The cavernous holes in the New York Giants’ linebacking corps were a persistent problem over the last decade. Finding a solution to the issues has not been easy. The 2023 free-agent cycle may provide quick remedies that would significantly alter the Giants’ critical vulnerability from 2022 - fitting the run.
Tennessee’s David Long wouldn’t only help the Giants as a run defender, but he’s an explosive player with sideline-to-sideline range who could upgrade the Giants’ second level in coverage. He’s not generating a lot of buzz, but he could be a cheaper option than other interesting young linebackers who are free agents.
Long was a sixth-round pick (188th overall) out of West Virginia in 2019. He’s not to be confused with cornerback David Long Jr., the 2019 third-round pick out of Michigan by the Rams.
Age: 26 in the 2023 season
Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 225
Position: Inside Linebacker
Experience: 5 seasons
2022 stats: 12 games | Tackles: (86) | Tackles for a loss: (7) | Stops: (40) | Pressures (18) | Interceptions: (2) | Passes defended: (1) | Reception percentage: (85.7 percent) | Missed tackles (17, 16.0 percent)
I watched Long’s 2022 debut against the New York Giants several times. I wouldn’t say that was his best game, and Pro Football Focus agreed; Long had his lowest-graded run defense game and his third lowest tackling graded game in Week 1.
His failed attempt to undercut Daniel Bellinger’s block led to the 33-yard Saquon Barkley scamper late in the fouth quarter. Conversely, I did appreciate a few things about his skill set. For starters, he’s quick and aggressive when moving downhill. I appreciated his ability to flip his hips in coverage, and his blitzing ability is underrated.
Long had five pressures against the Giants. One on a well-timed club/swim past Mark Glowinski, another on a green-dog blitz through an open A-Gap that forced a Daniel Jones incompletion. Long is like a heat-seeking missile when he’s coming downhill in pursuit.
Upon realizing Long is a free agent, I watched his tape against Green Bay and Kansas City, and I came away very impressed. His ability to stay square and click and close downhill on check-downs was efficient and physical, and he also displayed the athletic ability to carry the No. 3 receiver vertical; he had a rep against Allen Lazard of the Packers where Long manned him up deep.
Every NFL team is looking for a linebacker who can cover ground and carry receivers up the seam against 3x1 sets - call it the Fred Warner Effect. Long is not Warner, but he has the fluidity, body control, and athletic ability to drop from the line of scrimmage and cover ground deep. That asset would be valuable in any defensive system, particularly in Wink Martindale’s defense, where loading up the line of scrimmage is so prevalent.
Long’s lack of size is one drawback. He’s not six-foot and he’s only 225 pounds. However, according to Pro Football Focus, he was the sixth-highest-graded linebacker in run defense and the 14th overall graded linebacker. His run-defending ability was apparent against the Chiefs and Packers.
My one gripe with his game - other than his lack of size - is that he tends to get wild at the tackle point and is susceptible to missing tackles. Barkley got him twice in Week 1, and Kadarius Toney also juked him out of his cleats. He had a career-high 17 missed tackles in 2022.
I appreciate the aggressive nature, he has solid read and reaction skills, and he provides pop upon contact for a player who is slightly undersized. He’s not a perfect player, but he would fit in very well with the Giants in base or sub-package personnel. He also has blitzing upside - 28 pressures over the last two seasons with 146 total pass-rushing snaps in his career.
Spotrac.com has Long’ average annual value at $4.9 million. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I would certainly entertain Long’s skill set at that number. Fixing the linebacking corps may likely take more than one addition this offseason. Long would be an immediate upgrade for the Giants and would fit well into Martindale’s aggressive system.