No matter who the head coach or general manager has been, the New York Giants have for more than three decades generally stuck to a philosophy of not spending premium dollars or using premium draft assets on the linebacker position.
Free agent signee Blake Martinez was an exception to that rule this offseason. The draft, though, typified the way the Giants have tried to fill a position that has become increasingly specialized — devalued, even — as defenses have become smaller, faster, and more versatile.
The Giants used four of their 10 2020 draft picks on linebackers, all from the 183rd pick on. Will any of those late-round picks in the recent draft pay long-term dividends?
Let’s take a closer look at the player chosen 183rd, Cam Brown of Penn State.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, if you are paying attention you will note that I am now out of alphabetical order. That’s because as I go through the list of players I initially omitted the unsigned rookies. That means I skipped over Brown, T.J. Brunson and Carter Coughlin. So, now it’s time to back up and take care of that].
Contract: Currently unsigned
How he got here
The Giants drafted Brown in Round 6, 183rd overall, beginning a run in which they selected four inside or outside linebackers with their final five selections. Brown had 198 tackles (100 solo) in 46 games at Penn State.
Here is what coach Joe Judge said when the Giants drafted Brown:
“Physically, he’s got good length. He’s got a frame to fill out and play. He plays with good energy. He plays aggressive and downhill. He’s going to bring versatility on the edge as well as a little bit of stack backer value. He brings impact in the kicking game with us. Looking at the way our defense is pieced up and set, we need guys that are versatile, that we can move by game plan and by need. Cam definitely fits within that. Sean Spencer (defensive line coach) on the staff has spoken very highly of Cam since he got here. He’s also a guy that when you talk to other guys on Penn State and you hit them with who the leader on the defense is, without hesitation they all said Cam Brown. That stuck out to us. He’s been an alpha dog in the locker room and that brings the attitude we really look for on the field.”
“Brown shined as a versatile weapon for the Nittany Lions. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown lined up 273 times at slot corner, 259 times in the box, 89 times on the defensive line, eight times at free safety, and six times at wide corner. During his last two seasons at Penn State, Brown had 135 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 30 pressures, 4 sacks, and 10 passes defensed. Brown’s length presents a problem to a quarterback’s throwing windows in the middle/intermediate part of the field, if Brown is in the box.”
“An alpha dog in the locker room.”
Those are the words from Judge that stick out.
Penn State head coach James Franklin recently told the team’s official web site something similar.
“Well, he’s a culture driver,” Franklin said. “We talk about that all the time. He’s a guy that is going to have meetings with the coaches then be able to take that information down into the locker room. He plays aggressive, he plays violent, he throws his body around. Yeah, I think he’s what coaches are looking for. Everything I know about Coach Judge and everything I know about the organization that he came from, he’s going to align with that. He understands this is about production, it’s about doing your job. It’s not about all the hype, it’s not about the things you say in the media, it’s not about any of those things. It’s about doing your job and being a high-production, low-maintenance guy.”
It is hard to imagine a sixth-round pick who seems likely to cut his NFL teeth playing primarily on special teams in 2020 emerging as a leader. I’m reminded, though, of Antonio Pierce. He was undrafted out of Arizona State before becoming a starter for the Washington Redskins and then the heart — and on-field mind — of the Giants’ defense from 2005-2009.
It is a long leap at this point, when we haven’t even seen a single practice, to think Brown could eventually have a Pierce-like impact. Still, the quotes from Judge and Franklin tell us a good bit about the kinds of players the Giants are aiming to build with as Judge establishes himself as an NFL head coach.
Smart. Tough. Versatile. Willing and able to play special teams. Leadership potential.
Franklin also pointed out that Brown’s height (6-5 — 97th percentile) and wingspan (78 7/8 inches — 95th percentile) is a plus in the middle of the field.
“It’s interesting because the reason coaches like speed and the reason coaches like length is, you know you talk about the football field, the width of it is 53 1/3 (yards), what you try to do is you’re trying to reduce space,” Franklin said on “Big Blue Kickoff Live” on Giants.com. “You’re trying to take away space, and you can do that with your speed and athleticism, and you can do that with size. When you get a guy that has a little bit of both, then obviously it makes those throwing lanes for the quarterback more difficult.
“It makes your ability to make tackles and have a bigger tackle radius no different than a receiver and his catch radius. Length is important because it takes away space from an offense. Now, when you take the combination of good speed, length and intelligence, because intelligence is the other thing. Intelligence allows you to play fast. You can be the fastest guy in the 40, but if you can’t process information quickly, you have a difficulty playing fast and again, taking away space. I think that is what’s attractive to the coaches of the Giants about Cam, one of his unique qualities.”
Martinez, Ryan Connelly, and David Mayo figure to be the top three inside linebackers. Brown, along with Brunson and Tae Crowder, will be trying to force their way into the picture. Can Brown be the one who does so?