Offensive line, tight end and wide receiver have been the positions thrown around by plenty of people, and with good reason. But as long as Eli Manning is under center and getting protection, the weapons around him can be underwhelming and he will get the most out of them. Instead, the Giants should go with their bread-and-butter from their Super Bowl-winning teams: the defensive line.
The strength of the two most recent Super Bowl wins for the Giants was their defensive line, but they lost a lot of talent there this offseason. Defensive co-captain Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph are no longer with the team, and the Giants have not replaced either player. From a performance standpoint, Joseph is the bigger loss for the Giants, and thankfully for them, there is a player fit to take over the middle of the defensive line for him.
That player is Aaron Donald, defensive tackle from Pittsburgh. Donald was a monster on the defensive line this past season, accumulating 59 total tackles, 43 solo, 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. He also forced four fumbles and even knocked down two passes.
For his efforts, Donald became for the first defensive lineman to win the John Outland trophy, given to the most outstanding interior lineman, since Ndamukong Suh in 2009. He was also named the 2013 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and received the Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Vince Lombardi awards to add to his mantle.
The stats are there for Donald, but some scouts question his size. He does not have prototypical height, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 285 pounds, but didn’t let that slow him down in college. As the best player on his team, Donald constantly faced double, and even sometimes triple-teams, but was still able to produce.
After taking over the at the Senior Bowl, Donald also had an impressive showing at the NFL Combine. He was the top performer in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill and broad jump among defensive tackles. He also finished second in the bench press with 35 reps, and had an impressive 32-inch vertical jump despite his massive frame. Had Pittsburgh won more games, Donald would have received much more fanfare throughout the season and draft process.
Some people will be upset if the Giants do not make an offensive weapon their first pick, but when they were at their best, it has always been behind a dominant defensive line. Football is a game won in the trenches, so if the Giants add more talent to their defensive line to replace what has been lost, they will gain a much-needed advantage.
Donald was outstanding virtually on his own last season. Putting him in the middle of a defensive line with a talent such as Jason Pierre-Paul flanking him will only help him realize his potential and wreck havoc in opposing offenses’ backfields. In 2010, the Giants found help in the second round in Joseph; how convenient that his potential replacement would be sitting right there with the 12th pick the same offseason Joseph moved on.