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Linebacker a 'red flag' for Giants? Football Outsiders thinks so

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Football Outsiders sees linebacker as the Giants' biggest weakness, which is no surprise.

Jacquian Williams
Jacquian Williams
Jim Rogash

As part of a series identifying ‘red flag' positions for each NFL team -- ‘red flag' defined as a team's biggest remaining issue -- it has to come as no surprise that Football Outsiders has identified linebacker as the Giants' ‘red flag' position.

In an article for ESPN, Sean McCormick of Football Outsiders writes:

The current starting trio of Dan Connor, Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams is typical of the patchwork approach general manager Jerry Reese has taken during his tenure. Connor is a solid two-down plugger who is vulnerable in the passing game due to his lack of speed. Rivers is a former top-10 pick who has accumulated more surgeries than sacks in his five-year career. And Jacquian Williams is a guy named Jacquian Williams; he reportedly played in each of the past two seasons, but Giants fans can neither confirm nor deny his presence on the roster.

McCormick also called it "surprising" that the Giants did not draft a single linebacker and beat the drum for the team to pursue free agent Brian Urlacher. Let's say I understand the first sentiment, but completely disagree with the second.

Here is the Giants' current linebacker depth chart, including the signing of Curry and rookie agent Etienne Sabino.


Keith Rivers

Aaron Curry

Etienne Sabino


Dan Connor

Mark Herzlich

Jake Muasau


Jacquian Williams

Spencer Paysinger

That isn't going to knock anybody's socks off. Jerry Reese knows that.

Here's the thing, though. You can't solve every problem you believe you have during a single offseason -- you have a salary cap and a limited number of draft choices. I have come to believe what I think Reese and the Giants believe -- if you are going to have a questionable or ‘red flag' position on defense linebacker is the place to have it.

Why? In a standard 4-3 defense you have fewer linebackers than defensive linemen or players in the secondary. Plus, the linebackers are the players coming off the field in passing situations where 4-2-5 and 4-1-6 alignments become the norm.

So, you have a situation where the linebackers have the most limited role on your defense and it makes sense to allot a smaller portion of your limited resources to that area.

None of that should be taken to mean that good linebackers are not important, or that a dominant three-down, sideline-to-sideline linebacker would not be a welcome addition to the Giants' defense. The Giants, I'm sure, would love to have one. Issues at linebacker, though, seem like the easiest ones to cover for on defense.

Even the best linebackers aren't going to make plays if you have a defensive line that can't occupy blockers and let them roam. Average ones will make tons of plays when allowed to constantly run free to the ball. The Giants have spent the offseason bulking up the defensive tackle position (Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Johnathan Hankins, Shaun Rogers) to create such a scenario.

The Giants have Will Hill and drafted Cooper Taylor partially to help in sub packages when linebackers come off the field. If his knee holds up perhaps Terrell Thomas could also do some of that. In run-heavy situations the Giants could also stand up Mathias Kiwanuka or Damontre Moore.

Also, the Giants found out the hard way last season that when the pass rush does not function at maximum efficiency nothing works on defense. Also, that weaknesses in the secondary cost you big plays, touchdowns and, ultimately, games.

The linebacker position, on paper, obviously does not look like a strength. If you are going to have a weakness, or ‘red flag' position, linebacker seems like the most palatable. It seems to be the easiest one to cover for.