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New York Giants 2016 NFL Draft Preview: Linebackers
by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56
*These rankings and grades are based somewhat on NYG schemes and perspective.
WHERE THEY STAND
I sound like a broken record every year with this group. The Jerry Reese regime has been trying to piece this group together with veterans that most other teams don’t want and mid to late round draft picks that have not worked out. Devon Kennard came in to the league with major injury concerns and despite showing flashes of being a plus-starter, he is coming off a 9 game season shortened by a variety of lower body injuries. The newly signed Keenan Robinson will take over the MIKE role. He’s been up and down over his 4 year career and didn’t receive much interest from the league as an UFA. Jasper Brinkley played well in the little we saw him last year but it likely best suited for a 4th LB role that can backup multiple spots and play special teams. JT Thomas was a non factor in 2015 on the weak side and Jonathan Casillas was what he’s always been, an average backup. Uani Unga will have to fight hard to make this team in 2016 and Mark Herzlich’s clock is likely ticking as well now that Tom Coughlin is gone. At the end of the day, this team’s LB group continues to be below average and it shows up on tape almost weekly.
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1 – MYLES JACK – 6’1/245 – UCLA: 92
Junior entry. Ideal weak side linebacker prospect but also saw a lot of time at running back for the Bruins, mainly as a short yard specialist. Jack is a rare prospect. He is arguably the best athlete pound for pound in this entire draft class and also shows a skill set that can do countless positive things for a defense. He plays with a level of awareness, violence, and speed that does not come around often. Jack’s injury will need to be looked in to, but all signs point to him being ready for the start of 2016 Training Camp. Elite prospect that will be a playmaker right away in the NFL.
*I’ve been vocal about Jack being my desire for NYG at #10 overall. He finishes with the top grade in this draft class overall. The 4-3 LB “not being a premium position” is a very weak argument. What Jack could do from the WILL position and what the NYG defense has been struggling with for years are a perfect match. Jack can cover WRs, let alone TEs and RBs. He is more violent against blockers than defensive linemen. He has easy sideline to sideline range. He doesn’t miss tackles. Jack can be a special player that a creative defensive coordinator can do big things with. The medicals are part of the equation here and with the limited information I have, it appears he’ll be back to 100%. I would trade a 1 and a 2 for Jack. I think he will be an All Pro.
Upside Pro Comparison: Patrick Willis/RET
2 – LEONARD FLOYD – 6’6/244 – GEORGIA: 81
Fourth year junior entry. Has elite pass rushing potential because of his burst, length, and flexibility off the edge. Floyd can consistently win off the snap and always cause the blocker to adjust to him. From his early days at Georgia all the way through the end of his fourth year, Floyd has been causing disruption in the pocket. He is a guy that opposing offenses always need to find pre-snap. Even though Floyd needs time in the weight room and isn’t overly effective against the run, his specialty is special enough to warrant a high draft pick.
*The tools here are obvious. You can make the argument that Floyd has a rare combination of skills and tools. I don’t think he is simply an edge rusher at all. As a matter off fact I think he would be best off in a 4-3 SAM role. This can flip his hips and cover with the best TEs in the game right now. For teams looking for a LB that can match up with the big, athletic pass catchers, Floyd can be there man. Throw in what he is capable of doing off the edge as a blitzer and you can understand why a lot of teams have top 15 grades on him. Floyd has been getting a TON of attention over the past few months. He wasn’t exactly a stand out producer in college but the potential here is through the roof if he can bulk up a bit and increase his power presence. I still think Floyd will be the NYG pick at #10 overall. They’ve tried filling the hybrid LB/DE role multiple times over the years and it hasn’t worked yet. Floyd has more talent than all of them.
