Q and A with GM Ernie Accorsi
Giants general manager discusses team's draft.
By Michael Eisen, Giants.com
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May 19, 2006
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ernie Accorsi participated in his 35th NFL Draft this year and his ninth as the general manager of the Giants. With Accorsi calling the shots, the Giants traded down in the first round and up in the second round and selected players they coveted. They made their final five choices with an eye toward need. When the draft ended, the Giants had taken five defensive and two offensive players. The team’s seven draft choices were Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (first round, No. 32 overall); Miami wide receiver Sinorice Moss (second round, No. 44); Georgia Tech linebacker Gerris Wilkinson (third round, No. 96); Northwestern defensive tackle Barry Cofield (fourth round, No. 124); East Carolina tackle Guy Whimper (fourth round, No. 129); and defensive backs Charles Peprah of Alabama (fifth round, No. 158) and Gerrick McPhearson of Maryland (seventh round, No. 232).
Accorsi recently sat down this week to discuss the Giants’ draft choices.
Q: I would imagine after 35 drafts you come out of a draft with some kind of feeling of how you fared. Are you pleased with what happened or do you wish you had done something differently? Was there a dominant feeling coming out of this draft?
Accorsi: “I look at the draft and the offseason in one package. I think we filled needs. I really think that after the second round you can’t give up ground on grades, but all things being equal you need to address needs. I don’t think you should be addressing needs in the first and second rounds. If the need and grade match, then great.
“The grade was so outstanding in the first round. I’m not one who is married to the intricate tenths of a point on a board grade. But if you don’t respect the board when there is a significant difference, then why have scouts? Because that is not a lottery number up there. That is a number that is an accumulation of all that work that they have done. That grade was earned and Kiwanuka was by far the best player there. So we picked him. In the second round it was the grade because he was a first-round consideration and we needed another receiver.
“So yes, I thought we filled needs, we got talent, we got faster. Speed is important. So I was pleased. And then after looking at them in person on your own field during the mini-camp, they are as good as we thought and in some cases, better.”
Q: Let’s go pick by pick. When did you get a sense in the first round that you might trade down from the No. 25 pick that you owned when the day began?
Accorsi: “We thought about it all the through the draft and by the time we were getting close to our pick Kiwanuka was by far the highest-graded available player. But it was not necessarily a dramatic need, even though in a sense you always need pass rushers. There are only seven slots if we traded down with Pittsburgh to No. 32. We had five players (we would have considered) with seven spots and sure, there is a risk there because those five guys could go. But we felt that we would still have a choice of more than one of those five, which is exactly what happened. Three of the five were there. We thought we had probably lost Kiwanuka, but we felt there were other players that we would have been happy with.
“So we kind of went into the draft thinking about trading down unless some miracle occurred that somebody dropped to us. That was the thought all along. So we did that before we picked. We fully expected Kiwanuka to be gone. He wasn’t gone, so we picked him.
“Sinorice Moss was somebody that we thought we were going to have to make a decision on once we traded down. Then we just started trying to trade up. And the only reason we were able to do that is because we had acquired two extra choices. So we used one of those (third-round choices) to go up. So the trading down enabled us to trade up to get Moss.”
Q: You must have a sense of what other teams are thinking. Were you concerned there were other teams that wanted to move down in this draft?
Accorsi: “Yes, there were teams that wanted to move down. They told me that. I thought that the running backs were going to be a magnet for somebody to go up. We had heard rumors about New England and (Laurence) Maroney (the University of Minnesota back taken by the Patriots with the 21st pick). I thought even Pittsburgh might be interested in a running back, and Indianapolis. So we thought somebody might want to go up to where were to pick to make sure they got a running back. One thing about the draft – once a position goes, they usually go in a row because people start to say, ‘If I don’t get the guy, I’m not going to get one.’ It happens with running backs, it happens with corners, it happens with big people. When one of them goes you say, ‘Oh, I better trade up and get this guy because there are going to be about three of them going now.’ When Maroney got picked we thought somebody might want to come up. Well, Pittsburgh wanted to come up but they obviously wanted a receiver (Ohio State’s Santonio Holmes).”
Q: Why did you like Kiwanuka so much?
