Giants Whiff On A Linebacker
By Allen Kim
New York Giants GM Jerry Reese must really hold some sort of grudge against linebackers. Not only did he pass up on selecting a linebacker in the early rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft, he completely ignored the position over the weekend.
It’s understandable that Reese passed on taking a linebacker in the first round. Manti Te’o doesn’t scream first-round talent, and Alec Olgetree is too much of an off-field risk. However, once the second round started, many assumed that the linebacker position would be their top priority.
Instead, Reese opted to take DT Johnathan Hankins out of Ohio State. Defensive tackle was simply not a priority after they signed Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. Sure, Reese may be looking beyond the 2013 season, but without trying to sound like a broken record, linebacker needed to take precedence.
Seven picks after Reese grabbed Hankins, Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome grabbed LB Arthur Brown out of Kansas State. Take note, Reese: Newsome is widely considered to be one of the best GMs in the NFL — although Reese is undoubtedly right up there with him — and if he took a strong interest in Brown, maybe you should be second guessing yourself. Brown was considered by many to be a potential first-round pick, and the Ravens got an absolute steal — and possibly the best pick of Day 2 — with him near the end of the second round.
So Reese passed on a linebacker in the first two rounds, but there were still five left to go. Surely Reese wouldn’t ignore the position with so many picks still left in his possession, would he?
The third round came and went, and the Giants still didn’t have a linebacker; the fourth round ended, and the Giants were still short at the position; and so each round passed by with the same glaring hole remaining. All in all, New York hauled in two offensive linemen, a defensive tackle, a defensive end, a safety and a running back. Yet when you look at their roster, the only linebackers on the depth chart are Mathias Kiwanuka — although he’s expected to rotate in at defensive end — Dan Connor, Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger — not exactly an inspiring group of names.
Improving the team’s run defense was one of Reese’s top offseason priorities, and they took a step in the right direction by upgrading the middle of the trenches — but the front four can only do so much to contain the run. If a tailback happens to bust through the gut or escape to the outside, it’s the linebackers that are usually there to check them. Do you feel confident in one of the aforementioned names stepping up to do the job?
If so, I hope you’re not a betting man.
However, it’s not all about stopping the run. Two-tight end sets have replaced the Wildcat formation as the trendy thing to do around the league, and covering those tight ends usually falls on the shoulders of a linebacker. Once again, do you have any faith in one of the rostered linebackers to shut down the middle of the field?
I didn’t think so.
There are still some solid veteran free agent linebackers available, but the best ones may be out of their price range. And a rumored reunion between Michael Boley and the Giants does nothing to instill any sense of faith.
So while Reese may have walked away from the 2013 NFL Draft with some really good talent — especially in the mid to late rounds — his job is far from over. By avoiding the center of the defense and making only small upgrades to the secondary, it’s tough to see the Giants defense returning to championship form.