What will the New York Giants inside linebacker position group look like during the upcoming 2020 campaign?
When you’ve won just 12 games in three years and are still in the midst of a rebuild, you can’t push all of your chips to one side of the table. That was exactly the situation the New York Giants were in this offseason. They needed to be careful with their money and divvy up the cash between a number of players they felt could really help the organization grow in 2020 and potentially beyond.
One of the spots in which they put this mentality to use was at inside linebacker. The Giants weren’t in the position to sign a star, so they had to acquire someone who was at least a step above Alec Ogletree. Big Blue did this with the inking of Blake Martinez to a multi-year deal, and while he’ll be the top guy within this unit, it’s interesting to think how the others will contribute.
Let’s take a look at the Giants inside linebacker position group ahead of the 2020 campaign.
As we just mentioned, Martinez is a step above the inconsistent Ogletree and will be a clear-cut starter for this team in 2020.
Throughout his four-year tenure with the Green Bay Packers, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, Martinez proved to be an absolute tackling machine. From 2017-19, he respectively recorded 144, 144, and 155 combined tackles, with the former-most total co-leading the league that season. And it doesn’t matter if he sort of acted as the “cleanup crew” and was overshadowed by Packers linebackers Preston and Za’Darius Smith last year. If you can rack up 155 total tackles with just a 10.4% missed tackle percentage, that’s an impressive feat in my book.
This all led to the Giants inking him to a three-year deal back in March.
He’s the most talented of this group and he’ll surely be one of the leaders of Patrick Graham’s defense. Not to mention, Graham was Martinez’s linebackers coach in Green Bay for the 2018 season, so the young player already possesses some sort of familiarity.
David Mayo stepped up in his inaugural campaign with the Giants last year. After rookie linebacker Ryan Connelly (who we’ll talk about next) suffered a season-ending torn ACL in Week 4, Mayo went on to start 13 games and appear in all 16.
During that span, he racked up 82 combined tackles (second on the team) with five tackles for loss, two sacks, and two pass breakups.
It’s clear the Giants carry faith in the 26-year-old, considering they awarded him with a three-year, $8.4 million contract extension earlier this offseason. He’ll be going up against Connelly for the starting job alongside Martinez, and I definitely think he has a significant chance of winning it.
Yes, he’s coming off an injury, but Connelly portrayed a great deal of talent, athleticism, and versatility during his time on the field last year.
After going in the fifth round of the 2019 draft, the former Wisconsin Badger racked up 20 combined tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and a pair of picks in four games (three starts).
He can succeed in a number of areas but won’t have a starting role set in stone coming off an injury, especially with a new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Connelly will experience a challenging position battle against Mayo and I believe he’ll need to notch some special teams reps before potentially cracking the starting lineup in the middle of the season.
The Giants selected Cam Brown out of Penn State in the sixth round of this year’s draft, but the 22-year-old likely won’t see much time on the defensive side of the ball in his rookie season. Nonetheless, he could become a reliable piece at some point in the future, as he surely possesses the aggressiveness and intelligence needed for this position.
During his 2019 campaign with the Nittany Lions, Brown proved to be a productive run-stopper, having racked up 72 total tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss.
Cam displays a fundamentally sound tackling technique, which will please head coach Joe Judge. He can bring some upside to the field, but ultimately, the inexperience will be an initial factor.
Special teams is seemingly in Brown’s short-term future, and that area will serve as a platform for him to impress this coaching staff in hopes of increased defensive playing time down the road.
Having been one of the four seventh-rounders the Giants acquired during April’s draft, T.J. Brunson will be more of a depth piece in 2020 and beyond. To be honest, he’ll need to put in a ton of work just to make the final roster ahead of the regular season’s commencement.
During his 2018 junior campaign at South Carolina, he proved to be successful in numerous areas, notching 106 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks in 13 games (each of the three aforementioned statistics led the Gamecocks).
But last year, he recorded just 77 total tackles with six tackles for loss and zero sacks in 11 games.
He’s more of a run-stopper, which may not fit alongside any of the starters or top backups. Martinez, Mayo, and Brown additionally utilize that same playstyle, so Brunson might become overshadowed in those regards.
Tae Crowder was, of course, this year’s Mr. Irrelevant. With the No. 255 overall draft selection, the Giants decided to bring in the now-former Georgia Bulldog mostly for depth purposes. And just like Brunson, Crowder will need to bust his hump just to make the final roster.
If he does make the team (which would be cool to witness), he’ll likely be near the bottom of the depth chart and primarily snag special teams reps. But if he doesn’t, look for the Giants to potentially add him to the practice squad.
Regardless of what occurs, don’t expect Crowder to give anyone a run for their money in terms of a starting job.
Devante Downs/Mark McLaurin/Josiah Tauaefa/Dominique Ross
All of these names are included together in this section because they’ll all be very similar: strictly depth pieces and special teams players (if anything). Some may not even make it to training camp — NFL teams reportedly could cut down their rosters from 90 for the annual period amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and those who do make it may only end up on the practice squad.
If the other six guys on this list all make the final roster, I think there will be just a single individual from these four names to earn a spot as well. And if I had to choose one, it’d be Devante Downs based on his experience.
Downs has appeared in 20 career games, including seven with New York last year. During those matchups, he was on the field for 120 total special teams snaps. Thus, he carries experience with current special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey.