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Better or worse? New York Giants linebackers better with Bobby Okereke

The big question is who will play next to Okereke

NFL: NOV 28 Steelers at Colts Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants had arguably the worst linebackers in the NFL last season. The position was one of turbulence. Promising sixth-round pick Darrian Beavers tore his ACL in the preseason after an impressive training camp that would have likely resulted in a starting nod.

The likes of Austin Calitro and Tae Crowder started for Big Blue in Week 1, but neither proved reliable and were both waived before the end of the year. Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown were both special teams players who played a collective nine snaps on defense.

New York signed Jaylon Smith in September, and he became the primary linebacker in his second stint with the team. Rookie linebacker Micah McFadden took his lumps. He was benched after four snaps in Week 5 against Green Bay after two coverage mishaps.

McFadden earned his way back into the rotation but was ultimately benched for Jarrad Davis - a player the Giants just signed off the Detriot Lions’ practice squad. It wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the Indiana rookie, but positive praise has become synonymous with McFadden throughout OTAs and minicamp.

The Giants surrendered the fourth most-yard rushing yards per game. It’s true, that’s a collective statistic; however, the primary reason for the struggle was fitting outside power-gap runs like counter. Linebackers failed to scrape and position themselves adequately to stop opposing rushing attacks, and several offesnvie play-callers exploited the weakness of the Giants at the second level.

The Philadelphia Eagles toyed with the linebackers in their Divisional win over the Giants. An upgrade was a priority for Joe Schoen and the Giants' front office.

Key losses: Jaylon Smith
Key additions: Bobby Okereke
Other additions: Dyontae Johnson, Troy Brown

Why the Giants might be better

Bobby Okereke could be the only linebacker on the Giants roster, and it still may be better than the 2022 unit. I’m half-joking, but the Giants run more sub-package defenses than any other team. Players like Landon Collins, Tony Jefferson, Julian Love, Nick McCloud, and Jason Pinnock operated in the box last season within Wink Martindale’s BIG Nickel, Dime, Dollar, and Quarter packages.

New York signed Okereke to a four-year, $40-million contract with $21.8-million guaranteed. A wise investment but a costly one for the linebacker position. Okereke is now the ninth-highest-paid linebacker per average annual value. He seems to have an excellent head on his shoulders, and I’m excited to follow his career in New York.

There is still a starting spot opposite Okereke. Competition should bear the outcome between Jarrad Davis, Micah McFadden, and a recovering Darrian Beavers. It seems unlikely that the two special teams players - Coughlin and Brown - will figure into the starting equation after not sniffing the lineup last season.

Then there are the two undrafted players - Dyontae Johnson and Troy Brown. I wasn’t in love with either’s tape. Johnson (Toledo) has good size, less than ideal athletic ability but brings violence to the position. One of my favorite games of Johnson was against Ohio State. Johnson was lost in coverage often, and his 25 missed tackles over the last two seasons were an issue throughout his tape.

I was a bit more interested in Brown, who played his fifth year of college football at Ole Miss after four very productive seasons at Central Michigan. My issue with Brown is his size. His tape against Arkansas was difficult to watch; his struggles with stacking and shedding blocks against the Razorbacks and LSU were obvious.

However, Brown had solid tape against Tulsa and Auburn, and his coverage skills piqued my interest. His eyes are inconsistent, but he has range and is quick to come downhill. An exceptional training camp could lead Brown or Johnson to a possible roster spot, although they’re more than likely destined for the practice squad.

Why the Giants might be worse

Even though the Giants still have a question mark with their second starting linebacker spot, the unit is in a much better position than they were in last season. They had two question marks at linebacker last year in their starting defense, and Okereke is an upgrade over most - if not all - linebackers that have been in the building throughout the last decade.

I would like to make this more interesting, but the argument isn’t valid that the Giants' linebacker room is worse off now than it was prior to Okereke’s arrival. The only way it would be - *KNOCKING ON WOOD* - is if something happened to Okereke and the Giants had his money on the books without the production and no remedy for his absence.

Final thoughts

I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but I love how Joe Schoen and the Giants signed a player of Okereke’s status. Not only does Okereke have a seemingly insatiable work ethic, but he’s long, smart, quick, and rangy. He could end up being the Giants’ defensive signal caller.