Can the New York Giants cobble together effective play at linebacker, a position where, aside from trading for Alec Ogletree and taking on his expensive contract, the Giants have not used premium resources in Dave Gettleman’s two offseasons as GM?
Let’s look at the position as we continue our positional previews leading up to Giants training camp. Incidentally, for our purposes here we are focused on inside or “off the ball” linebackers.
Projected Depth Chart
Starters: Alec Ogletree, B.J. Goodson
Reserves: Ryan Connelly, Tae Davis, Mark McLaurin, Nate Stupar, Josiah Tauaefa, Jake Carlock
Part of the reason the Giants acquired Ogletree was to be a veteran leader, and he did emerge as the signal caller and “Alpha” of the defense. He was also a true three-down linebacker, playing 80.67 percent of the defensive snaps despite missing three games due to injuries.
Ogletree had a career-high five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. He was also second on the team in tackles with 93 despite playing only 13 games.
Were those baseline numbers misleading?
Ogletree was 10th among linebackers who played more than 500 snaps in missed tackles with 15. That’s a problem that has plagued him throughout his career. In 2017 he missed eight tackles and in 2016 he was fourth-worst in the league with 10 missed tackles.
In coverage, he gave up 52 receptions in 61 targets. He was seventh-worst among linebackers in yards per coverage snap at 1.33. His run-stop percentage of 5.4 was 53rd out of 59 qualifying linebackers, per PFF.
Ogletree is a useful player, but hardly an exceptional one.
Goodson is the linebacker who comes off the field when the Giants go into sub packages geared to defend the pass. He played only 46.76 percent of the defensive snaps a season ago, with his highest-usage games being the ones Ogletree missed due to injury.
Goodson’s 6.0 run-stop percentage was 48th among linebackers, only slightly better than Ogletree’s. He did miss only two tackles. Goodson did have a 69.9 passer rating against in a limited sample size, having been targeted 39 times (29 receptions allowed.
Goodson’s role seems unlikely to change.
The young guns
Tae Davis, who made the roster as an undrafted free agent a season ago, emerged a sub package linebacker used mostly in coverage. Basically, he was the guy who most often replaced Goodson. Unfortunately, he struggled in the role. His Pro Football Focus coverage grade was an awful 32.2, and his 119.2 passer rating against was 74th out of 77 qualifying linebackers. Can he improve on that work in his second season?
The player with the best chance of stealing more than a few sub package snaps away from Ogletree or Goodson would appear to be fifth-round pick Ryan Connelly.
Connelly impressed James Bettcher so quickly that the defensive coordinator found himself showing rookie mini-camp cut-ups of Connelly’s work to the veteran players.
“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.”
Owen Reise of SB Nation’s Wisconsin website, Bucky’s 5th Quarter, told us he didn’t know if Connelly is starting linebacker material in the NFL. If you want to pin hopes on someone, though, right now it might as well be Connelly.
McLaurin, a converted safety being used in the “moneybacker” role, and Tauaefa, are undrafted players worth paying attention to in the competition for backup spots.