The state of the New York Giants linebacking corps is well known. Devon Kennard is one of the better 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL, but other than that, they don't have much. Fans, and the media, have been clamoring for the Giants to draft a linebacker highly for years now, but value and position never seem to line up for them.
It did in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, when the Giants selected middle linebacker B.J. Goodson out of Clemson. Goodson only had one year of starting experience in the middle before declaring for the draft. The unfamiliarity with Goodson, who was a role player before seizing the starting job, is one reason why he fell in the draft.
But now that he's a Giant, we should get to know him
Play 1 vs. Notre Dame
If there's one area of their defense that the Giants need to improve, it's their pass defense. That's why they re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul, signed Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins, and drafted Eli Apple and Darian Thompson. But in order to rush the passer, a defense needs to put the offense in a position where they have to throw the ball. How does a defense do that? The most obvious answer is to take the running game away.
Here Notre Dame is showing a heavy look, with an inline tight end and a fullback, looking like they are going to run on first- and-10, which they do. This is a simple runup the middle, with the center, Nick Martin, blowing open a hole with a double team on the nose tackle before releasing to the second level. Martin is looking to block Goodson to spring the running back for a nice gain.
That, however, isn't what happens.
When you hear scouts, players, and coaches talk about "stack and shed" what Goodson does to Martin is exactly what they are talking about. Instead of waiting for the center to come to him, Goodson attacks downhill, keeping his pad level low so as to deny Martin a surface to latch on to. He then gets his hands inside of Martin's shoulders, and jolts him backwards, effectively taking him out of the play while Goodson is able to turn and make the tackle as the back runs past.
It is a power and violence the Giants have largely lacked -- apart from Jon Beason in the second half of 2013 -- in the middle linebacker position for a long time, probably since Antonio Pierce's 2008 season.
Play 2 vs. Notre Dame
After taking a look at what was my favorite play of Goodson's -- I'm a sucker for good, physical defense -- I want to take a look at a not-so-good play.
Goodson initially walks up to the line of scrimmage to show a blitz, which is exactly what happens. Notre Dame has a play-action pass called, which takes the running back out of position to pick up the blitz, making Goodson's rush a great call. He gets a great jump off the snap, crossing the line of scrimmage almost at full speed, and is in the quarterback's face almost before he knows it.
Unfortunately, this is where Goodson's limited athleticism shows up. The quarterback makes a quick move which leaves Goodson flat-footed, and while he has good short-area quickness when he is on the balls of his feet, Goodson can't recover and redirect in time to catch the quarterback for the sack.
That isn't to say that the long run is entirely on Goodson, either. The Clemson defensive line is a non-factor, getting almost completely manhandled by the Notre Dame offensive line on this play. Ultimately, the play was on Goodson to make, and he failed, but the rest of the defense didn't help him out any.
Play 3 vs. Florida State
Thanks to the influence of college spread offenses, football is turning more and more into a game that is played horizontally.
Here we see just such a play as Florida State fakes a run play, only to throw a swing pass to the running back.
It's blown up for a loss thanks to new Giant B.J. Goodson.
Goodson starts to come down, and seeing the faked hand off he stays between the hashmarks. However he quickly recognizes the swing pass and starts running for the sideline as soon as the quarterback's shoulders start to turn toward the sideline. Similarly to Paul Dawson in the 2015 class, Goodson's awareness, instincts, and football IQ more than make up for his limited athleticism in situations like this. Thanks to his mental footwork, he gets a terrific jump, and angle, on the play, arriving at the running back almost as soon as the ball does. He keeps him from getting the edge or turning upfield. Goodson would have had the tackle in any case, but he also secures the back to make sure he can't get free until the rest of the Clemson gets there for the gang tackle.
Play 4 vs. North Carolina
Finally, pass coverage IS an important part of playing middle linebacker. Not as important as it is for the strong safety, a nickle DB, or a dedicated coverage linebacker, but important nonetheless.
In this play, Goodson drops into a shallow zone coverage in the middle of the field (Note: this play is actually from a cut for Mackensie Alexander, who is highlighted with the arrow. Goodson is circled in yellow by the announce team), where he and the outside linebacker both cover the tight end.
It is difficult to know without seeing the quarterback's eyes, but judging by his head, this is the quarterback's second read on this play. Goodson initially doesn't have anybody to cover as the tight end is well covered, but Goodson goes looking for work and finds it when the tight end goes into his zone. He does a good job of staying in an athletic stance, on the balls of his feet and ready to move in any direction. But instead of locking in on the receiver in his zone, Goodson keeps his eyes in the backfield, watching the quarterback make his reads. Goodson and his teammate both break off their coverage as soon as he sees the QB move off the man he is covering, quickly coming down to tackle the running back, who leaked out as a check-down after helping the right guard with a chip block.
Is B.J. Goodson the answer at middle linebacker? We have no way to know for sure right now, and won't for a good long while. That answer won't be especially pleasing to Giants fans who have craved a highly-drafted linebacker for years, to the point of advocating that the Giants draft Alabama's Reggie Ragland at 10th overall after Jack Conklin and Leonard Floyd were drafted (Ragland was drafted 41st overall by the Buffalo Bills).
However, Goodson might not be as far behind Ragland as his draft position might indicate. The two posted similar combine numbers, with Goodson beating Ragland out in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, vertical jump, and broad jump, as well as posting a very strong mark in the bench press.
On the field, both were the signal callers for their respective defenses, though Goodson only held that job for a little more than a year. Stats wise, they were remarkably similar as well.
Goodson is a more well-rounded athlete and on the whole produced better stats, but does that mean he will be a better player? Again, there's no way to tell at this point. However, if the Giants were able to get an equal player two full rounds later, they did pretty well for themselves.