Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball against Mathias Kiwanuka of the New York Giants during the second half of the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The idea of Mathias Kiwanuka moving to middle linebacker was raised in a Fanpost a bit earlier. It happens to be an idea I have kicked around in my own brain, so I thought I would explore the pros and cons of the idea just a little further.
First off, this move is not going to happen. There are a bunch of candidates to be the Giants' middle linebacker in 2012, and the organization has never mentioned Kiwanuka as one of them.
Apparently I am not the only person who thinks that Kiwanuka -- at least as a physical, run-stopping force -- has the right skill set to succeed at middle linebacker. He is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds and has had success against the run playing the strong side. Kiwanuka had a +15.7 Pro Football Focus grade against the run last season, fifth-best in the NFL among 4-3 outside linebackers. KIwanuka also has the leadership skills needed from a middle linebacker.
I seem to remember that the Giants once had success converting a defensive end to middle linebacker. Yep. Harry Carson didn't do too badly.
Thing is, there would be drawbacks to the move as well. First, could the pass-coverage challenged Kiwanuka handle the deep drops required in Perry Fewell's zone-heavy scheme? That's doubtful. Second, you probably lose the ability to move him into the defensive line as a pass rusher. Third, does he have the range to get sideline-to-sideline to make plays? That is something he has never been asked to do.
Finally, the biggest thing is whether even asking him to try the middle would be fair. The guy is a defensive end playing outside linebacker because he is a tremendous teammate, an unselfish player willing to do something unnatural to get on the field and help his team. Not to mention the fact that, natural or not, he's pretty darn good on the outside.
In the end, the Giants have a pretty good thing going using Kiwanuka as a hybrid player. Moving him around, causing blocking problems for opposing offenses. They would seem to be better off leaving well enough alone.