Upside Pro Comparison: Anthony Barr/MIN
3 – BJ GOODSON – 6’1/242 – CLEMSON: 79
Fifth year senior. Was a backup and special teamer for 2-plus years, with only one and half season of starting experience. Goodson is an interior enforcer that can play equally tough against blockers and ball carriers. His stoutness and short area power make him a tough assignment for any blocker and his ability to finish plays can be an asset to a defense looking for run defending help. Goodson lacks the ideal athleticism for every down duty, but he has shown to be at least competent in zone coverage and has enough range to play at least two downs in the NFL.
*I saw a ton of Goodson in 2015 and #44 kept popping on to the screen. There were so many players on that defense that I was scouting and time after time Goodson was right in the middle of the action. After further review I almost had him as a 1st rounder. Goodson is thick but fast and quick-twitched. He has all the power you want and maintains it on the move. Goodson moves well enough in coverage to possibly stay on the field for three downs. He is smart and reliable, rarely misses tackles. I don’t see superstar here and he can get overwhelmed in traffic, but Goodson is a guy that simply brings it play after play, week after week. I think he can be a 100+ tackle guy year in, year out.
Upside Pro Comparison: Preston Brown/BUF
4 – REGGIE RAGLAND – 6’1/247 – ALABAMA: 78
Fourth year senior and All American as well as SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Developed frame that carries a lot of weight with ease. Thumper inside with the power presence to own multiple gaps. Meets blockers with force and shows the ability to shed and tackle. Smart, instinctive leader of the defense. Directs traffic. Good movement post-snap that can anticipate and get a head start to where the blocker wants to meet him. Strong finisher. Tight hipped. Lacks the speed to finish plays near the sideline. Shows a lack of reaction and speed in coverage. Might not be a three down guy.
*On the surface Ragland is a guy that seems to be the ideal fit for NYG’s defensive needs. He is an elite run defender and carries the intangibles you want in the middle of your defense. I think you know that, at least, Ragland is going to be a top tier 1st and 2nd round defender in the NFL like David Harris. His issues revolve around quick twitch movement in coverage. His lack of agility and top end speed can be exploited over the middle and its possible he will be taken off the field on passing downs. That can’t be taken at #10 overall but he can be in the discussion in the 2nd round if he falls.
Upside Pro Comparison: David Harris/NYJ
5 – DEION JONES – 6’1/222 – LSU: 78
Fourth year senior with limited experience. Was a 2015 Butkus Award Finalist. Quick twitch, rangy defender that make tackles all over the field. Plays with true sideline to sideline range. Reacts to misdirection and counters quickly. Can put himself in position to make plays consistently. High IQ player. Good form tackler that is reliable in space and in traffic. Rarely misses. Effective blitzer with good timing and the ability to make himself small. Started for just one year at LSU. Lacks bulk and doesn’t appear to have the body type for more. Can be washed out of a lane by power blockers.
*Interesting prospect here that someone is going to have to take a chance on. Jones only really played for a year but he excelled and has done really well throughout the entire pre-draft process. I’ve always heard he is a standout among the visits and interviews, coaches really like this guy and how he carries himself. Jones drawback is obvious. He is a little guy that will get lost in traffic, very true. But you have to like the violence he plays with and he repeatedly showed no hesitation when it came to taking on blockers and knocking them upright. Jones can play in this league but he needs to be on the weak side as much as possible. He’ll thrive in space and be average in traffic.
Upside Pro Comparison: Lavonte David/TB
6 – KYLER FACKRELL – 6’5/250 – UTAH STATE: 78
Fourth year senior that missed 2014 with a torn ACL. Married with a child. Excellent combination of size, strength, and speed. Showed the versatility to play on the edge and in space. Easy bender that derives power from his lower body and violence from his hands. Fights off blocks while maintaining his position. Productive all over the field. Instinctive player with good reaction time. Lacks the quick twitch in short areas. Needs to develop more pass rush moves when initially beat. Too reliant on the bull rush.
