The 2007 Giants draft class was lauded as one of the finest in team history. In Reese's first year at the helm as general manager, he batted nearly 1.000 in the draft, selecting impact players who would contribute not only in their first year, but seasons to follow, a rarity in the National Football League. Steve Smith, Ahmad Bradshaw and Kevin Boss were not only key contributors on a Super Bowl winning team, but would become staples in one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.
However, the pick that at first shone the brightest in his first year has regressed into an afterthought entering the 2011 football year. Aaron Ross, the first round corner drafted out of the University of Texas, ended the 2007 Super Bowl Year as the Giants starting corner back opposite Corey Webster, yet through poor play and injuries, was relegated to back-up duty in 2009 and 2010.
With the loss of any key contributor brings an opportunity for another player to step up and fill the void. Aaron Ross was recently moved to his natural position covering the outside receivers instead of working in the slot, a position he told the New York Daily News he was more comfortable with:
"Ross is the nickelback by default, but he's never been comfortable against slot receivers. In the Giants' scheme, the slot corner acts almost like an extra safety, Ross says, focusing more on an area than a man.
Ross prefers to isolate with a receiver and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has obliged. The nickel package the Giants showcased throughout camp had Ross matched up against outside receivers, with Thomas covering the slot.
"I feel better there outside," Ross says. "It's just me and my man.""
Monday night against the Bears, Ross flashed some of the potential that made him the Giants first round draft pick and starter in 2007. On the Bears first drive, Ross broke up a third down pass play to Roy Williams that forced a punt. Later in the first quarter, Ross once again showed his quickness and instincts, breaking up a pass to Hester on the Giants goal line. On the Bears opening drive to start the second half, Ross demonstrated that he could also be an effective run stopper, something Thomas excelled at (he lead the Giants in tackles last season), by bursting through the offensive line to bring Marion Barber down for a loss behind the line of scrimmage.
If the Giants can get the 2007 version of Aaron Ross for the 2011 season, the loss of Terrell Thomas can be mitigated. Based on AdvancedNFLStats.com, Ross had the fourth highest success rate out of any corner (success rate is defined as "the proportion of plays in which a player was directly involved that would typically be considered successful") in 2007. In 2008, Ross plummeted to the lower half of league in percentage of successful plays made my cornerbacks. While Football Outsiders does not provide Ross's 2007 stats without a premium subscription, the 2008 numbers reveal his decline as a play maker, ranking Ross 67th in yds/play and 75th in Stop Rate. However, Ross did rank 14th in yds/play and 33rd overall in Stop Rate against the run , suggesting Ross may not be as big of a liability against the run as analysts have suggested.
If the Giants prevail and have a successful season, it will be a testament to Jerry Reese and the entire scouting department in their ability to discover young talent through the draft and free agency. For Aaron Ross, this is an opportunity to justify the Giants investment in his potential and gain the trust of the organization.