New York Giants 2013 NFL Draft Preview: Linebacker

by Contributor Sy’56

Current Linebackers on Giants Roster:

Keith Rivers – 26 Years Old – Signed through 2013

Dan Connor – 27 Years Old – Signed through 2013

Jacquian Williams – 24 Years Old – Signed through 2014

Mark Herzlich – 25 Years Old – Signed through 2013

Spencer Paysinger – 24 Years Old – Signed through 2013

Jake Muasau – 23 Years Old – Signed through 2014

Where They Stand:

This is the one position I have been critical of when it comes to the Giants approach in the draft. This has been a spot of instability for a few years now that has been partially fixed with low-cost free agents. There have been multiple opportunities to strengthen this group via the draft over the past few years but the front office has failed to find the impact players. The league has evolved to a pass-happy approach, which means a linebacker or two will spend a lot of time on the sidelines because of the nickel/dime packages. I understand that. However, linebackers can be used effectively within the right scheme against the run and pass. The current and most recent groups of linebackers have not been versatile enough and it has really impacted the lack of identity for the entire unit. Rivers and Connor are one year stop gaps that can easily be replaced by young talent within a year or two. They are serviceable, but nothing that can really upgrade the defense as a whole. Williams is a top notch athlete that shows promise as a rangy weak side guy. His skill set can make a big difference as long as he can avoid the injury bug. Both Herzlich and Paysinger are special teams’ assets but have showed they may be in over their head when it comes to linebacker duty on a play to play basis. Muasau is a training camp body that will likely be cut prior to week 1 of the regular season. This is a unit that, almost desperately, needs an upgrade in young talent.

Top 10 Grades:

Dion Jordan – 6’6/248 – Oregon: 85

Barkevious Mingo – 6’4/241 – LSU: 79

Kiko Alonso – 6’4/238 – Oregon: 79

Jarvis Jones – 6’3/245 – Georgia: 78

Arthur Brown – 6’1/241 – Kansas State: 77

DeVonte Holloman – 6’2/243 – South Carolina: 77

Kevin Minter – 6’0/246 – LSU – 77

Kevin Reddick – North Carolina: 77

Khaseem Greene – 6’1/241 – Rutgers: 76

Manti Te’o – 6’1/241 – Notre Dame: 75

Early Round Target (1st-2nd):

Kiko Alonso – Oregon

Long, wiry frame with some room for bulk. Unique athlete with a blend of speed and quickness that stands out each week. Hard nosed defender that will take blocks on and smack them in the mouth. Strong presence inside. Gets the most out of himself physically. Smart and instinctive. Flows towards the action well and gets in position. A lot of lateral range. Reaches the sideline with ease. Knows how to finish. Good form tackler that wraps up. Effective in coverage. Can run down the seam with athletic tight ends. Length is an advantage. Gets nicked up often. Plays out of control at times and will be fooled by counters and playaction fakes. Some maturity issues that need to be checked out.

Alonso is my top inside linebacker from this class and I think he can be a star at the next level. Talent wise, he is a legit 1st round caliber player. I had to downgrade him a bit because of some off the field concerns, but nothing that would prevent me from selecting him. I watched a ton of Oregon tape over the past few months. Alonso moves and finishes like a young Brian Urlacher. He has the frame to add some weight and if he can maintain his unique athleticism, you have a special player that can do a lot for a defense. He is a 3 down linebacker that can bring an attitude to the defense that the Giants currently lack. Round 2 will be where he becomes a consideration for me.

Mid Round Target (3rd-5th):

DeVonte Holloman – South Carolina

Former safety that has been moved up closer to the line of scrimmage. Moves exceptionally well for a guy 240+ pounds. Still has some work to do strength wise. Aggressive, fiery player that brings it every play. Surprisingly will send a jolt to offensive linemen with a strong punch and proper use of leverage. Smart player that plays assignment football. Not a roamer, very disciplined. Rangy player in coverage and against the outside run. Doesn’t wrap up consistently. Power backs can get off his tackles. Will get lost in the shuffle when playing the inside run. Needs more time to get acclimated to linebacker.

In a passing league, Holloman could be a big time asset to any defense playing a 4-3 scheme that likes to keep their linebackers on the field. Holloman is a former safety that put some weight on and made the move to linebacker. I’m impressed by how seamless the transition was for him. He looks like a natural fit there because he is a physical, smart, instinctive player that can fulfill multiple roles. He is the kind of guy you want covering this new brand of athletic tight ends that is exploiting matchups. Holloman actually moved back to safety a couple times in 2012 because of injuries to the SC defense, and he played exceptionally well. A couple years down the road, Holloman will be one of the best athletes at the linebacker position across the league.

Late Round Target (6th-UDFA):

Vince Williams – 6’1/233 – Florida State: 69

Inside run road block. Tough and physical that plays an aggressive, downhill game. Powerful when playing between the tackles. Delivers a violent punch to runners when he can play straight ahead. Reliable tackler. Intense and physical. Struggles to reach the outside runs. Can be slow to react, will get lost in the shuffle. Doesn’t cover well. Fails to drop back deep enough when playing the middle zone. Loses athleticism in space as a cover man.

Williams did not stand out to me when watching Florida State throughout the year. However when I took a closer look after being impressed by his play at the Senior Bowl, I can see him being a reliable 2 down linebacker in the NFL. He is as tough as they come against the inside run. He avoids blocks well and will deliver a blow to running backs. He is not a bad athlete, but simply did not fit in to FSU’s scheme, which calls for 4.5 guys at linebacker. He will be a top tier special teamer and quality backup in the NFL at the very least.

The Plan:

As I said earlier, this group of linebackers is a big time limiting factor to just how good this defense can be. I agree the line and cornerbacks/safeties can hinder this issue a bit, but the lack of talent is a major concern. In round 1, there will not be a value there to select a linebacker, which is fine. This is a very deep class that may lack top tier grades at the top, but is loaded with quality 2nd/3rd round caliber guys that can be had on Saturday/Sunday. The Giants must find a value somewhere in there and bring at least one fresh body to this group that lacks quality between the starters and backups. The inside guys in this class can be had a little later but if the Giants are looking for a starting caliber WILL or SAM, they may need to pounce a tad earlier. Solid linebackers can be found in the middle of any draft, but they cannot afford to pass on the proper value at any point. If the Giants want to acquire a new brand of defense that includes speed and toughness, this is where they need to look first. Their personnel elsewhere is solid at the very least but we may never know just how good they are unless they upgrade the middle level.