The versatile but recently injured Ryan Connelly could play in a number of spots during his second season with the New York Giants.
It wasn’t long before New York Giants fans witnessed what could’ve been a legitimate steal of a draft pick in Ryan Connelly. Last year, the then-rookie linebacker out of Wisconsin didn’t earn a great deal of recognition ahead of the regular season. Nonetheless, he raised the eyebrows of fans once the 16-game slate began.
By Week 4, the young player had already racked up 20 combined tackles, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit, one sack, two picks, and two pass breakups. Keeping those per-game averages the entire year would’ve provided him with 80 total tackles, four sacks, and eight picks, a truly solid season for a first-year player.
But as Giants fans know, his torn ACL in that Week 4 win over Washington made any of the aforementioned on-pace numbers unattainable. Connelly was ruled out for the year when his NFL career was just commencing.
So with a few solid showings and 12 missed matchups, where does Connelly go from here? Well, Big Blue could certainly use him in a number of ways, which may ultimately make the 24-year-old’s sophomore campaign very interesting to witness.
For one, there’s a chance Connelly could find himself back in the starting lineup. It’s a feat he achieved in three of his appearances last year after the underwhelming Week 1 showing from former Giants linebacker Tae Davis. But if anything, the Giants would etch his name in the lineup using a pencil instead of the permanent pen.
In a 3-4 set, New York would most certainly field Blake Martinez at one of the two starting inside linebacker spots, considering the organization just gave him a three-year deal in free agency. Martinez is also one of the more experienced and talented options at this position, having recorded 144, 144, and 155 combined tackles respectively from 2017-19.
But Connelly starting alongside him isn’t set in stone whatsoever. Over the last year, the Giants have taken an interest in David Mayo, an additional young linebacker who helped replace Connelly in the starting lineup in 2019. In 16 games (13 starts), Mayo notched 82 combined tackles, two sacks, and two pass breakups with a 10.9% missed tackle percentage, numbers that led to the ballclub awarding him with a three-year extension in March.
The Connelly-Mayo position battle will be one that’s tightly knit, as both possess numerous beneficial traits in their respective games. It will be even more interesting considering the team now employs a new head coach, new defensive coordinator, and new inside linebackers coach who’ve never worked with either of the individuals fighting for the starting job (in person, at least).
Mayo could have the advantage at some point due to experience, but don’t be surprised if Connelly is able to flex that athleticism once again and impress each of the aforementioned coaches en route to winning the job.
But if he fails to do that, the Giants will still find a place for him, possibly in blitz packages.
Despite the fact that he plays inside and isn’t technically an edge rusher in a 3-4 scheme, Connelly still has the knack to reach the backfield. It’s a talent he portrayed prior to the injury last year. And with the way the Giants have struggled in the pass-rushing department in recent campaigns (30 sacks in 2018, 36 sacks in 2019), the team will take any help it can get, regardless of position.
Expect Connelly to find some time on passing downs even if he isn’t in the starting lineup. He could either help out on the rush or disguise the blitz and drop back into coverage, an area he additionally made some plays in during his short stint last year.
And finally, if all else doesn’t initially work out, special teams reps could be what Connelly needs in order to get back into the swing of things. It’s actually where he found some playing time before entering the starting lineup in 2019. Through four games, Connelly notched 30 special teams snaps, 18 of which were in the season-opener against Dallas.
Luckily, he possesses experience working with special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, who Joe Judge retained on the staff earlier this year. If Mayo does indeed win the starting job at inside linebacker, Connelly may need to use special teams to remind teammates and fans what he can truly bring to the table.
All in all, Connelly is an exciting player who can portray a multitude of defensive talents. The work will need to be put in though, especially considering he’s been off the playing field for nearly a year. But as long as he stays out of the medical tent, the second-year player will be able to assist this Giants team one way or another.