The 2009 New York Football Giants season could be described in two parts.
With Plaxico and without.
The Giants lost only one game in 2008 when quarterback Eli Manning had his top wideout to throw to. That was a humbling 35-14 blowout at the hands of the Cleveland Browns.
Once Burress shot himself in the thigh at a New York City nightclub, the Giants offense was not the same. More importantly, Manning was certainly not the same.
The Giants lost three of their final five regular season games to finish 12-4 as the 34-28 overtime win over the Panthers on Dec. 21 secured homefield advantage for the playoffs.
However, once the Eagles came to the Meadowlands on Jan. 11 for a Divisional Round showdown the Giants had no fight left. The Giants' power running game led by Brandon Jacobs ran on empty. Twice, the Eagles stuffed the Giants on fourth-and-short situations. The Giants pass rush, the reason that they won the Super Bowl the season before, was toothless. Without his favorite target, Manning was exposed and the Giants were eliminated by the Eagles 23-11.
You may enjoy knocking the Eagles receiving corps, but after Burress shot himself Manning only threw one touchdown to a receiver. And no Giants receiver caught a touchdown pass in the final 21 quarters of the season, including the playoff loss to the Eagles.
Even though the Giants finished with one of the best records in the league, they are one of the more stocked teams in terms of draft picks. The Giants have 10 total draft picks and five of the first 100 selections. The Giants own their pick in each of the seven rounds. They also have an extra second-round and an extra fifth-round pick thanks to the trade that sent Jeremy Shockey to the Saints. The Giants also received a high compensatory pick (third round, 100th overall) for losing linebackers Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor and safety Gibril Wilson.
LAST TWO DRAFTS
The 2007 NFL Draft, the first by current general manager Jerry Reese, is strongly credited as one of the key reasons for the team's Super Bowl championship. All eight picks made the 53-man roster and all eight picks made contributions.
Cornerback Aaron Ross (first round, 20th overall) has started in 24 games in his first two seasons and contributed six interceptions, two touchdowns and 1.5 sacks. Second-round pick Steve Smith had 14 catches in the 2007 postseason and has parlayed that into a productive second season with 57 catches for 574 yards. The biggest surprise of the draft was seventh-round pick (250th overall) Ahmad Bradshaw, the scatback from Marshall. Like Smith, Bradshaw had better numbers in the 2007 postseason as he ran 48 times for 208 yards. In 2008, Bradshaw averaged 5.3 yards per carry as he gained 355 rushing yards on 67 carries. Bradshaw's role will expand since backup Derrick Ward signed with Tampa Bay in the off-season. Not bad for a seventh-round pick.
Last year, the Giants made the secondary the focal point of the draft. With the 31st overall selection (remember the Patriots forfeited their pick), the Giants selected free safety Kenny Phillips from Miami. Phillips started in three games and contributed 67 tackles and an interception, according to NFL.com's numbers.
In the second round, the Giants drafted another cornerback, Terrell Thomas from USC. Thomas started in two games and had 45 tackles according to NFL.com. In addition, Thomas broke up four passes and had an interception.
The X-factor in the draft was third-round selection Mario Manningham from Michigan. Even though he's 5-11, Manningham was a gamebreaker for the Wolverines. However, Manningham had just four catches for 26 yards. His production didn't increase in the absence of Burress.
Overall, the Giants did not get the same level of immediate impact from the Class of 2008.
WHO WILL THEY TARGET?
The Giants officially parted ways with Burress and have a huge hole to fill. Published reports indicate that the Giants were in talks with the Cleveland Browns to acquire Pro Bowl receiver Braylon Edwards. However, according to the reports, talks stalled when the Browns wanted receiver Steve Smith to be included in the package and the Giants said no.
With the 29th overall pick, if the Giants look at a receiver then there's a chance that Darrius Heyward-Bey could be available. However, Heyward-Bey's stock has risen during the pre-draft process. The Giants could wait until the second round and grab Kenny Britt, who played at nearby Rutgers. At 6-3, Britt's size would help in the red zone which is where Burress' exploits are missed the most. Another option, who is a bit of a sleeper since he was injured last season, is Louis Murphy from Florida. He's 6-2.5 and runs a 4.38 40-yard dash.
After signing Chris Canty and welcoming the return of Osi Umenyiora, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, the pass rush should be better in 2009. However, the linebacker position needs be stabilized. Antonio Pierce is still productive in the middle, but will turn 31 during the season.
At tight end, the Giants have to decide whether Kevin Boss is truly the answer. There are a plethora of pass-catching tight ends who will be available in the second and third rounds of this year's draft including Shawn Nelson of Southern Miss, Missouri's Chase Coffman and South Carolina's Jared Cook among others.
Don't be surprised if the Giants try to add depth at the lines with either LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson or Arizona offensive tackle Eben Britton, who would be good value for the 29th pick.