New York Giants 2008 NFL Draft Preview: Linebackers

by KWALL for

Most draft publications will tell you the Giants really need some LB help from this draft.  We’ve got two wild cards who will determine just how high the LB position is on the need list for the Giants.  The first one is Wilkinson.  If the Giants feel he is ready for full time duty than LB isn’t nearly the need you hear about from the national media.  The other guy is 2nd year player Rory Johnson.  I actually had Johnson going to the Giants in round 4 of my mock last year.  Very fast player on the collegiate level.  Off the field issue dropped him from mid round to undrafted FA.  He could be a surprise player at the LB position for the Giants in 08.  If Johnson can play, we’re fine at OLB.  MLB could probably use some late round depth and speed.

The top two LBs in this draft will be long gone before the Giants pick.  Rivers was a guy I wanted to see on the Giants but he’s out of reach.  Mayo’s workouts have probably pushed him into the top 20.  That leaves us with a of couple of options at #31.

Two possible targets for Giants at #31:

Quentin Groves, Auburn
(6’3”, 259lbs, 40: 4.53, 20: 2.62, 10: 1.57, Bench: 30, Vert: 29.5”, Broad: 10;, SS: 4.42, 3 Cone: 7.30)
If his health checks out, this is my #1 defensive guy I’d like to see the Giants draft in round 1.  Athleticism and pass rush skills compare to Dallas Pro Bowl LB DeMarcus Ware.  If he’s in that league, I’m sure Spags will get him on the field often and allow him to use his speed to get to the QB.  The addition of a guy like Groves would take our defense to another level.  Groves played DE at Auburn and was often times an unblockable force.  He had close to 15 QB pressures in one game vs South Florida.  He’s could be the most explosive front 7 prospect in this draft.  He won with speed at Auburn.  He does a nice job of staying low while turning the corner put heat on the QB.  His game will work in the NFL.  In the right situation he’ll be a consistent 10 sack guy.  He played some LB at Auburn.  He’s athletic enough to make the move to 4-3 OLB in the NFL.  He can move in space.  Most likely a 3-4 team will draft him as a rush OLB.  He had a toe injury which limited him in 07.  Also had heart surgery which may drop him out of the picture at #31.  He’s a top 15 talent.

Dan Connor, Penn State
(6’2”, 231lbs, no Combine workout) (Pro Day: 40: 4.67, Vert: 35”, SS: 4.25, 3 Cone: 6.78)
Early in the predraft process, we saw this name mentioned a lot as the pick for the Giants in round 1.  Connor gets criticized for his perceived lack of athletic ability but that’s not an accurate knock.  He’s a very good athlete for the LB position.  He can move and he’s very good in space.  Versatile player.  Very smart.  Hard working and a guy scouts say has top notch instincts.  Played OLB early at Penn State.  Moved to inside in 07.  Highly productive at both positions.  And he can handle both in the NFL.  This pick would make a lot of sense for the Giants.  Connor could step in and start early at OLB.  He can spell Pierce in some coverage situations.  Eventually he could be the successor to Pierce at ILB.  A scout for an AFC team said Connor is “really, really instinctive, and if you play him on the weak side of a 4-3 he’s going to be pretty good…He’s really instinctive, probably the most instinctive ‘backer in this draft…He’s not as fast as the (Posluszny) kid last year but he’s close, and might be a better overall football player.”  Mike Mayock also raved about his instincts and ability to quickly read a play.  Mayock said Connor gets to the ball fast and “rarely takes a misstep”.  I actually think he’s faster and smoother than Posluszny.  Poz was a very good mid 2nd round pick for the Bills last year.  Connor will go earlier. Late round 1/early 2.

Round 2 Players:

Xavier Adibi, Virginia Tech
(6’2”, 232lbs, 40: 4.67, 20: 2.70, 10: 1.56, Vert: 30”, Broad: 9’2”, SS: 4.47)
Impressed me all year making plays for a tough Virginia Tech defense.  This is a guy who can cover a lot of ground.  Excellent range.  Adibi is smooth and fluid.  He flashed to the ball for VT.  He’s got the overall athletic ability to stick with NFL backs and TEs in coverage.  And he has extremely long arms.  Longest arms of any back 7 player in the draft.  His size/bulk was the big question.  Played as an undersized (220lbs) but fast LB in college.  Could he add some weight/strength and keep the explosive speed?  Can he hold up at the point of attack in the NFL?  These are the questions that will push him into round 2.  Back in January, I thought he could be first round material.  His combine was a bit disappointing.  I expected him to crack 4.50.  He added 10+lbs before combine and ran 4.6+.  Now everybody dropped him out of the top 50.  Very talented player.  Giants may have a similar talent already on the roster in 2nd year player Rory Johnson.  If he’s there at the bottom of round 2 he’s a good pick for a team looking for a rangy coverage LB with some blitz ability.  Mid to late round 2.

