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NFL Scouting Combine 2023: Linebackers for Giants to watch

The linebacker position is one of the Giants’ biggest needs

NCAA Football: ACC Football Championship-Clemson at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

While it wouldn’t be the flashiest draft pick, the New York Giants have to seriously be considering using a premium selection on a linebacker in the 2023 NFL Draft. The position was a mess last season, with a revolving door of aging veterans and late-round draft picks.

Week 1 starters Tae Crowder and Austin Calitro were both released mid-season. Rookie Darrian Beavers tore his ACL during the preseason. By the playoffs, former draft busts Jaylon Smith and Jarrad Davis were starters.

In his positional review, BBV’s Nick Falato noted that linebackers were a big reason why the Giants ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed per game and 31st in Total Rushing Defensive EPA (Expected Points Added) last season.

So, you can be sure that New York will have its eyes on linebackers at the upcoming NFL Combine. Let’s take a look at some of the top prospects who could be on the board when the Giants select at No. 25 overall.

Linebackers to watch

Drew Sanders, Arkansas

Sanders’ projections vary widely. Some experts predict he will be a top-10 pick, and some have him going in the second or third round. He could be under consideration for the Giants in the first round. Sanders began as an edge defender at Alabama before transferring to Arkansas and becoming an off-ball linebacker. As a starter last year, Sanders had 103 tackles, 9.5 sacks, an interception and five passes defended.

At 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds, Sanders has the measurables of an ideal linebacker. He has the length and power to make an impact, and figures to put up impressive metrics at the Combine. But, having only one year as a linebacker means he could be a bit raw. Analysts have concerns with his poor tackling technique and lack of ability in man coverage.

Trenton Simpson, Clemson

Simpson is another linebacker who has been mocked to the Giants in the first round. His most impressive season came in 2021, when Clemson used him as a positionless defender. His athleticism allowed him to take snaps at deep safety while also rushing the passer and playing traditional linebacker. He finished 2021 with 42 tackles and 6.5 sacks before regressing slightly last year.

However, Simpson’s explosiveness doesn’t necessarily make up for his slight lack of size at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. Here’s what our own Ed Valentine had to say about Simpson’s fit with the Giants:

“I see a safety playing linebacker, though, and in the games I watched I consistently saw Simpson engulfed by offensive linemen. If you are primarily concerned about speed and coverage ability, I get why he’s your guy. If I am drafting a linebacker at No. 25, though, I want a bona fide three-down player. To date, I am not convinced Simpson is that.”

Henry To’oTo’o, Alabama

To’oTo’o is one of the most proven linebackers in the class with 50 starts in college. He started as a freshman at Tennessee and made the All-SEC Second Team as a sophomore. After transferring to Alabama, he led the Tide in tackles (114) as a junior and made the All-SEC First Team in his senior year. To’oT’o’o’s biggest strengths are arguably his intelligence and instincts, and he’s shown he’s capable of running a defense.

The concerns come with To’oTo’o’s physicality. He doesn’t always show the ability to beat offensive linemen consistently and can get lost sifting through blockers in the run game. Most experts don’t project To’oTo’o as a first-rounder, but perhaps he’ll be in play for the Giants on Day 2.

Others of note

  • Noah Sewell, Oregon: Younger brother of the Detroit Lions’ Penei Sewell.
  • Jack Campbell, Iowa: Good size for the run game but lacks explosiveness
  • Ivan Pace, Cincinnati: Has good blitzing upside | Prospect profile
  • Daiyan Henley, Oregon State: Inexperienced but has athleticism as a former wide receiver
  • DeMarvion Overshown, Texas: Undersized but shows strong instincts
  • Nick Herbig, Wisconsin: Good quickness but lacks some strength in the pass rush | Prospect profile
  • Nick Hampton, Appalachian State: Nine sacks as a fifth-year senior in 2022