Accorsi: “He has a chance to be a great. He had 37½ sacks at Boston College. He was a dominant pass rusher starting in his freshman year. I saw him as a freshman. He came back from what could have been a devastating (knee) injury and played, I thought, his best two games the last two games of the season against N.C. State and Maryland. But I think he is just scratching the surface. He has a chance to get bigger. He is fast. Once he learns the ropes he is going to be tough to block. I just believe that next to the quarterback, the pass rusher is the most important position on your team. You never have enough. If one of them gets hurt, or one of them runs out of gas late in the game, you better have a fresh one in there, because if the quarterback can sit in the pocket, you are going to lose.”
Q: Would you like to see him get a little bigger and stronger?
Accorsi: “Not at the expense of speed. Michael Strahan is not big weight-wise and neither is Osi (Umenyiora). Speed is more important. Speed is tougher to block than size. Kiwanuka will get bigger and stronger in our weight program. But I don’t want to see him lose any of that speed. Because that he where he is going to make his money.”
Q: As soon as you selected Kiwanuka on the first round did you set your sights on Moss?
Accorsi: “Yes. We thought we were going to have to choose between probably Moss and somebody else. In the first round if Kiwanuka had gotten picked – yes, we wanted Moss. We liked Moss from the start. He was our highest rated receiver. We had that extra third-round pick (obtained from Pittsburgh in the first-round trade) and that was the only reason we would have gone up, to get Moss. We just waited to see if we could get him. And we went after him. He has superior hands, he is a powerfully-built player. He is not frail in any way. He is just short. He has explosive speed, long-ball power. He would have been a returner except that Miami had one of the best returners in the country in (Devin) Hester, so they didn’t use Moss. But he can return. We have returners, too. So he may not be asked to do that. But he has a chance to be very good. He has fast speed, explosion, too, not just speed off his cuts. In mini-camp I didn’t see him drop one pass. And that was not exactly Sammy Baugh and Bobby Lane throwing to him out there.
Q: You talk a lot about speed, but isn’t it particularly important in a wide receiver?
Accorsi: “Yes. When I hear possession receiver, my hair goes up. They’re all right. But defensive backs don’t stay up at night sleepless before a game worry about possession receivers. He may catch balls on him and you may shake your head and say, ‘How does that guy catch the passes that he does?’ But the lump in your throat comes from speed. You can’t coach it. And Moss has it.”
Q: Jerry Reese, the coaches and you all seemed particularly excited about Wilkinson soon after you made the pick. Was it because he is so athletic and so versatile?
Accorsi: “He is everything. He is going to be a solid player in this league. And he is going to start for a long time. The coaches were really thrilled about him. He is a coaches-type player because he is a captain, he is a leader and he is smart. He graduated from a great school academically. He played four positions in four years all because of what the program needed – defensive end, middle linebacker, SAM linebacker and WIL linebacker. He can play all three at this level. Of course, we have a unique definition of these positions. It is different from what we traditionally have known for WIL, which here is almost an inside linebacker position. It is an inside linebacker position. Usually, the SAM is off the field in passing situations, but our SAM is on and he is the blitzer. What we know from history that the WIL is usually the blitzer. That is not the way it is in our concept. (Carlos) Emmons goes in as the starter, but if Wilkinson gets an opening he is going to be tough to get out of there. This is going to be a good, young player that is going to be a starter in this league in a position where we needed help.
“We have depth now at that position, where we finished the playoff game last January with no linebacker that had been in the league two weeks before that game. And now we have guys like Brandon Short and Wilkinson as backups at this point.”
Q: Is the third round where you start looking more toward need?
Accorsi: “Yes, but you can never sacrifice grade. For desperate need you could get a fraction of a point, but not much. Because if you do that then you are going to fill your positions with mediocrity and you can’t do that. You have to take talent. Were looking, obviously, for need at that point. But we didn’t sacrifice anything with Wilkinson.”
Q: A lot has been written about the fact that he played against Miami a couple of days after his mother passed away. What does that tell you about him?
Accorsi: “He has great character. He is smart, he is a captain, he moved to different positions. You see somebody that is attached to his family. The guy has a chance to be a warrior out there. He has it all. I would put no ceiling on how good he can be.”
Q: Because of the way things have opened up, the draft choice that may have the best chance of starting right away is Cofield. I know you can’t say, “Look, we picked this guy in the fourth round; we think he is going start.” But (a) it looks like he has a shot and (b) what did you like about him?
