The New York Giants have added quite a few linebackers to their defense over the last couple years. But of them, only Devon Kennard has really had an impact, and could really be a long-term answer, assuming he is able to stay healthy.
Fans and draft analysts have been looking to the college ranks to help rebuild the Giants' linebacking corps for years now. They have expressed some interest in linebackers this offseason, so let's take a look back before the draft. Just in case.
Note: These are the players I consider to be strictly linebackers. Players who are pass rushers first will get their own preview.
Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) -- Jaylon Smith's story is well known by now. He was the best linebacker in college football, a smart, instinctive defender with electric athleticism. Unfortunately, a knee injury in the last game of his college career likely dashed his hopes of playing in the NFL, at least in 2016. His recovery is now dependent on how fast, and how well, his damaged nerves heal. The best outcome will be some team taking a chance on Smith, and being rewarded with a rare talent in the middle of their defense. [Prospect Profile]
Reggie Ragland (Alabama) -- With Smith's future anything but certain, Alabama's Reggie Ragland is the top inside linebacker by default. He isn't anything like the athlete that Smith is (was?), or even his predecessor, C.J. Mosley. Instead, Ragland is much more of a throwback middle linebacker, who makes his living between the tackles covering a short area and making running backs pay for venturing up the middle.
Kentrell Brothers (Missouri) -- While not the rangiest linebacker in the class -- far from it -- Brothers hits like he has lead in his bones. Sporting a dense build, better than expected short-area quickness, and a fantastic understanding and feel for the game, Brothers should be productive at the next level. His stock will depend on whether teams can look past his height, short arms, and slow foot-speed. [Prospect Profile]
Nick Vigil (Utah State) -- Vigil is a smaller, more "New Age" linebacker than either Ragland or Brothers at 6-2foot-, 240, and he is a different class of athlete than the other two. Vigil terrorized his conference for the Utah State defense, racking up 267 tackles and 30 tackles for a loss over the last two years. While he is more slight than NFL defenses have historically liked, he has adequate size for the modern NFL, a high football IQ, and good instincts to go with terrific short area quickness.
Tyler Matakevich (Temple) -- Despite being undersized and relatively unathletic, Matakevich was a human tackling machine for the Temple Owls. He played in every game of his four year career, becoming Temple's first freshman to finish with 100 tackles on the season, and was one of just seven defenders in FBS history to have 100 tackles in four consecutive years. Matakevich is also heralded as a film-junkie and the "heart and soul" of the Temple defense.
Scooby Wright III (Arizona) -- Like many of the other inside linebackers, Wright is a bit undersized and not terribly athletic. But he makes up for it by being a fantastic pass rusher. Some players just have a feel for rushign the passer, and Scooby Wright has it. It also helps that he is a very aggressive player, who is always on the hunt for the ball carrier. If a team wants speed and range they'll probably look elsewhere, but a team that blitzes its linebackers might fall in love with him. Like many highly aggressive players, Wright is vulnerable to giving up big plays. [Prospect Profile]
Myles Jack (UCLA) - Despite his own injury, Myles Jack was in contention with Jaylon Smith for the title of top linebacker in the land. Jack is a coverage extraordinaire, using his outstanding athleticism and feel to cover anyone who lined up across from him, even slot receivers 50 pounds lighter than he. There are concerns in the national media regarding Jack's knee, but the authenticity of those concerns has to be in doubt given the time of year. [Prospect Profile]
Leonard Floyd (Georgia) -- Floyd was used all over the Georgia defense, with duties ranging from slot corner, to defensive end, to both inside and outside linebacker. With a unique blend of height, length, and athleticism, comparisons are difficult, and so is projecting him to the next level. My personal belief is that he would be best served by playing the weakside linebacker position, where he can use his length and athleticism to cover tight ends and running backs in space and be sent on a blitzes to bring the heat on passers. Playing him there will also keep him from regularly having to take on offensive lineman. [Prospect Profile]
Joshua Perry (Ohio State) - Joshua Perry might be the best "all around" linebacker in the draft. He has prototypical size, good athleticism, and experience playing strong-side, weak-side, and middle linebacker for the Buckeyes. Where he fits best will likely be determined by whichever team drafts him, but he should be able to start on the strong-side or in the middle in the NFL. [Prospect Profile]
Darron Lee (Ohio State) -- The line is blurring between strong safety and weakside linebacker. It is largely due to the pressures put on defenses by college offenses. With no-huddle offenses creating a tremendous amount of stress, both schematically and athletically, defenses had to adapt. Some safeties started to look more like linebackers -- such as the Giants' Landon Collins -- while some linebackers began to look more like safeties. Ohio State's Darron Lee is one of those linebackers. Relying more on quick-twitch athleticism than power, Lee flies around the field making plays in space and as a pass rusher. Lee was protected by an excellent defensive front, and might need something like that again in the NFL. [Prospect Profile]
Deion Jones (LSU) - Another "tweener" outside linebacker, it took Jones until his senior year to start for the Tigers, but once he did, he never looked back. A blur on the field, Jones could be found wherever the ball was. He ran a good 4.59 second 40-yard dash at the combine, but blew that away with a blistering 4.38 second 40 at the LSU Pro Day. The LSU defensive captain finished with 100 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three pass breakups, and two interceptions in 2015. He also has a reputation as a high-character "team first" player who is willing to do whatever is asked of him to help the team, and was a great special teamer before getting his chance on defense. [Prospect Profile]
Su'a Cravens (USC) -- One last safety-linebacker hybrid, Cravens has admitted that teams have mentioned their desire to play him as a safety in the NFL. He isn't big, and doesn't time as fast as he plays, but Cravens is tough, has tremendous instincts, and a knack for making plays all over the field. He finished 2015 with 86 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, two passes defensed, and two interceptions.