The Giants selected South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul with...

The Giants selected South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul with the 15th pick in the first round of the NFL draft. Credit: AP

The Giants might not have been turning backflips when Rolando McClain and C.J. Spiller were off the board with the eighth and ninth picks, but they wound up getting a player who may be known more for those reverse handsprings than anything he’s done on the field.

Jason Pierre-Paul, a defensive end from South Florida, was selected by the Giants with the 15th pick in last night’s NFL draft. With only one year of major college football under his belt but virtually unlimited athletic potential, Pierre-Paul was the star of a viral video that showed him turning a series of backwards handsprings across a football field. But the Giants think he can develop those acrobatics into becoming a dominant player on the field.

General manager Jerry Reese called Pierre-Paul’s skills “uncommon” and declared him the player with the biggest upside in the draft.

“He just comes naturally raw, oozing with that kind of talent,” Reese said. “It’s hard to find a package like that. He has some freakish athletic skills that we’re excited about trying to hone and get him on a good path to the quarterback.”

Added Marc Ross, the Giants’ director of college scouting: “He’s a freak of nature with some of the stuff he can do. He’s done things in games that, in scouting, I’ve never seen.”

How the Giants will be able to harness his athleticism is as much a question of how they will find room for him on the field. The pick immediately renewed rumors that the Giants could trade Osi Umenyiora, who has expressed displeasure with the team during this offseason. But Reese said flatly that the Giants are not trading Umenyiora and they will go into the fall with a full allotment of pass-rushing defensive ends.

The pick did little to solve the team’s most glaring need, though, as McClain would have plugged their middle linebacker hole. That the Alabama linebacker went to the Raiders, however, could work out for the Giants as it makes Oakland’s Kirk Morrison expendable. The Giants could try to pick up Morrison, a restricted free agent this offseason, from Al Davis. They are also said to have their eye on several inside linebackers in today’s second round, including Sean Lee from Penn State.

Reese said Pierre-Paul has the same lanky body type as Javon Kearse had. He is 6-4 and weighed 270 at the combine but the Giants think he can add another 10 pounds to his frame without losing his natural advantages.

Pierre-Paul was a basketball player in high school until he broke his leg and decided to take up football. He played at College of Canyons and Fort Scott Community College as a junior college player and was highly recruited before deciding to attend South Florida.

He first popped up on the Giants’ radar when they were scouting other players at South Florida. Ross said he would put on a game tape and Pierre-Paul would just jump out.

“You’d say ‘Wow, who is this guy?,” Ross said. “He makes you take notice.”

After one season at South Florida, he decided to forego his senior year and enter the draft. Tom Coughlin visited him for his Pro Day and the Giants brought him to their complex last week for a final once-over. And now he’s a Giant. A raw, unfinished Giant with seemingly limitless potential.

“When he learns how to really play,” Ross said, “it’s going to be ‘Watch out!’”

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