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NFL Draft: How high is linebacker on New York Giants’ priority list?

Let’s break down the linebacker situation

NFL: Combine
Zach Cunningham
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Could this FINALLY be the year that the New York Giants select a linebacker in the first round of the NFL Draft? Giants fans know the story — it comes up every year around draft time. Carl Banks, way back in 1984, was the last linebacker taken by the Giants in Round 1.

Giants fans who have been hoping/praying/demanding that the Giants place a higher priority on the linebacker position were teased a year ago. Many analysts, including yours truly, thought Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd was the Giants’ primary target with the 10th overall pick. Floyd, though, went to the Chicago Bears ninth overall. Thus, the wait continues.

Current roster: Jonathan Casillas, B.J. Goodson, Curtis Grant, Mark Herzlich, Devon Kennard, Eric Pinkins, Keenan Robinson, Deontae Skinner, J.T. Thomas III

Subtractions: Kelvin Sheppard

Draft priority

High

Make no mistake, linebacker is an area of need entering the 2017 NFL Draft. The Giants’ dominant 2016 defense featured an incredibly stout defensive line and a stellar secondary, but the linebacker play — as has become the norm — was nothing special. There were adequate, experienced players with a variety of useful skills but nothing approaching a true play-making every-down linebacker.

Even more important, the only linebacker on the roster with a contract that goes beyond 2017 is 2016 fourth-round pick B.J. Goodson, who could end up as the middle linebacker in 2017. The linebacker position could be in for an overhaul after the upcoming season, and it would be no surprise if the Giants prioritized trying to find a player who could become a key part of the future at that spot.

Getting Alabama’s Reuben Foster is a pipe dream, with Foster more likely to be selected in the top 10 than to fall all the way to the Giants. Haason Reddick of Temple also figures to be off the board.

The most likely linebacker who could be a target at 23 at Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt [prospect profile | prospect video], although there is increased speculation that Florida’s Jarrad Davis [prospect profile] could also be in the mix. Cunningham is No. 27 on our Big Board, while Davis checks in at No. 33. Of the two, Davis seems the more likely to be available when the Giants select at No. 55 in Round 2.

If the Giants miss out on the top tier of linebackers there are a number of other intriguing prospects who could provide competition and perhaps stake a claim to a regular defensive role down the line. Dan Kadar’s linebacker rankings are a good place to start, but some of the names to know include Alex Anzalone of Florida, Tyus Bowser of Houston, Jalon Reeves-Maybin of Tennessee, Blair Brown of Ohio, Ryan Anderson of Alabama and Duke Riley of LSU.