Scott Thompson, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The linebackers corps for the Giants last season wasn't the scariest bunch at the second tier. Too many missed tackles and blown coverages left this group hopeless throughout the year.
Defensive captain Jonathan Casillas was supposed to lead the group in 2017, but injuries kept him sidelined for half the season as he racked up just 35 tackles in eight games. B.J. Goodson also had high expectations last season, but he saw one less game than Casillas.
That forced Keenan Robinson and undrafted rookie Calvin Munson to take over for both Casillas and Goodson respectively. They may have tried their best, but obviously, there's no participation awards in the NFL. Munson and Robinson lack of speed cost the giants at the second level with too many big plays, both in the pass and run.
The only healthy starter was Devon Kennard, but he is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Giants will have to negotiate to re-sign him, and another team could be a higher bidder.
So, with injuries and lack of depth, the linebacker position will most likely be addressed in the NFL Draft. Here are some prospects to look for come April:
Roquan Smith -- Georgia
Smith is undoubtedly the best linebacker, both inside and outside, in the Draft this year. With speed, agility, and power, he is the perfect package that would immediately upgrade any linebacker corps.
At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Smith may not have the prototypical linebacker build on paper. But with 137 total tackles (6.5 sacks, 14 for loss) with Georgia last season, Smith has the ability to get into the backfield and stop the run, or get to the quarterback. His coverage ability is also stout, as he spies running backs and tight ends.
The only problem for the Giants is Smith is supposed to be a top 10 pick in April, and at No. 2, it wouldn't be a smart move to take him that early with other, more pressing needs. But, Smith's skillset is hard to come by in today's NFL, they could fall in love with someone who would be an immediate upgrade to a slacking position from last season.
Trading down would be the only option for Smith. Or the Giants could draft him No. 2 just like they did Lawrence Taylor. I'd go with option A though.
7. LB/Roquan Smith- J.R. (@JReidDraftScout) January 28, 2018
Fantastic prospect. Leader. Sideline-to-sideline speed. See ball/hit ball type of LB. Sure tackler. Elite instincts. Above average coverage skills.
NFL Comp: Patrick Willis pic.twitter.com/9vP9lslR6a
Malik Jefferson -- Texas
At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Jefferson is a freak athlete. He is expected to run around a 4.65 40-yard dash, and has notched a 40+ vertical.
In his junior season, Jefferson totaled 110 tackles (four sacks, 10 for loss) as he led the Longhorns at the second level. He has all the physical attributes that a scout looks for in a linebacker. However, how much does football mean to him?
Some say that Jefferson hasn't performed to the best of his abilities because he doesn't want to give his best effort. His work ethic during the season and out-of-season training needs improvement as well.
It is this reason that Jefferson's draft stock is dropping to the second or third round. If the Giants are convinced his passion for football won't be sketchy in the league, they could steal him in one of these rounds, and get a pure athlete at the position. Something they haven't been able to say for awhile.
watching malik jefferson because the eagles should have interest in him at some point- Tyler Morales (@TylerMorales__) February 13, 2018
don't really have a take yet but he is fast and athletic pic.twitter.com/qopLopASOF
He can finally jump higher than me lol RT @bobbystroupe: 🚀Ever seen a 240lb linebacker jump a 40+ vertical? 🤐👆📈🚀@Official_MalikJ #NFLcombine @teamAPEC @APEC817 @YMAPAAsports @LilTunechi pic.twitter.com/zPtCTGPHb2- Andre' Williams (@CoachAWilliams1) February 20, 2018
Jerome Baker -- Georgia
If the Giants want a fast two-way backer that can get into the backfield and cover, Baker is the guy to look for.
Baker is expected to run a 4.55 40-yard dash, which is insane at the linebacker position. He is great in coverage, but his speed helps him get around linemen, and burst into the backfield.
His size may turn some scouts off because he could lose one-on-one matchups at the next level, but his coverage abilities for the Giants would be a great asset as, well, we can't say a linebacker right now is great in that field.
Baker is projected from the second round all the way until the fourth round, so the Giants could steal him in that range.
Meet Jerome Baker: The "touchdown eraser" who's OSU's next great LB 💪 pic.twitter.com/IQqhNRJvRL- Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) September 5, 2017
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo -- Oklahoma
He is listed as a defensive end, but his in-between size has Okoronkwo stuck in limbo. Luckily for the Giants, that could be all they need to have a steal at the position.
Okoronkwo stands at 6-foot-1, 242 pounds, and though he played primarily as an edge rusher, he would drop back into coverage from time-to-time, and with good ability in those situations. He is also relentless, using his power and finesse to get to the passer or runner.
Because of his size, many teams are turned off by Okoronkwo, saying he's too small to rush and too big to work sideline to sideline at linebacker. However, if the Giants could get him to cut weight, and he can show his size isn't a hindrance of his speed, OG could find himself hearing Big Blue call his name.
He is projected between the fourth and fifth rounds.
He's short for the position, but his burst & low of gravity allows him to beat most in front of him pic.twitter.com/AuWPRj8kfO- Maliik (@Obee1ne) February 11, 2018
Tre' Williams -- Auburn
A Senior Bowl standout, Williams may have projected himself onto the Giants' draft board with his stellar practices and game time in Mobile.
The Auburn product totaled just 50 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2017, but his grit and tenacity at the position is extremely promising. He has good size at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, and with a projected 4.70 40-yard dash, he has good speed.
As a mid-to-late-round pick, Williams could compete with the current linebackers on the roster, where his competitiveness could jolt him into seeing a lot of playing time. The Giants need guys in the second level with that extra gear, and Williams certainly has it.