How long is it now that fans have rightly been complaining about the inability of New York Giants’ linebackers to cover anyone? Far too long, whatever the number of years. How about the idea of turning to free agency for an in-his-prime player who is one of the best coverage linebackers in football in an effort to fix that problem?
The Giants have an opportunity to do that this offseason if they choose to pursue 26-year-old Los Angeles Rams linebacker Cory Littleton.
Height: 6-foot-3 | Weight: 228
Experience: 4 seasons
2019 stats: Games: 16 | Tackles: 134 | Interceptions: 2 | Sacks: 3.5 | Fumble recoveries: 4 | Passes defensed: 9
2019 salary cap hit: $3.095 million
Pro Football Focus: Games: 16 | Snaps: 1,039 | Overall grade 78.9 (N0. 7 among linebackers) | Run defense: 64.7 | Pass defense: 82.3 | Passer rating allowed: 104.7 | Missed tackles: 1
Pro Football Focus ranks Little as the best off-ball linebacker and 16th-best player available in free agency. PFF says:
Littleton has quietly become one of the best coverage linebackers in the league, capable of running the seam with tight ends and closing quickly on running backs underneath. He has 18 pass breakups and six interceptions over the last two seasons, and he’s posted a 90.6 coverage grade that ranks third-best in the league. However, while potential suitors are going to love Littleton’s ability to affect the passing game, he has had his struggles against the run. His 50.8 run-defense grade ranks just 103rd out of 126 qualifiers over the last two years, so that could hurt his value for teams looking for an all-around three-down linebacker.
In today’s passing league, linebackers who can hit, run and cover are becoming increasingly more valuable. So, when the next free agency period begins this offseason, linebacker Cory Littleton will provide teams an opportunity to dramatically upgrade their pass defense.
During his four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams (including the postseason), Cory Littleton has logged 1,368 coverage snaps and earned a PFF coverage grade of 90.0, second to only Atlanta’s Deion Jones among linebackers from the 2016 NFL Draft class. As an off-ball defender in the Rams’ sub-package defense, Littleton was often the only linebacker on the field featured with six defensive backs. With 4.73 speed, he moves well in space and matches up with underneath pass routes well enough to have earned a 7th ranked coverage grade in both 2018 (83.1) and 2019 (82.3).
Because of his speed and range, Littleton can perform in any defensive zone scheme as proven by his four-year zone coverage grade of 80.0 which ranks 4th among qualifying linebackers in the 2016 draft class.
An undrafted free agent in 2016, Littleton is about to strike it rich in free agency. Should the Giants be the team that pays him, pairing him with second-year man Ryan Connelly on the inside?