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Film study: Is linebacker Ryan Connelly more than a backup?

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How much of an impact could LB Ryan Connelly make as a rookie?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Fans of the New York Giants have been crying out for years for the team to draft a linebacker highly. In 2019, as they have so often before, the Giants waited until the third day of the draft to select an off-ball linebacker, taking Ryan Connelly out of Wisconsin in the fifth round.

A former walk-on who had to earn his way on to the field — finally becoming a full-time starter his senior season — Connelly has a reputation as a smart, tenacious player. But beyond that, what does he bring to the Giants?

Measurables

Pros

  • Good football IQ. Reacts quickly to the offense and generally takes an accurate first step.
  • Generally reliable tackler.
  • Quick to come downhill in the run game or as a blitzer.
  • Does a good job of timing his pass rush and finding rushing lanes.
  • Great hustle. Will pursue a play all over the field.

Cons

  • Not great in coverage. Allowed 71.4 completion percentage when in coverage.
  • Has a tendency to run around blockers, rather than stack and shed.
  • Range and lateral agility can be an issue.
  • Occasionally seems to lose track of the play.

Prospect video

What they’re saying

There’s a lot to like about Ryan Connelly: he’s scrappy, smart, and staunch at the point of attack. Connelly’s physical limitations in terms of length, range, and transitional quickness limit his ability as a space player, but inside the box, he’s a reliable defender who’s good for a few high-impact TFL opportunities a game.

Connelly would fit best as a 4-3 SAM or 3-4 MIKE, where his recognition skills and aggressive play demeanor can be maximized. He’s a depth player in the NFL, but given his demeanor and football IQ, he has a good chance to stick on an NFL roster.

- Ben Solak (The Draft Network - Scouting Report)

Connelly is really smart. It is funny because today I was showing a cut-up to the vets and you try not to do that. You try not to show a rookie to the vets too early, but I was showing the cut-up to the vets. This is a guy from the rookie minicamp and it was a concept and a route and he played it exactly the right way. It was a great example. Smart and tough.

- James Bettcher

What Does Ryan Connelly Bring To The Giants?

Whatever he brings on the field, Connelly will likely be a good addition to the Giants’ locker room. He is well regarded as a hard worker and smart player.

On the field, he will likely begin his career as a special teams player, and if he proves valuable enough there, also as a backup inside linebacker. It would be something of an upset if Connelly were able to unseat B.J. Goodson as the starting MIKE linebacker — Goodson doesn’t get much press, but he was quietly good last year, and (per Pro Football Focus) had the lowest passer rating against of any linebacker in the NFC east and the fifth lowest passer rating against of any defensive player.

Granted, he was frequently taken off the field on passing downs, but he did play well as an every-down player when Alec Ogletree was out due to injury.

However, Goodson is also in the final year of his rookie contract, and the Giants could well let him leave via free agency.

Connelly will have to rely on his football IQ to secure a spot on the defense (even as a rotation player) at the NFL level. Likewise, he will also need to improve both his ability to take on blockers and his field awareness.

But backups and special teams aces are still valuable. If Connelly is destined to carry on the tradition of Chase Blackburn and Mark Herzlich, that is still a useful piece and far from a wasted pick in the fifth round.