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Better or worse? Giants off-ball linebackers

If they are healthy, the Giants should not see regression here

New York Giants v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

It’s been a little bit since we have given you the next installment of our position-by-position series previewing the 2021 New York Giants. Let’s get back to that with a look at the off-ball (inside) linebackers.

Key losses: David Mayo
Key additions: Reggie Ragland

Why the Giants might be better

This really comes down to Tae Crowder [roster profile] and Reggie Ragland. Does Crowder improve after a rookie season in which he showed promise but had poor Pro Football Focus grades? Is Ragland a better backup/situational player than David Mayo or Devante Downs?

In what amounted to part-time duty last season (11 games, six starts, 403 snaps) Crowder impressed Blake Martinez. The Giants’ every-down inside linebacker and signal-caller said Crowder is a “great player” and added that “The sky is the limit for him, no matter Mr. Irrelevant or not, and I’m excited for years to come playing next to him.”

Crowder, of course, was the final player selected in the 2020 draft. He ended up out-performing many of the players the Giants drafted before him. Still, Pro Football Focus wasn’t impressed.

Crowder finished the season with a poor 36.4 defensive grade. Much of that had to be due to missing 10 tackles (16.1 percent of his tackling efforts).

Crowder, though, gives the Giants intelligence, athleticism and coverage ability. If he can clean up the tackling issue he could be an excellent second inside linebacker.

Ragland, a former second-round pick by the Buffalo Bills, offers experience and run-stopping ability. He is coming off a poor season with the Detroit Lions. [Roster profile]

Carter Coughlin is being moved inside, and it will be interesting to see how the 2020 seventh-round pick out of Minnesota takes to the position. Devante Downs, who started eight games last season, and T.J. Brunson are also in the mix.

Why the Giants might be worse

Maybe Crowder doesn’t take a step forward and Ragland isn’t any better for the Giants than he was for the Lions.

One issue here, though, will be the play of the nose tackles in front of Martinez and whoever is next to him. Dalvin Tomlinson did an excellent job keeping the players behind him clean, and now Danny Shelton, Austin Johnson and anyone else who lines up at the nose will have to fill that void.

The only other fear would be any sort of long-term injury to Martinez, who is the on-field brain of the Giants defense. Martinez has not missed a game since 2016.