If you really think about it Jonathan Casillas is the poster child for what New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese has tried to do at the linebacker position over the past decade.
Casillas came to the Giants as a veteran free agent in 2015 after five NFL seasons that saw him play for three teams — the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots. He was a useful, experienced player — but also a cheap, non-descript one. In those five seasons he had only started 18 games, with the six he started in 2014 (three for the Bucs, three for the Pats) being a career high.
The Giants likely figured he would be nice depth behind J.T. Thomas. Besides, he came to the Giants with the reputation of being a good special teams player and a good locker room presence.
All of that makes him a typical Giants linebacker — a discard from the rest of the NFL. Only, when it comes to linebackers Reese always seems to hunting for that gem that no one else recognizes. Casillas has made Reese look good during his two seasons with the Giants.
In truth, Casillas outplayed the more highly-paid Thomas almost right from the start.
Let’s take a closer look at Casillas as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.
2016 Season in Review
After playing in 15 games with seven starts and playing more snaps than any other Giants linebacker (672, 58.18 percent of the defensive snaps) in 2015, Casillas became a full-time starter and was named defensive captain in 2016.
Casillas started 15 games, was second on the team with 92 tackles, had seven passes defensed, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. His 794 defensive snaps (71.53 percent) was again most of any Giant linebacker. Casillas’ 61.3 Pro Football Focus grade was the highest of any full-time Giants linebacker who played more than 100 snaps. Devon Kennard had a 79.1 grade but played 300 fewer snaps overall (549) and spent roughly one third of his time on the field (185 snaps) as a pass-rusher, much of that as a defensive lineman. As a pure linebacker, he played nearly 500 fewer snaps than Casillas.
2017 Season Outlook
The combination of Dalvin Tomlinson, Jay Bromley and Robert Thomas will replace Johnathan Hankins at defensive tackle. B.J. Goodson will likely replace Kelvin Sheppard as the base defense middle linebacker. Other than that, the defense is basically unchanged. That means Casillas’s role will likely also be unchanged.
Casillas is not a star. He can, however, play the run and the pass and he has the athleticism to play in space. He’s valuable to the Giants for both his leadership, and for the fact that he can be trusted to handle all three downs.
Casillas, 29, is entering the final year of a three-year, $8 million contract. As he was the past two seasons, he figured to be a valuable part of the Giants 2017 defense. Whether he is in the team’s plans beyond this season is a good question, and perhaps his performance in the coming campaign will answer that question.