*I am pretty high on Fackrell compared to what I see out there. He is more than a rush LB. Fackrell saw a ton of snaps out wide matched up against WRs and looked natural out there. He can be a factor in coverage as well as a dominant point of attack run defender. As I discussed with Floyd above, NYG wants a guy that can play LB most downs but add something as an outside rusher. Fackrell can definitely be that guy.
Upside Pro Comparison: KJ Wright/SEA
7 – SU’A CRAVENS – 6’1/226 – USC: 77
Junior entry. Came to USC ad as a top tier safety recruit and slowly but surely migrated his way to linebacker. Cravens is at his best when he can be thrown in space near the line of scrimmage with the duty of chasing after the ball. He excels at tracking guys down from behind and more importantly, finishing them off. Cravens is a violent tackler that has all the ability in space. His versatility makes him a guy that can stay on the field no matter the situation. While his ability in space is notable, perhaps his greatest skill is blitzing the edge and finding his way to the ball behind the line of scrimmage. His 32 tackles for loss over the past two years prove that. Cravens can be a star at the next level, but will be very dependent on scheme and role.
*Cravens won’t be a fit for every scheme. Some teams see him as a safety and others will look at him as a LB. You need to be very careful with guys like this. He is similar to Deone Buchanon from ARI, a standout defender for that team. But I’ll tell you this; Bucahnon would not be nearly as good on some other teams. They created a role for him and even change their scheme up a bit to fit him in. You are gonna have to do that with Cravens to maximize his potential. Cravens can be a star defender in this league that can be a force in a variety of ways depending on the situation. He could be a 1st rounder if a team can create a plan for him.
Upside Pro Comparison: Deone Buchanon/ARI
8 – DERRON LEE – 6’1/232 – OHIO STATE: 77
Junior entry. Only two years of experience. Lee has elite closing speed and ability to move in space. He has defensive back-type movement, making him a weapon in a league where spread attacks are becoming more and more common. His game is limited to a weak side role where he can roam in space and stays away from traffic. His weaknesses are exposed the closer to the line he gets, as he struggles to get off blocks and lacks staying power against them. Lee can be a dynamic playmaker in a scheme that uses a linebacker far out in space, but won’t be a fit for everyone.
*Another speedy but undersized LB here. Lee is a top 15 player according to some but I never saw it. His standout combine performance didn’t change that. Lee has range and he can tackle well on the move. He is very good ad adjusting his body weight and making the tough tackles in space. NYG could use a guy like that for sure. I just think his physical-ness is limited. He lacks presence when tackling and won’t get off NFL blockers. And for a guy that is so athletic, I never saw top tier coverage ability. With Lee you are drafting an athlete and hoping.
Upside Pro Comparison: Malcolm Smith/OAK
9 – JAYLON SMITH – 6’2/223 – NOTRE DAME: 77
Junior entry. Elite level prospect with top tier talent and intangibles. Smith has played the 3-4 rush linebacker role and a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker role. Smith has been the top player on that defense for two seasons. His ability to bang heads with blockers at the point of attack but also pose as a major threat in space makes him a fit for every scheme in the NFL. His ability is off the charts. The most important question surrounding him will be the long term prognosis of a severe knee injury he suffered in Notre Dame’s 2015 season bowl game. If his medicals can pass, he still may have to sit out the 2016 season. However if he can fully recover, we are talking about a future Pro Bowler.
*The debate about Smith and his knee is everywhere. You can’t talk about this kid without mentioning the knee, which is so unfortunate. Smith would have been in the running for a top 5 overall pick if he was healthy. I’ve confirmed it’s likely he will have to sit out 2016 but there is a better than 50% chance he reaches a full recovery. Now that is where the gamble resides. You wont get anything out of him this season and then you are only hoping for the best. At what point do you take the chance on him? My guess is he will be a 2nd round pick somewhere, possibly to a team that has an abundance of selections to work with like Tennessee.
