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Position review: How much of a need is linebacker in 2017?

Giants got good production from LB group in 2016

Wild Card Round - New York Giants v Green Bay Packers
Keenan Robinson’s coverage skills were an asset to the Giants in 2016.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Linebacker is always a position that seems to be in flux for the New York Giants. As an organization, the Giants simply don’t seem to value linebackers the way they do defensive linemen or defensive backs. Perhaps that is because linebackers in the modern game are often only one- or two-down players who can be mixed and matched and are often replaced by safeties or cornerbacks as teams utilize additional wide receivers.

As we continue our position-by-position reviews of the Giants as we head into the 2017 offseason, let’s focus today on the state of the linebacking corps.

2016 season

The linebacker play for the Giants in 2016 was actually quite good, at least in comparison to what we have seen in recent seasons. Veteran Jonathan Casillas emerged as the team’s defensive captain and was a full-time starter for the first time in his seven-year career. Devon Kennard did not compile big numbers, but helped the Giants as both a run-stopping outside linebacker and pass-rushing defensive lineman. Keenan Robinson excelled in coverage. Kelvin Sheppard played limited snaps, but did an acceptable job manning the middle in the team’s base defense, mostly on run downs.

2017 free agents

Keenan Robinson (Unrestricted)
Mark Herzlich (Unrestricted)
Kelvin Sheppard (Unrestricted)
Deontae Skinner (Restricted)
Eric Pinkins (Exclusive rights)

Offseason decisions to make

Robinson was allowed to leave the Washington Redskins via free agency after four injury-plagued seasons. Sheppard came to the Giants from the Miami Dolphins as a free agent. Robinson became a critical part of the Giants’ nickel defense, and it would seem logical they would try to retain him. With 2016 fourth-round pick B.J. Goodson waiting in the wings at middle linebacker, Sheppard could be on more tenuous ground.

Herzlich is again a free agent. He seems, somehow, to always find his way back onto the Giants’ roster as a key special teams contributor. The Giants will also have to make an assessment of whether Ishaq Williams, after a year on the practice squad, is ready to contribute as an edge player.

Draft/FA priority level

Medium. Many thought the Giants would take linebacker/defensive end Leonard Floyd in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Floyd, though, was off the board and the Giants still have not drafted a linebacker in Round 1 since taking Carl Banks in 1984. Could the Giants do so this time? Needs on the offensive side — on the line, tight end and running back in particular — seem more prevalent. In our early draft discussions, though, Chris has harped continually on the Giants’ need for a speed rusher off the edge. Would such a player be available to the Giants at No. 23, or later in the draft?