The New York Giants possess one of the league’s better defenses but the linebacker position comes with some concern heading into next season.
When the 2017 season kicks off, the New York Giants will look with confidence towards a defense that carried the team for much of last season. However, the linebacker unit remains the one area of Steve Spagnuolo’s bunch that comes with concerns.
Jerry Reese‘s most savvy, under the radar signing, came last March when he inked Keenan Robinson to a one-year contract. Lost in the fray of the $200 million spent on Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon, Robinson proved to be the best bargain signing from Reese’s offseason work.
The Giants, who have very limited cap space, will find it difficult to bring Robinson back as he tests the free agent waters. The former Washington Redskin proved capable in pass coverage, something the Giants have lacked in years past. Additionally, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard who filled in nicely on earlier downs against the run, is also a free agent.
Cap space constraints could put a hold on Reese’s spending unless restructures, trades or cuts occur before the end of the offseason. As it stands, the Giants linebacking unit currently has its fair share of questions.
The NFL draft is less than six weeks away, though it’s likely that the Giants will focus on bolstering their offensive line and finding a pass catching tight end. The offense is in far greater need of upgrades, which leaves us wondering how the linebacking unit will take shape next season.
Jonathan Casillas was named a team captain last season and proved he was deserving of the honor, playing with great awareness and leadership. He featured as a three-down player and while far from a pro bowler, more than held his own on the outside.
Devon Kennard sometimes seemed to disappear from games, but also found success as a pass rusher. Injuries have plagued his young career, but he’s proven productive enough to keep his starting job next season.
The two outside linebacker positions are all but penciled in, leaving the inside as an area of uncertainty. B.J. Goodson, the team’s fourth-round pick from one season ago, is likely to get the chance to win the job. However, it’s a position of great responsibility within the teeth of the defense, and it’s uncertain if the Giants have enough trust in Goodson to anchor the position.
Should Goodson earn the job, that still leaves the Giants without much depth. It’s reasonable to think the Giants could draft a linebacker, but how high remains unclear.
The current class of linebackers is fairly deep, with names such as Zack Cunningham, Raekwon McMillan, Jarrad Davis, Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley expected to be selected between the Giants pick at 23 and the end of the third round, per CBS Sports.
Jerry Reese’s noted “best player available” strategy could be in play on draft day once again. Although addressing the offense is of greater need, a high-upside linebacker could be too impactful to pass up. The position has been a revolving door for the Giants over the last several years, and solidifying at least one position for the long term could be of interest.
It’s worthy to note that Reese has never selected a linebacker in the first round and taken one in the second round just once. Not surprisingly, the Giants haven’t had a LB make the Pro Bowl since Antonio Pierce in 2008.
The main advantage that the Giant linebackers will have in 2017 is a deep defensive line and an elite secondary. Their jobs won’t be as difficult with a defense possessing depth at other positions, which could be enough of a factor for the Giants to gamble on their ‘backers.
When comes draft day, the New York Giants will have several things to consider. The offensive line is in obvious need of a blind side protector for Eli Manning, but an immediate impact starter at another position could be too tempting to pass up.
The Giants have enough pieces on defense to account for a mediocre linebacker core, but it’s clear the position still needs help in some capacity.
If one thing is for certain, the NFL offseason is rarely ever dull.