Accorsi: “We needed some mass in there on the defensive line. He is big, but if you look at him he has a lean look to him. Unless they played Indiana, they were outmanned in every game they played in their conference. He was the target. They had to control him. But he is a big run-stopper and we need that.
“It’s funny – we (Accorsi and rival executives) all tell each other lies after the draft. But you do have three or four guys that you are closest to. And he’s the guy that people who tell me the truth – because I tell them the truth – he is the guy they told me that they were picking right after us, more than any other player we picked. They were several teams, good teams. He was really a need and grade. There was another defensive lineman named (Melvin) Oliver (from LSU) who had a lot of sacks, but he was an end. We thought we could project him to an inside position, but Cofield is a legitimate defensive tackle.
“One thing with defensive lineman, not only at the pro level but all of the colleges are doing it now, too – these kids are all raised in rotations. Very rarely do they play all the time. It is almost like pitchers being raised with pitch counts. It’s not like it used to be. That’s how they get trained. Because of that, he’s going to play. We rotate out defensive line, as everybody does.”
Q: Did he play inside and outside at Northwestern?
Accorsi: “He did. But he played inside enough to know that we know he can play inside. Some of the other defensive linemen that were available were ends. And we could project them inside. But this guy played inside.”
Q: Your next pick, Guy Whimper, is projected as a left tackle. Is that a position where you always have to keep in mind who is going to be next in line?
Accorsi: “Yes. They are so hard to find because 75 percent of the left tackles in college can’t play left tackle in our league – and that is a conservative figure. So you ask yourself, ‘Where are they coming from?’ You have to have athleticism at left tackle. This guy is a little ways away, but he is a left tackle. He played right tackle because he was not at spring practice because he had academic problems. But the coaches tell me that he is getting stuff quicker than everybody else, so obviously he didn’t want to go to school. It wasn’t his intelligence. He has good feet. He is a natural. He has the ability to play left tackle because he has got the feet. You can’t teach that. You either have feet or you don’t. And if you don’t have feet you can’t play left tackle, because you are giving up sacks. We needed to get somebody in the system who had a future at the position. We have two now but the backup is up in years (15-year veteran Bob Whitfield). We needed a young tackle. This guy is a young, potential left tackle. And there was nothing that he did in the mini-camp that has discouraged us from believing that. In fact, he encouraged us.”
Q: What can you tell us about the defense backs taken with the final two picks, Peprah and McPhearson?
Accorsi: “There we wanted speed. We didn’t want to draft anybody who couldn’t run at their position. We wanted speed and position there.
“Peprah has been a corner. He worked at safety in the mini-camp. He has got the ability to be a corner. They just put him also at safety because of need. Peprah and McPhearson can both run. McPhearson is not real big but he is sticky. He stays on you. There has been a lot of success with Maryland corners picked down the line the last two or three years, so they are teaching pretty well.
“So now we have three veteran defensive backs (Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters and Will Demps) and we drafted two. We had a couple of free agents that we like that we picked up after the draft. So basically we had to start all over again at the corner position because of injury and the other because of free agency. So we have veterans and young players. We have a good mix there.”
Q: You said several times before the draft that it is your favorite event on the NFL calendar. When you do retire, this is what you are going to miss. Did you enjoy it – the trading up, the trading down, the whole intrigue that goes on with the draft – did you enjoy the two days?
Accorsi: I do love the draft because it is the only time you really have a chance to interact with the scouts. To me, they are the heart and soul of the organization that everybody forgets because once they leave here they rarely get a chance to see our team play in person. I know where they are – they are in Stillwater, Okla. scrambling around a sports bar trying to catch our game. So they have a feeling of detachment. When you are intentionally thrown into that room with them for three weeks in February and three weeks in April, there is a closeness. That is probably the last time I’ll go through that. They are at training camp, but it is not the same. You don’t socialize with them. You are not around them as much. But yes, it was a lot of fun. I didn’t go in there to try to make things happen. I thought this was a draft we probably wouldn’t do anything. But I enjoyed it. I just always enjoy the draft, the whole process.”
Q: You got your first look at the young players in the rookie mini-camp. Because they don’t wear pads, can you learn much about them?
Accorsi: “No, it’s hard. But you can tell some things. It is nice to see them in here in your own organization. It is always good to see them. But I always worry about injuries. This is a worrying job. As (Hall of Fame basketball coach) Chuck Daly said, ‘Ours is a worrying business.’ That is exactly right.”
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