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Giants’ 90-man roster: Can Ryan Connelly be more than a special teams player?

Bettcher says Wisconsin linebacker is “smart and tough”

NFL: Combine
Ryan Connelly going through drills at the Combine.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For years the New York Giants have tried to fill the linebacker spot with undrafted players like Chase Blackburn and Mark Herzlich, or mid- to late-round draft picks like Philip Dillard, Greg Jones, Bryan Kehl, Jonathan Goff and Devon Kennard. Thery have had mixed success.

The latest mid-round linebacker the Giants are giving a chance is Ryan Connelly out of Wisconsin, selected in Round 5 of this year’s NFL Draft. Let’s look at Connelly as we continuing our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.

The basics

Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 242
Age: 23
Position: Linebacker
Experience: 0

How he got here

The Giants drafted Connelly, who played at Wisconsin, in Round 5 (143rd overall). He was a three-year starter after walking on as a quarterback and being converted to linebacker.

Over the past two seasons, Connelly had 177 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 6.0 sacks for the Badgers.

Owen Reise of SB Nation’s Wisconsin website, Bucky’s 5th Quarter, told us that comparisons to Mark Herzlich and Chase Blackburn are “fairly appropriate.”

“Ryan has always had a penchant for making the big tackle or play, despite not relying on athleticism to make those plays. I don’t know if Connelly has the upside to be a starting linebacker capable of fighting off more talented players for the spot at the NFL level, but he was rock solid for Wisconsin for the past three seasons.”

2019 outlook

Connelly is probably penciled in initially as a special teams player. Can he become more than that down the line. GM Dave Gettleman said “we see him as a versatile Mike linebacker, very smart, instinctive kid.”

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher was so impressed by Connelly’s work during rookie mini-camp that he took the unusual step of showing clips of it to veteran defenders.

“Connelly is really smart,” Bettcher said. “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.”

You can win with smart, tough players who make a living on special teams and fill in capably when needed. If that’s what Connelly is, then he’s a worthy choice at that point in the draft. If he is more than that, if he’s a guy who be a regular on a good defense, the pick is a home run.