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New York Giants' draft needs: Taylor Lewan would bulk up O-line

Roster weaknesses: Every team has them, and the draft is often the best way to address them. With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah will be taking an up-close look at the main areas of weakness -- and the prospects who could fix them -- for all 32 squads in the league. Be sure to catch "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network at 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday for more in-depth analysis.

After starting the 2013 NFL season with six straight losses, the New York Giants won seven of 10, including their final two games. Building upon that late-season success, they entered free agency with a clear plan: bolster the secondary and add a versatile running back. They accomplished both without overpaying, signing cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and bringing in Rashad Jennings -- and his career 4.3 yards per carry -- to improve a running game that ranked 29th last season.

If the Giants want to take the next step and rebound from their two-year playoff hiatus, they'll need to provide Eli Manning with more playmakers and a long-term blindside protector. New York was outscored by 89 points last season, in part due to Manning's league-high 27 interceptions. He certainly needs to take better care of the ball, but he could use a big body on the perimeter and a functional running attack. He's at his best throwing for chunk yardage out of play action, but without an effective ground game, defenses will stay disciplined on run-fakes and close off passing lanes.

Here are four positions of need for New York -- and four prospects who could fill them.

1) Left tackle


As unsexy as it might be, I could see the Giants using their first-round pick on an offensive lineman for the second straight year. With Justin Pugh (No. 19 overall in 2013) solidifying the right tackle spot, the Giants still need a pure franchise tackle on the left side. The top two prospects at the position -- Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews -- will likely be off the board when New York picks at No. 12 overall, but Michigan's Taylor Lewan could be available. The former Wolverine would be an immediate upgrade over sixth-year pro Will Beatty.

The Giants could wait until their second pick (No. 43) to address the position, with which they could take Ja'Wuan James from Tennessee, who's a much better player than his more highly touted teammate Antonio "Tiny" Richardson. If they wait until the middle rounds, Billy Turner is an intriguing option. The North Dakota State product struggled at the Senior Bowl, but he was a solid player on tape and has the potential to be a starter on the left side.


2) Tight end


Brandon Myers signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, creating a need for a pass-catching tight end. Fortunately for the Giants, North Carolina's Eric Ebron could be available with the No. 12 pick. The top tight end in the 2014 class, Ebron would give the Giants their most talented player at the position since Jeremy Shockey's run in New York during the mid-2000s.

Troy Niklas is another player who could fit well with Big Blue. An injury prevented the Notre Dame product from running at the NFL Scouting Combine, but his game tape shows a strong blocker who has rare size (6-foot-6) and strong hands.


3) Wide receiver


Hakeem Nicks caught just three touchdown passes in 2012 and '13 combined after posting a total of 20 in 2010 and '11. Despite his worrisome stat line, he still has the potential to be a No. 1 receiver. However, I do think both he and the Giants are better off after his departure via free agency. With so much talent in this year's receiving class, the Giants have a few options when it comes to replacing Nicks. Mike Evans from Texas A&M would be the perfect complement to Victor Cruz, providing Manning with a big body to target in the red zone. If the Giants bypass Evans with the No. 12 pick, they could go after Martavis Bryant in the second or third rounds. The Clemson wideout is very raw but has a unique mix of size (6-foot-4) and speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash). He started to come along toward the end of last season, finishing his collegiate career with two touchdown catches during the Orange Bowl.

Path to the Draft
Airing weekdays at 7 p.m. ET on NFL Network, "Path to the Draft" previews the 2014 NFL Draft by providing in-depth expert analysis of the top prospects and each team's needs.

» 'Path to the Draft' videos
» NFL Network broadcast schedule

4) Defensive tackle


Coordinator Perry Fewell's 4-3 defense requires a dynamic interior pass rusher, and neither Cullen Jenkins nor Mike Patterson -- both of whom are on the wrong side of 30 -- quite fit the bill. New York will likely have its choice between the top two tackles in this year's draft: Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan. Both are disruptive players on tape, but Donald offers more pass-rushing ability, while Jernigan is stouter at the point of attack against the run.


Projections

So what will the Giants do with their first-round pick (No. 12 overall)? Here's what NFL Media's analysts see happening, according to their mock draft projections (click here for full mock drafts):


Daniel Jeremiah: Eric Ebron

Bucky Brooks: Mike Evans

Charles Davis: Taylor Lewan

Matt Smith: Taylor Lewan

Chase Goodbread: Justin Gilbert

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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