Tavares Gooden, Miami
(6’1”, 234lbs, 40: 4.62, 20: 2.62, 10: 1.50, Bench: 22, Vert: 35”, Broad: 9’10”)
This is another guy, like Connor, who would step in and give us depth at both OLB and ILB.  Although the Miami defense got ripped often in 07, they still had plenty of NFL talent on the field.  In my opinion, it was Gooden who seemed to stand out the most on that D (not the higher rated prospects Phillips or Campbell).  Makes plays all over the field(100+ tackles).  Very fast in pursuit.  Skill set to be a very good coverage LB as well as an effective blitzer.  Worked hard in the weight room at Miami (squats 550+).  Durability is a concern.  Several injuries limited his playing time at Miami.  Hip injury caused him to leave Senior Bowl early.  Improved vertical to 39.5” and was timed in the 4.50 range at his proday.  If his health isn’t a factor, I believe he’ll be the best Miami player in the NFL out of this draft.  Outstanding draft value.  Last round 2/early3.

Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma
(6’, 246lbs, 40: 4.79, 20: 2.73, 10: 1.59, Bench: 23, Vert 24.5”, Broad: 8’9”, SS: 4.59, 3 Cone: 7.69)
Tough inside LB prospect.  Lacks the elite measurables but not the production.  Always around the ball and making plays.  Only 1 year starter.  His head coach Stoops called Lofton the “best defensive player he ever had”.  Despite below average workout, he looks like a mid to late 2nd round guy.  “He doesn’t run that well, and he’s not the greatest athlete, but he’s one of those guys, when you turn the tape on he’s making all the plays,” said the scouting director for an AFC team.  “It’s almost like (University of Miami’s) Jon Beason was last year.  He didn’t run that great but he just seems to be the guy making all the plays.  I don’t think he’s going to go in the first round or anything, but he’s that kind of guy you can get somewhere in the second round, maybe early in the third that is going to surprise some people.”

Marcus Howard, Georgia
(6’1” 237lbs, 40:4.45, 20:2.52, 10:1.46, Bench: 27”, Vert: 34.5”)
Moved from LB to  DE last year for Georgia.  At his size look for him to move back to LB in the NFL.  Howard was a one man wrecking crew against Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.  He really rocked QB Brennan and got the pass rusher trifecta on one play (sack, FF, TD).  Finished the game with 3 sacks, 2 FF, and a TD.  Killer first step and closing burst to the QB.  Probably a 3-4 rush LB in the NFL.  However, any team can find a place for this guy as a situational pass rusher.  He’ll help your coverage units as well.  I think the 3-4 teams will jockey to get him in round 2 or 3.  If he’s there in round 3 he should get some consideration from the Giants.

Erin Henderson, Maryland
(6’3”, 244lbs, 40: 4.73, 20: 2.72 10: 1.59, Bench: 23, Vert: 31”, Broad: 9’5”, SS: 4.50, 3 Cone: 7.16)
Brother is Vikings LB EJ Henderson.  EJ was a big play machine and one of the best college LBs I saw over the past 10 years.  Erin plays faster than EJ in pursuit but a step down from his bother’s rare instincts and toughness.  Initially recruited to Maryland to play QB.  Moved to LB in year 1.  Torn ACL in 05.  Sprained the same knee in 07.  Despite injury, Henderson averaged 11+ tackles/game in 07.  Solid all around LB.  Plays faster than that combine time.  Chases hard.  Sideline to sideline player.  Injuries/durability have dropped him in this draft.  NFL Advisory board gave him a 3rd round grade.  If he stays healthy, he could be a long time starter and one of the top picks in the late round 2/early 3 range.

Phillip Wheeler, Georgia Tech
(6’2”, 248lbs, 40: 4.76, 20: 2.71, 10: 1.56, Bench: 24, Vert: 31, Broad: 9’10”, SS: 4.29, 3 Cone: 7.11)
Add Wheeler’s name to the list of versatile OLB/ILB prospects.  Only average combine workout for the position but an athletic LB on the field.  I watched him during the Sr Bowl telecasts.  He’s got a thick body but he can move.  He’s got a burst especially when he steps up to fill the lane.  Very good blitzer in college (15 sacks the past 2 yrs).  Interesting note: When asked which college player hit him the hardest?  He said Brandon Jacobs.

Day 2:

Wesley Woodyard, Kentucky
(6’, 227lbs, 40: 4.51, 20: 2.58, 10: 1.50, Vert: 30”, SS: 4.25, 3 Cone: 7.15)
Tackling machine the past 2 years.  Led the SEC in tackles.  Averaged over 11 tackles a game since 06.  Very athletic but also very small.  At his size getting off blocks could be an issue in the NFL.  Viewed as a Michael Boulaware tweener typre at SS/OLB.  Mike.Singletary loved him as a LB at the Sr Bowl.  He impressed with his play in space during the week of Senior Bowl practices.  The guy can flat out run.  Look for Woodard to go in the mid rounds to the Colts or Bucs in late round 3.

