EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — While they filled big needs on the offensive and defensive lines and added some help in the secondary and at running back, the biggest news the New York Giants made in the NFL draft will filling a need they seemingly never need — backup quarterback.
The Giants created a little buzz early Saturday, making a trade to move up and grab Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib as a backup for two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.
“If he doesn’t ever play, that would be great,” general manager Jerry Reese said after the pick. “That’s a good problem to have. If he needs to play, we’re hoping that whatever time that is that he’ll be up and ready to go if it ever happens that way.”
Being Manning’s backup is akin to not playing. Manning has started 135 straight regular-season games and 11 consecutive postseason contests. The last player to start for New York other than Manning was Kurt Warner in 2004.
Veteran David Carr has been Manning’s backup in recent years and just the latest veteran to back up the 32-year-old Manning. That could change this year if Nassib beats out Carr or Tom Coughlin elects to go with three quarterbacks on his roster, something that he hasn’t done in recent years.
Nassib is the first quarterback drafted by the Giants since Sam Houston State’s Rhett Bomar in the fifth round in 2009. The previous year, they selected Kentucky’s Andre’ Woodson in round six. Each of them had a short stay with the Giants, as did free agent Ryan Perrilloux in 2011.
Entering the fourth round, Reese said Nassib, who started the past three years for the Orange, stuck out like a sore thumb.
“He had too much value,” Reese said. “We had been talking about developing a quarterback to back up Eli for a while and this was the perfect opportunity for us to get a young quarterback with a lot of talent.”
So the Giants shipped their fourth- and sixth-round picks to the Arizona Cardinals to move up six spots and grab Nassib, who some felt had first-round talent.
Marc Ross, the team’s director of college scouting, said Nassib has more than arm strength.
“That’s something secondary to me,” Ross said. “I look at leaders and winners and players who raise the level of the team and when they are on the field have a presence about them and those are attributes about him that stood out to me.”
Coughlin didn’t want to say how many quarterbacks the team will keep this season, but he believes the competition between Carr and Nassib will help the team.
“This is a great opportunity for Ryan,” said Coughlin, who noted he had not called Manning to explain the pick, saying there was no need to discuss something with a quarterback who still getting better. “He’ll be in the classroom with Eli and he’ll get a chance to learn.”
Nassib completed 791 of 1,312 passes for 9,190 yards and 70 touchdown passes with the Orange, leading them to 21 wins in three seasons as a starter.
Nassib had just gotten home to West Chester, Pa., when Coughlin telephoned him after the pick.
“To be honest with you, I blacked out,” said Nassib, who had not talked with the Giants much before the draft. “I didn’t get everything. What I did get from him was that first off I had to cut my ties with the Philadelphia Eagles and switch, which won’t be a problem. He complimented me on coming from a good school and being a good football player and told me what I great opportunity I had to play behind Eli.”
The 23-year-old wasn’t shy when asked about his abilities. He’s confident and said that he is somewhat like Manning in that he was durable in his final three years in college, never missing a game or a practice. He was admittedly disappointed staying on the board until the fourth round.
“I always compared myself to Eli so it is going to be crazy that I am going to be playing with him,” Nassib said. “He is a tough, durable, smart guy who doesn’t say much. That’s the kind of quarterback I always wanted to be. Being able to sit behind him and learn from him, like some great quarterbacks did in the past, an elite veteran like Aaron Rodgers, it’s going to be a great opportunity for me.”
Nassib is going to have some company with the Giants. They drafted Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh in the first round. Pugh is from Holland, Pa., about 30 miles from Philadelphia.
“We’re from the same area and had many a drive home from Syracuse,” Nassib said. “I can’t believe that of all the situations that we are going to be back together again.”
Pugh, the 19th pick overall, is expected to push David Diehl for the starting job at right tackle. The other offensive line taken was guard Eric Herman of Ohio University.
“He is a big, tough, nasty kid,” Reese said.
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State and defensive end Damontre Moore of Texas A&M were taken on Friday with the second and third picks, respectively. They should help a defense that was ranked 31st oveall and allowed 129.1 yards rushing per game. Hankins is a run stopped, while Moore had 26 1/2 sacks in three seasons.
The other selections on Saturday were safety Cooper Taylor of Richmond, Herman and UMass running back Michael Cox, who was taken with the penultimate pick.
Taylor is 6-foot-4 and showed speed and a big upside. He had 78 tackles, four interceptions and free forced fumbles this past season.
A Michigan transfer, Cox only gained 715 yards rushing but Reese said he played on a weak team and gained most of it on his own. He has size at 6-3 and speed.
The Giants also needed help at linebacker and cornerback heading into the draft, but they were unable to find the right players. They will be looking to free agency and undrafted players to possibly fill the needs.