Upside Pro Comparison: Clay Matthews/GB
10 – NICK VIGIL – 6’2/239 – UTAH STATE: 76
Fourth year junior entry. His brother Zach is a LB for the Dolphins. Two time 1st team all Mountain West defender and was sixth in the nation with 144 tackles. Vigil plays a versatile role within the defense from the inside. He can blitz, cover, defend the inside run, and reach the sidelines in pursuit. He is a complete package, every down defender. He is coming from a slightly lower level of college football but he produced at a very high level two straight seasons and scored well athletically. He has the upside of an athletic 4-3 MIKE that can start for a long time.
*Vigil actually reminds me of Myles Jack. He is not nearly on the same level overall but he is the kind of guy that can wear a lot of hats for a defense. He is violent and fast. Always has a good step and was even used on offense as a power running back. Vigil may need time to adjust to the speed and strength of NFL blockers but he has the look of a guy that will finagle his way in to a starting role at some point and excel.
Upside Pro Comparison: Demario Davis/NYJ
11 – JOSH PERRY – 6’4/254 – OHIO STATE: 76
Fourth year senior and three year starter on the strong side and in the middle. Second on the team in tackles in 2014 and 2015. Top tier intangibles off the field. Big, physical defender that excels between the tackles and did a lot of dirty work for the OSU defense that goes unnoticed by the common fan. Very good at filling lanes and at least anchoring his position against blockers. Has more straight line speed than agility, but can still reach the sidelines fast enough. His tight hips and heavy feet may make it hard for him to factor in coverage. Perry’s ideal role is a 4-3 SAM or 3-4 ILB at the next level.
*I think NYG will have a high enough grade on Perry to consider him in round 2 if they wanted to go in that direction. He has the triangle numbers they love and if they really liked Keenan Robinson enough to sign him, they could see a younger, healthier version of him in Perry to put on the depth chart. Perry is a solid guy to have on your defense but I think he is limited athletically. He lacks the quick twitch I would want from a guy in the middle but I think he can be a good point of attack defender. He is really good at taking blocks on and maintaining his position. That’s important for run defense.
Upside Pro Comparison: Brandon Marshall/DEN
12 – JORDAN JENKINS – 6’3/259 – GEORGIA: 75
Fourth year senior and two year starter. Struggled to replace former star outside linebacker Jarvis Jones early in his career but evolved in to a reliable, solid edge defender. At his best when defending the run, using his powerful frame to hold his position and strong hands to shed blockers upon diagnosing the action. Jenkins fits best in the 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker. He will be limited as a pass rusher but his aggressive nature and violent style can be used in specific but important roles.
*I questioned Jenkins’ fit in to the 4-3 scheme. He isn’t a guy you want in space covering anyone. He can’t do it. But he was one of my favorite run defenders to watch all year. He is a country-strong guy with easy thickness and power. Really stout at the point of attack and can dominate across the line. Really explosive in short spaces and I think he has some untapped pass rush upside. I really didn’t like how Georgia used him all the time. I have to grade him down here because I think he is limited at the moment, but I am intrigued by his upside.
Upside Pro Comparison: Manny Lawson/BUF
13 – TYLER MATAKEVICH – 6’0/238 – TEMPLE: 75
4 year starter that is the heart and soul of the Temple team, not just the defense. Appears to be a thumper between the tackles but he has enough range in coverage to stay on the field. He is a very solid but unspectacular MIKE prospect. I don’t think he is the gamechanger that some will say he is, but he can be a starter. I think he is slow to the sidelines and he gets caught up with blockers too often and those are really important attributes for me when grading LBs. He does show natural flow to the action and his game doesn’t require top tier athletic ability. In the right system he can be a 100+ tackle per season guy easily. You won’t find many, if any, defenders in this class with the career production he has.
