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Can Aaron Curry Make A Giant Comeback?

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Aaron Curry has an opportunity to resurrect his career for a New York Giants team in desperate need of help at the linebacker position. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.
Aaron Curry has an opportunity to resurrect his career for a New York Giants team in desperate need of help at the linebacker position. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.

After bringing linebacker Aaron Curry in for workouts last week, the New York Giants officially signed him last Friday to a one-year deal. While details of the contract were not disclosed, it’s safe to assume that he’ll be playing for close to the minimum.

Selected with the No. 4 overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2009 NFL Draft, Curry was deemed by many to be the best linebacker prospect of his class. He was considered to be a lock for the Top 5 of the draft, and there were some that even projected him to go to the Detroit Lions with the No. 1 pick. However, with the way Curry’s career has unfolded thus far, you could certainly make a case for him being one of the biggest draft busts of the last decade. While it’s probably a little early to definitively label him as a clear-cut bust, the first four seasons of his career certainly support that claim.

If you Google “Aaron Curry," the second suggested search term is “Aaron Curry bust.” Don’t believe me? Go ahead and Google it for yourself; I’ll wait. So now that we’ve established the prevailing view on Curry, let’s dig a little deeper and see how he went from one of the most hyped players in the draft to one of the most neglected free agents in the NFL.

Curry went ahead of a number of notable linebackers in the 2009 draft: Brian Orakpo (No. 13, Washington), Brian Cushing (No. 15, Houston), Clay Matthews (No. 26, Green bay), James Laurinaitis (No. 35, St. Louis) and Dannell Ellerbe (undrafted, Baltimore) were all still on the board when Commissioner Roger Goodell called Curry up to the stage. Each of the aforementioned names have made a notable impact on their respective teams, while Curry hasn’t even come close to approaching the production and accolades of his peers.

Even though Curry’s NFL resume is bare, he had quite the career with Wake Forest. He was a strong contributor right out of the gate, but it wasn’t until his junior year that he broke out — he was named second-team All-ACC after recording 99 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and four picks — and started to vault up the draft boards of NFL teams everywhere. Curry improved his steadily rising draft stock and really made his mark at the collegiate level in his final year as a Demon Deacon: he was named first-team All-ACC and first-team All-American, while taking home the coveted Butkus Award, which is given to the top linebacker.

It’s easy to see why GMs, scouts, draftniks and fans were drooling over Curry after his senior year, but it wasn’t until after he blew everyone away at the combine that he solidified himself as a top pick. Listed at 6-2, 254 pounds, Curry clocked in with a 4.56 40-yard dash, put up 25 reps on the bench, recorded a 37-inch vertical jump and an equally impressive 124-inch broad jump. With his combination of size, strength and speed, Curry was considered versatile enough to play strongside linebacker in the 4-3 or inside linebacker in the 3-4.

Nonetheless, even with all the physical tools to be a dominant force at the pro level, he failed to live up to the lofty expectations. It became painfully obvious that he wasn’t much of a threat as a pass rusher, had trouble containing running backs, and was a liability in pass coverage.

Simply put, he just couldn’t cut it in the NFL. Nearly everything he did well in college inexplicably turned into a glaring weakness as a pro.

After losing his starting job to then-rookie K.J. Wright two games into his third season in the league, the Seahawks opted to cut him loose and recuperate whatever losses they could — they signed Curry to a massive six-year, $60 million deal with $34 million guaranteed, which is one of the biggest non-quarterback deals for a rookie in NFL history — by trading him to the Oakland Raiders for a meager seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2013. This was a stunning development for a player who was once deemed a “can’t-miss prospect” — then again, this was also the same draft where Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez was being talked about in nearly the same breath as Curry — and one that many predicted would make a number of trips to Hawaii by the time his career came to a close.

Curry played in 11 largely forgettable games in his first year with the Raiders, and he spent all but two games on the Physically Unable to Perform list the following year due to knee problems. He was eventually waived by the Raiders in November 2012, and was unemployed for nearly six months before signing with the Giants. Just looking at his career stats through four seasons, it’s easy to see why so many teams passed on him while he was sidelined.

SEASON

TEAM

GP

COMB

TOTAL

AST

SACK

FF

FR

INT

TD

PD

2009

SEA

14

61

54

7

2.0

2

0

0

0

6

2010

SEA

16

73

60

13

3.5

2

0

0

0

1

2011

SEA

5

22

16

6

0.0

0

0

0

0

2

2011

OAK

11

46

32

14

0.0

0

2

0

0

3

2012

OAK

2

1

1

0

0.0

0

0

0

0

0

Career

Totals

48

203

163

40

5.5

4

2

0

0

12

Now, Curry has the task of rebuilding his once-promising career with the Giants. Whatever held Curry back from realizing his potential in Seattle and, to a lesser extent, in Oakland, could possibly change in New York. Perhaps his journey from a highly touted prospect to an unwanted free agent evoked a transformation over the last six months that will manifest itself into some sort of career revival.

Only 27, Curry still has time on his side, but the window is closing fast. He no longer has to worry about the intense pressure that comes along with being a Top 5 draft pick since most have written him off already, but being in New York, he’ll still be under heavy scrutiny from the relentless fans and media hounds of the Big Apple.

Curry has a legitimate shot to be one of the team’s starting linebackers by the time Week 1 rolls around. The players currently atop the Giants depth chart — Dan Connor, Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams — aren’t exactly household names, so it should be an interesting positional battle to watch throughout training camp. If Curry truly is fully recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him for the majority of the 2012 season, then this could be a make or break type of year for him.

So what can we expect out of Curry in 2013? Giants fans are surely wondering which Curry will show up to camp this summer: the pre-draft wonder that oozed potential, the ailing player that has failed to deliver or something in between? If he blows up and finally lives up to the hype, the Giants will have gotten a huge steal; if he continues his downward spiral and flops in New York, they'll have invested and risked little to find out; if he doesn’t quite turn into a dominant force but manages to be productive, the Giants will have upgraded the weakest part of the team.

Either way, it’s a low-risk, high-upside signing that you can applaud Jerry Reese for having made. Everyone likes a redemption story, and if Curry can stay healthy and finally make the necessary adjustments to produce in the NFL, he has a shot to reinvent his career.