EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The biggest reason the New York Giants missed the playoffs last season was defense.
The unit that helped Tom Coughlin's crew win its second Super Bowl in five years in February 2012 was among the NFL's worst last season
The defensive line didn't get to the quarterback as much, and it certainly didn't stop the run. The linebackers were ineffective and the secondary had trouble covering receivers.
In the end, New York lost two of its final three games and finished 9-7.
So, heading into the NFL draft on Thursday, look for the Giants to fill many holes on defense in the seven rounds.
That doesn't mean, of course, that general manager Jerry Reese will use the 19th pick overall to take a defensive player. Reese has always been a "best player available" selector and New York also has needs on an aging offensive line, particularly at right tackle where David Diehl is coming off a sub-par season and center David Baas and guard Chris Snee had offseason surgery.
New York's first-round decisions over the last three years haven't always been "need" choices. When they took defensive end in Jason Pierre-Paul in 2010, they were loaded with defensive lineman. Cornerback Prince Amukamara was a bit of a need in 2011 — with defensive back Terrell Thomas coming off a knee injury — while running back David Wilson was a bit of a surprise last season because Ahmad Bradshaw entrenched as the starter at the time.
Reese believes the league has evolved in recent years and draft picks are being asked to do more.
"We don't like picking 19. That is early for us," Reese said. "We hate picking this high. But hopefully, we can get a player who can come in — I always say this (with) your first three picks — and contribute right away. Hopefully, you will get a couple of starters out of them. Hopefully, we will get a good player at 19. I think we will."
So who do the Giants take?
If New York picks a defensive lineman, it could take a gamble on Tank Carradine of Florida State. He missed the last two games of the season after tearing a knee ligament, but before the injury, his numbers were impressive (80 tackles, 11 sacks). And keep in mind, Reese has never been afraid to take a player coming off an injury.
"I think modern medicine, the modern technology of getting these guys back on the field I think is so much better than it has been in the past," Reese said. "You see guys with these catastrophic injuries come back much quicker and much more successful than they have done in the past. So we look at it a little different but our doctors make the call on that."
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell should get help on his line with dual-threat Mathias Kiwanuka expected to play more up front instead of at linebacker. Either way, thought, New York has a major need at linebacker, as well. Michael Boley was released and middle linebacker Chase Blackburn signed with Carolina as a free agent.
The most interesting name available in the draft is Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, who led the Fighting Irish to the national championship game. He had a subpar game against Alabama, and then was involved in a bizarre hoax featuring an online girlfriend.
Still, this is a player who led Notre Dame in tackles and had seven interceptions. The late George Young, a former general manager of the Giants, always looked at production when evaluating a player, and Te'o produced.
He also visited with Reese.
"He is a very nice young man," Reese said. "And that is all I can really tell you about the conversation that we had with him. He did a good job while he was here."
With former first-round safety Kenny Phillips signing with Philadelphia, there is a bit of a hole at defensive back and New York might be interested if Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro slips. The cornerback position is more a concern, though, and Xavier Rhodes of Florida State would be a good choice.
Alabama has two good offensive linemen in the draft pool. Tackle D.J. Fluker played on the last two national championship teams and is an outstanding run blocker. Guard Chance Warmack played on three title teams, and the big surprise would be if he was still around when it's New York's turn.
Reese said receiver Victor Cruz's contract talks with the team will not affect the draft. The Giants allowed Cruz to test the free agent market by making him a first-round tender, but no other team offered him a deal. He can play for roughly $2.9 million, but wants a long-term deal. He has been absent from the team's voluntary offseason program.
"We are just going to pick the best player out there," Reese said. "And if Victor is not here we have other receivers — it is all about the team for us. One player doesn't make your team.
"So if Victor is not here, there are other receivers here."