You Name It, Giants Need It in NFL Draft

NEWSDAY

Defensive linemen, running backs, quarterbacks, linebackers. You name them, the New York Giants could use them.

After using their top two picks in the last two drafts to beef up the offensive line, the Giants will try to strengthen other areas weakened by age or Plan B losses.

Who the Giants take when called to make the 24th pick in Sunday's first round will largely depend on who is available, but it's likely to be a defensive lineman or running back. "I think it's a stronger draft than it was last year," Giants General Manager George Young said. "For the teams that do their homework, there's some pretty good people in the second and third round."

With backups Robb White (Denver Broncos) and Mark Duckens (Detroit Lions) among the 10 Giants signing Plan B contracts with other teams, only four defensive linemen remain on the Giants' current roster. And left end Eric Dorsey, the top pick in 1986, is coming off an injury (broken foot) that sidelined him for 14 games last season. John Washington, who started most of the season for Dorsey, is the only backup with experience.

"Most of you know we only have four or five defensive linemen on the roster, so we're concerned there," Young said. "It's just a matter of numbers."

As many as seven defensive linemen could be selected in the first round. Cortez Kennedy, a powerful defensive tackle from Miami, is the best of the group but will be long gone by the time Commissioner Paul Tagliabue calls on the Giants. Highly regarded Ray Agnew (North Carolina State) might sneak through, however. And either 315-pound Dennis Brown (Washington) or 6-6 Jeff Alm (Notre Dame) almost certainly will be there.

If the Giants think they can wait until the second round to help their defensive line, the first pick could be an outside linebacker; one prospect climbing the Giants' draft chart is Darion Conner, a big-hitter from Jackson State. But it seems unlikely that Young would use a No. 1 pick on a player who would be a backup behind Lawrence Taylor or Carl Banks for two or three seasons, or even longer.

Young most likely would rather choose someone in the first round who may not start but will play a significant amount. Taylor is 31 but will seek a contract extension this season in the three-year, $2 million-a-year range. Banks, at 28, also is expected to play several more seasons. Johnie Cooks, already making a hefty $450,000 a season, is the current backup at outside linebacker.

A more pressing need is at running back. Ottis Anderson is coming off a 1,000-year rushing season, but he may not have anything left in his 33-year-old legs. Joe Morris, 29, missed all of last season with a broken foot and didn't like the club's decision to leave him unprotected on the Plan B free-agent list.

The future rests with Lewis Tillman, who gained 290 yards as a rookie last year. But he doesn't have breakaway speed and hasn't proven he can carry the ball 25 to 30 times per game.

As a remedy, the Giants could claim Indiana's Anthony Thompson. He could slip that far in the draft because he has just average speed (4.75 seconds in the 40-yard dash). Coach Bill Parcells has watched miles of tape on Thompson and likes his durability. "All he does is produce, and he's an outstanding person," Young said. South Carolina's Harold Green also will attract some attention, though he's not as durable as Thompson.

Perhaps the key lingering question is when will the Giants opt to take a quarterback. Since Phil Simms was the top pick in 1979, the Giants have taken only one quarterback higher than the sixth round. That was Jeff Hostetler, a third-round choice in 1984.

But with Simms turning 35 this season and Hostetler still largely unproven at 29, the Giants have to address that concern. And remember, Jeff Rutledge took the Plan B route to Washington, leaving the Giants without an insurance policy.

A few quality prospects should be available in the second round, including Cary Conklin of Washington, Neil O'Donnell of Maryland, Mike Buck of Maine and maybe left-hander Scott Mitchell of Utah. Yet, late word is the Giants won't draft a quarterback in the first three rounds, which would be a shocker.

Young figures three quarterbacks could go in the first round, meaning Jeff George, Andre Ware and somebody else. Perhaps the Giants are guessing a top quarterback could still be there in the fourth. "The way the other people draft will determine what we can and can't do," Young said. "It's according to what the value is when we pick. If the quarterback is a better value than a position player, then you might have to take the quarterback."

The Giants are working on a list of five players whom they think will be available when it's their turn to pick in the first round. "If I told you who those five players were, I think you'd have a stroke," Young joked.

Still, the Giants want to remain flexible. "We'd hate to be the guy who passes up Walter Payton and then comes back and says, 'We needed a center that year,' " Young said. "You have to be careful about who's there." And there should be plenty.

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