Rebuilding the New York Giants: A look at the linebackers


Linebacker play was synonomous with the New York Giants defense going back to when Sam Huff made life miserable for Jim Brown in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Even in the team’s “Wilderness Years”, the G-men had Brad Van Pelt, Brian Kelley and Harry Carson in the fold. When Lawrence Taylor came along in 1981, the linebacking position was forever transformed.

LT was unique in the regard that the most famous linebackers played the middle, and Taylor played on the outside. But the G-men also surrounded Taylor with the likes of Carson, Carl Banks, Pepper Johnson and Gary Reasons; all of who were star players in their own right.

But the emphasis on the position has waned since four-time All-Pro Jessie Armstead starred for New York in the 1990s. Sure, Antonio Pierce had a couple of good years for New York, but he played only five seasons for Big Blue, and statistically he was good, not great.

The Giants have eschewed drafting a linebacker in the first round, since the team made Carl Banks is its first round pick in 1983. More recently, team general manager has sought to fill the position with low level free agents and late round draft picks, and the results were poor last year until Reese was able to pick up Jon Beason from the Carolina Panthers at the trade deadline.

Perhaps some Giants fans forget that the team went into OTAs with Mark Herzlich penciled in as starter, before signing eventual starter Dan Connor to a contract. Connor went down in game one against the Cowboys and eventually released. Beason certainly solidified the middle.

Unbelievably, Beason finished the season second on the Giants to Antrel Rolle in tackles with 93 total; in only 12 games.

An existing quartet of linebackers on New York’s roster are set to become free agents: Beason (UFA), Spencer Paysinger (UFA), Mark Herzlich (RFA) and Keith Rivers (UFA). Holdover linebacker Jacquian Williams is signed for 2014.

Beason should be a priority signing for Reese this off season, on a multi-year contract if possible.

To original round tender Paysinger and Herzlich would cost the Giants $1.3 million each, which represents an amount that New York ought to consider long and hard about. Paysinger had 74 total tackles last year, but both he and Williams have difficulty shedding blockers. Herzlich was primarily a special teams player, so it would be difficult to imagine bringing him back on a tender contract at $1.3 million.

The Giants’ defense played reasonably well down the stretch, and certainly there are more holes to fill on the offensive side of the ball, so drafting defensive help in the first round may be a long shot. But if the G-men do go defensive in the first round, which is unlikely, anything other than a linebacker would be a curious selection.

But a trio of linebackers are projected to be in the top 10 players drafted in May: Anthony Barr (UCLA), C.J. Mosley (Alabama) and Khalil Mack (Buffalo). If one of these picks drops to the Giants’ slot at number 12, then the team may have decision on their hands.

Keep an eye on Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu, who has good size at 6-3, 250 lbs. and decent speed for the outside linebacker position as a potential third round pick for New York. Jordan Tripp of Montana comes in at 6-3 ½, 237 lbs. and whose best time in the 40-yard dash is an impressive 4.58 seconds, may also be available in the third round.

Another Jordan, this one, Zumwalt, is a senior linebacker out of UCLA. Zumwalt was overshadowed by potential top ten pick, Anthony Barr, but has raised the eyebrows of some scout because of his length. The senior linebacker was co-MVP of the Sun Bowl in December 2013 and knock out Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas in the Bruins’ victory over Virginia Tech.

As far as the current crop of free agent linebackers go, O’Brien Schofield has made a name for himself with the Seattle Seahawks after getting cut by the Arizona Cardinals. He may have earned himself a large pay raise over the renegotiated $630,000 he made this season. The biggest name on the free agent market is Brian Orakpo, but Orakpo has spent his entire career as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme.

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