-yard gain that set up a touchdown on the drive. As a rookie, Boss played sparingly - although he appeared in 13 games and started two - as he backed up Jeremy Shockey. But when Shockey went down with an injury, he had a chance to play and finished the year with nine catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. That offseason, Shockey was traded to New Orleans signaling that Boss was the future at tight end. An outstanding athlete who has great size and skills, Boss entered his second-year in the league with high expectations. Starting every game but one in ’08, Boss displayed his ability as a receiver, catching 33 passes for 384 yards and six touchdowns. He also improved as a blocker. Entering his third season, a year that’s pivotal in his development, Boss will be a fixture in the passing game, and his evolution as a blocker has to continue.
The fifth rated player in the Giants organization is former USC standout Terrell Thomas. A second round pick in the ’08 draft, Thomas brings good size and skill to the field and is currently listed as the team’s nickel corner. He missed the first four games of his rookie season due to a hamstring injury, but played in the remaining 12 games and made two starts. He showed great promise as a rookie and finished with 45 tackles and an interception. Corey Webster is likely to start opposite Ross this season, but expect Thomas to challenge for playing time as the year goes on.
Three wide receivers (No. 6 Domenik Hixon, No. 7 Steve Smith and No. 10 Mario Manningham) are featured in the bottom half of the top-ten, bringing the combined total to four, which shows the amount of talent the Giants have at the position. Hixon and Smith are currently listed as starters on the depth chart, with Manningham and Nicks trailing. It will be an interesting battle in training camp to see who emerges as the two starters. It’s likely that Hixon and Nicks will be the starters on the outside with Smith patrolling the slot. Manningham offers great depth and versatility. Many people are questioning how the Giants will do without Burress, but even though the depth is young, it’s very talented.At No. 8 and 9 respectively, rookie linebacker Clint Sintim and third-year running back Ahmad Bradshaw break in the top-ten. Sintim is an explosive defender, but has been trained primarily in a 3-4 defense. Although there’s different structure and terminology in a 3-4 compared to a 4-3, Sintim’s athleticism and talent will allow him to be successful and contribute this season. Bradshaw is a very talented runner who should be a huge part of the Giants running game this season. With Derrick Ward off to Tampa Bay, Bradshaw will backup Brandon Jacobs and receive a generous workload. In a limited role over the last two years, Bradshaw has averaged 6.1 yards per carry; with more carries coming his way, he’s going to be tough for the opposition to contain.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.