Bryan Kehl, BYU
(6’2”, 242lbs, 40: 4.67, 20: 2.65, 10: 1.55, Bench: 26, Broad: 10’, SS: 4.23, 3 Cone: 6.88)
Older player at 24.  Smart.  Athletic.  Some talk he could move to SS in the NFL.  Plays hard.  Strong and a good hitter. Coaches love him.  Glowing reports on his game prep and hard work off the field.  Outside of his impressive week at the Shrine, not a guy you heard about leading up to the draft but Kehl is a very solid mid round OLB prospect.  Rd 3-4.

Shawn Crable, Michigan
(6’5”, 245lbs, 40: 4.61, 20: 2.70, 10: 1.56, Bench: 29, Vert: 28”, SS: 4.55, 3 Cone: 7.29)
Great athlete.  Parade All American in HS.  Highly recruited as a LB and TE.  Ran track (10.7 in 100).  Very tall LB with excellent straight line speed.  Ran down a lot of players in pursuit.  Gets in the backfield and makes plays.  Set a team record for tackles for loss in 07.  However, his lateral agility and COD skills aren’t what you’re looking for in and NFL LB.  He has trouble covering in space.  Sr Bowl didn’t helo him.  His lack of coverage skills were exposed.  I think his best position could be 4-3 pass rushing DE.  He’s a force when moving forward.  Rd 3.

Ben Moffitt, South Florida
(6’1”, 234lbs, Bench: 23, Vert: 32.5”, SS: 4.21, 3 Cone: 6.75)
2nd fastest 3 Cone at combine for his position.  Ran in 4.5s at proday with a 37.5” vert.  4 year starter.  Lacks bulk and it could be a problem moving up to the NFL.  Although he showed solid pass coverage skills for Soth Florida he struggled to match up with some RBs/TEs at the Sr Bowl.  Rd 5.

Thomas Williams, USC
(6’1”, 238lbs, 40: 4.86, 20: 2.81, 10: 1.56, Bench: 26)
Plenty of NFL potential despite being a backup in 07 at USC.  Excellent coverage guy for your special teams.  Versatile. Played all 3 LB positions.  Shows better field speed than that combine 40.  Based on the way he chases I really expected better 40 times.  Impressed at All star games.  Rd 5.

Ali Highsmith, LSU
(5’11”, 230lbs, 40: 4.95, 20: 2.76, 10: 1.59, Vert: 26.5”, SS: 4.29, 3 Cone: 7.40)
Very small but a guy who played very fast in the tough SEC.  This guy closed on McFadden over 40 yards in the open field.  That’s speed.  I’m not sure what happened at the combine.  His slow times were astounding.  He added some weight but that shouldn’t take a guy who plays like he runs a 4.4 up to a 4.9+.  Maybe he was injured.  He sure ran like a guy with an injured leg.  The workout was awful.  Nobody dropped further since football season ended.  Highsmith ran better at proday.  His size is also a major negative.  He looked tiny standing next to the other LBs at the SR Bowl.  Probably round 5 or later.

Jordan Dizon, Colorado
(6’, 229lbs, 40: 4.71, 20: 2.70, 10: 1.59, Vert: 30.5”, Broad: 9’10”, SS: 4.35, 3 Cone: 7.01)
Outstanding college player.  4 year starter.  Close to 300 tackles over the past 2 seasons.  Undersized.  Another guy like Highsmith who looked very small at the Sr Bowl.  At his size, he needed a better workout top move into the top 3-4 rounds.  Despite the production he’s going late.  Rd 6-7.

Brandon Renkart, Rutgers
(6’2”, 236lbs, no Combine)
Former HS option QB.  Walk-on safety at Rutgers.  Smart kid (Engineering honors).  Bulked up to move to LB and kept the speed.  Plays hard.  The kid can cover.  He would man up in the slot on occasion.  Good tackler.  Not strong at the point of attack.  He had a private workout for the Giants in April.  Proday: 40: 4.59, Vert: 36”, Broad: 10’1”, SS:4.10, 3 Cone: 6.70.  Late rounds/FA.

Jameel McClain, Syracuse
(6’1”, 249lbs, 40: 4.74, 20: 2.75, 10: 1.56, Bench: 24, Vert: 26”, SS: 4.31, 3 Cone: 7.12)
Played DE in 06 with 9.5 sacks.  Moved to LB for Syracuse in 07.  A tough run stuffer with plenty of bulk.  Probably a late round pick to play inside in a 3-4.  Rd 6-7