*Usually I like guys with this level of on field IQ and instints. And not to say that I don’t like him, but I don’t see gamechanger in him. I think his lack of speed outside of a 3-4 yard window gets exposed too often. It shows up on every tape and it showed up at the Senior Bowl. I’d be curious to see him sit for a year and try to up his movement and strength for a year. If he can get just a little faster and stronger, I think he can be a good MLB.
Upside Pro Comparison: Dannell Ellerbe/NO
14 – KENTRELL BROTHERS – 6’0/245 – MISSOURI: 75
Fifth year senior and three year starter. Led the nation in tackles in 2015. Made a few All American teams in 2015 as well as being names 1st Team All SEC. Crafty, instinctive LB that can sort his way through the garbage to locate the football consistently. Brothers may have the best first step among the LBs in this class and he shows really good change of direction. He lacks the power presence to take on blockers head on and won’t deliver the violent tackles, however. He is a reliable, yet unspectacular LB that can easily fill the valuable 4th LB spot right away with the potential to start someday.
*Brothers will be a favorite among many people and rightfully so. He was a tackling machine over the past two years in the SEC and I think anyone would agree this is a guy that will constantly be around the ball when he’s on the field. You want as many of these guys on your defense as you can find. Personally I think he is a liability in coverage although some would argue against that. He just doesn’t move as well moving back and I think there is a significant lack of athleticism against the pass that doesn’t show up when he defends the run. He is good, but there are a few of these guys available every year.
Upside Pro Comparison: Demeco Ryans/UFA
15 – De’Vondre Campbell – 6’4/235 – MINNESOTA: 75
Fourth year senior that started off at Junior College. Started for 2+ years at Minnesota and things started to click for him in 2015. Has the combination of size and speed to go along with an unfinished frame that will excite scouts and coaches. Campbell is a high energy player that will at the very least excel on special teams. His straight line speed and explosion can make you think he has a outside pass rush ceiling that hasn’t been tapped in to just yet. He’ll likely get drafted much higher than people think based on the upside that a lot of prospects simply don’t have.
*Campbell is hard to not like. He plays hard. He’s big with the room for more weight easily. He runs. He changes direction. He hits hard. He didn’t show a lot of easy decision making though and he was often a step behind mentally. That may take some time but if he can improve the on field IQ, we are talking about a potential game changer. Reese is going to like the tools here and we’ve seen him go after guys like this before.
Upside Pro Comparison: Akeem Ayers/LA
THE REST (16-25)
16 – JOE SCHOBERT – 6’1/244 – WISCONSIN: 74
17 – KAMALEI CORREA – 6’3/243 – BOISE STATE: 74
18 – CASSANOVA MCKINZY – 6’1/248 – AUBURN: 72
19 – TRAVIS FEENEY – 6’4/230 – WASHINGTON: 72
20 – NICK KWIATKOWSKI – 6’2/243 – WEST VIRGINIA: 71
21 – YANNICK NGAKOUE – 6’2/252 – MARYLAND: 70
22 – DEON KING – 6’1/230 – NORFOLK STATE: 70
23 – BLAKE MARTINEZ – 6’2/237 – STANFORD: 70
24 – STEVEN DANIELS – 5’11/243 – BOSTON COLLEGE: 70
25 – ANTONIO MORRISON – 6’1/233 – FLORIDA: 68
Yes, I am still under the school of thought that LBs, even in the 4-3, can be a huge source of production for the defense. A source NYG has not been able to consistently pull from for years. Myles Jack will finish this whole process as my #1 overall player and target for NYG. I don’t expect him to be there and I won’t have any other LB in the discussion at #10 for me personally, although I think NYG will go hard after Floyd. The thing about this class is that I think it’s the deepest group of LBs I have ever seen when it comes to the day two prospects. Guys that are on the unspectacular side but either offer big time upside or a high floor. NYG has gotten in trouble with those kinds of players in the past but I simply think they went after the wrong guys. I am content if NYG wants to wait until round 3 or 4, as I think there will be a good group to choose from at the points respectively.