As we move through the position-by-position previews for the New York Giants before the 2018 NFL Draft, we focus on a position the Giants haven’t over the past few seasons — linebacker. This preview will take a look at off-ball linebackers only. Outside linebackers/edge rushers will be covered with the defensive line.
Players lost: Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, Akeem Ayers, Kelvin Sheppard, Curtis Grant, Deontae Skinner (all still unsigned), Devon Kennard
Players added: Alec Ogletree
Current roster: Thurston Armbrister, Ray Ray Armstrong, B.J. Goodson, Curtis Grant, Mark Herzlich, Alec Ogletree, Derrick Matthews, Calvin Munson
It gives a sense of how poor the Giants’ linebacking corps has been when seven linebackers who were on the 2017 roster became free agents and as of this signing only one has signed with a different team. Dave Gettleman’s first major move as general manager was to address the position and acquire Alec Ogletree via trade. It’s yet to be determined whether that was the right move with the market at inside linebacker typically slow to develop, but it did show there was an effort made to upgrade at the position.
A shift to a 3-4 base might bring the image of more linebackers on the field, but that’s not really the case. In a base look, two of those linebackers are likely to be Olivier Vernon and Kareem Martin, who will act as edge rushers first. Since more than 60 percent of defensive plays come in the nickel, there’s going to be a decent amount of plays when there’s just one traditional off-ball linebacker on the field.
Linebacker should still be considered a need, though more in the late-Day 2 or Day 3 variety. Given the investment in Ogletree — both in contract and draft capital — he’ll be the main linebacker throughout the season. Still, a little functional depth would be nice to have behind him and B.J. Goodson.
BYU’s Fred Warner could be a great fit with James Bettcher. He’s a little undersized (236 pounds, 37th percentile among linebackers), but he has the versatility needed for a modern NFL linebacker. He’s strong against the run and can effortlessly drop back and hang with slot receivers and tight ends in coverage. He’s expected to go in the round 3 to 4 range. Ohio State’s Jerome Baker offers a similar skillset, but could go a little earlier because of his pedigree.
UCF’s Shaquem Griffin is the best story of the draft, but should be on every team’s radar because he’s an excellent football player. He has the ability to play at all three levels of the defense and could be deployed almost anywhere on the field.