Thursday, April 25, 2013

New York Giants Draft Preview: Linebackers

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

By Kenneth Teape (@teapester725)

The NFL Draft is quickly approaching, as we get closer to the primetime opening round April 25th.  This will be the eighth part in a series where I will discuss the current and needs for the upcoming NFL Draft for the Giants.

The eighth position I will take a look at is linebacker.

Currently on the depth chart for the Giants at linebacker are Jacquian Williams, Dan Connor, Mathias Kiwanuka, Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger and Jake Muasau.  From last season the Giants lost two linebackers in Michael Boley, who is still a free agent, and Chase Blackburn, who signed with the Panthers.

The Giants focused on adding beef to the defensive line to help stop the run and relieve some of the pressure off the linebackers, who once again look to possible be a weaker spot for the Giants this season.  A lot of younger players will have to step up this season for the Giants if the linebackers are to not be looked at as a weakness in the defense.

The Giants made a few moves at linebacker, cutting Boley to save some money and bringing in Connor in addition to re-signing Rivers.  Kiwanuka is expected to move back to defensive line with the departure of Osi Umenyiora and offset his loss.  A big question for the Giants at the linebacker position is health.  Williams and Rivers could be an asset to the Giants defense with the speed they possess; they could give defensive coordinator Perry Fewell some options on how to scheme on defense if they are able to stay on the field. 

The Giants had looked at Connor in the 2008 draft when he came out of Penn State and six seasons later they will finally have him in a Giants jersey after playing in Carolina and Dallas previously.  The Giants hope that Connor will fit their scheme and help in stopping the run game.  Herzlich will have a chance to break into the starting lineup too, as Muasau left a lasting impression on the coaching staff after an impressive showing in rookie camp last season.

The last time the Giants drafted a linebacker was 2011 when they drafted Williams and Greg Jones in the sixth round.  The Giants just do not value drafting linebackers early in the draft, as pass rushers and cornerbacks are more important to the Giants brain trust.  To put in perspective how the Giants look at linebackers, keep in mind they have not drafted a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks in out of Michigan State in 1984.

Since Antonio Pierce went down with a career-ending injury in 2009 the Giants have tried filling the void with minor signings or mid to late round draft picks.  This year the Giants will most likely have a chance to fill that void and end the streak.

Alec Ogletree and Manti Te’o are both expected to be on the board when the Giants are on the clock and are widely considered to be the top inside linebackers in this year’s class. Both have question marks off the field, as Ogletree was arrested for DUI in February in addition to being suspended four games last year for supposedly failing a drug test. Te’o’s off-field issues have been well publicized with his fake girlfriend story making the rounds earlier this year.

The value of each player at 19 in the draft is what may steer the Giants away from taking either, but later in the draft there are some options that may catch the Giants attention.  LSU’s Kevin Minter, UCONN’s Sio Moore and Kansas State’s Arthur Brown are all options in the second round for the Giants, with the latter two being outside linebackers.  Mid-round prospects to keep an eye on are North Carolina’s Kevin Riddick and hometown player Khaseem Greene of Rutgers.

On a scale of 1-10 the Giants need for a linebacker is high with an 8.  Again, they do not normally value linebackers as highly as other positions across the defense so it would be a surprise if they took one in the first round, but the second round may be where they target a potential player with Brown being a person mentioned as being connected to the Giants.

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