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New York Giants 2017 NFL Draft Preview: Linebackers
by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56
WHERE THEY STAND
For the first time in awhile, it doesn’t come across that NYG is in desperate need of new talent at the LB group. It was getting bad in there for awhile and I have always been critical of the approach that “4-3 linebackers aren’t that important” type approach. NYG hasn’t seen a trio of truly effective LBs in such a long time that they have failed to realize how much better this defense could be with better players at this spot. Keenan Robinson was an important piece to their defensive success and Devon Kennard has been quietly very good. There seems to be a spot up for grabs in the middle, as last year’s BJ Goodson should get a shot. While the starters appear set, there is still a lack of overall talent and depth here. None of them are particularly good pass rushers and there isn’t a playmaker within the group.
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1 – Jarrad Davis – 6’2/230 – Florida: 84
Summary: Four year contributor with enough speed and explosion to get anyone excited. Tough hard nosed leader that takes pride in the role of a linebacker. Davis brings the attitude and physical prowess you want in the middle of your defense. His violent presence as a tackler and aggressive nature in pursuit makes him a legit sideline to sideline threat against the run. He has all the range and tackling ability in the world, but Davis will need to show more discipline and awareness in the NFL, however.
*If it weren’t for some durability issues, Davis would be a couple points higher and ultimately end up in the top 6 overall in this class for me. He entered the year as my favorite LB and has since been passed by a couple guys, just to have Davis end up back on top right before the draft. This is an almost-perfect blend of speed, power, quickness, and intelligence. Davis can think AND move his way in to production. Very effective in coverage. Effective blitzer. He is an every down threat that has top tier talent and a blue collar approach. In NYG’s scheme, he would be a perfect weak side fit.
Upside Pro Comparison: CJ Mosley – BAL
2 – Reuben Foster – 6’0/229 – Alabama: 79
Summary: Two year starter that lost about 20 pounds prior to the 2016 season which helped bring his game to another level. The 2016 Butkus Award winner and 1st Team All American proved that he could sustain his elite level power and functional strength at a lighter weight, enabling him to be a guy that never comes out of the game and factors all over the field. Foster has presence, aggression, and reaction that will make a difference on any defense right away. His main concern revolves around shoulder problems he had earlier in his career.
*I like Foster as a player a lot. Incredibly quick twitched, instinctive, explosive, violent. He dropped some weight prior to the season and it was a great move, as his range improved but his power presence remained. How come I have him as a borderline first rounder? The shoulder issue is worrisome. Potentially very worrisome. And there is now a good amount of smoke surrounding him off the field. Lastly, if you really spend time watching all of the Alabama tape, you’ll notice there wasn’t a LB in this class that went untouched more than Foster. There was such an unreal amount of talent on that unit and I hate to say it, but there were weeks where it was easy for Foster to produce. Health and off field stuff aside, Foster could have been around an 81/82 overall. But I don’t see the top 10 talent that most will talk about with him.
Upside Pro Comparison: Lawrence Timmons – MIA
3 – Haason Reddick – 6’1/237 – Temple: 79
Summary: Former high school running back blossomed from defensive end project to a 1st Team All Athletic Conference honors in 2016 after finishing third in the nation with 22.5 tackles for loss. Reddick played a defensive end type role for the Owls, but will likely project as a 4-3 SAM or WILL in the league. His athletic traits ans very solid week at the Senior Bowl lead to the notion that the move shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Reddick has a natural nose for the ball and can beat blockers several ways. He can be a swiss army knife for a creative defensive scheme that produces in any situation multiple ways.
*One of the guys I have spent the most time scouting over the past few months. I didn’t have a great read on him late in the season. Initially I labeled him a day 2 talent but when I saw how well he moved in coverage and in pursuit at the Senior Bowl, I was thinking round 1 for awhile. He is a big time athlete with all of the versatility you want in today’s NFL linebacker. That said, I still think he is a 2nd rounder if you put a gun to my head. I’ve noticed he isn’t overly physical at the point of attack and he doesn’t tackle well. He can be pushed around by big, physical blockers. Gets locked on to and doesn’t quite have that presence I look for in traffic. In the right role, he can be a stud. But you are gonna need to really protect him and try to hide is weaknesses.
Upside Pro Comparison: Thomas Davis – Panthers
4 – Tyus Bowser – 6’3/247 – Houston: 78
Summary: Two year starter that was positioned to break on to the national scene in 2016 before breaking an orbital bone (face), forcing him to miss 5 games. Still, Bowser finished the year with 2nd Team All Conference honors. The movement in traffic and space are both top tier, as he has the phone booth quickness to miss blockers and the long speed to cover tight ends up the seam. His role within the Houston 3-4 defense saw him wear many hats, showing NFL coaches and GMs that he can do it all. Versatility and athletic ability are key for Bowser. Through the roof upside.
*Bowser is a freak athlete that can rush the edge and cover as well as anyone when it comes to the combination of the two skill sets. He can really bend and get under blockers. Outstanding physical traits with a frame that can likely handle more weight. Coaches have every right to get really excited about a player like this. My downfall on him is he doesn’t play overly aggressive and seems hesitant at times. Runs around blockers too much and doesn’t seem willing or effective to really attack a blocker head on. Perhaps that can come with time. I don’t see round 1, but as a round 2 prospect he fits the bill for NYG has been looking to do at OLB for years.
Upside Pro Comparison: Jamie Collins – CLE
5 – TJ Watt – 6’4/252 – Wisconsin: 78
Summary: Fourth year junior. Initially came to Wisconsin as a tight end and redshirted his freshman year. Watt then missed all of 2014 with a knee injury and was limited throughout the 2015 offseason with another injury to his opposite knee. 2016 was his only real full season as a starter for the Badgers. The brother of All-Pro JJ, TJ earned 2nd Team All American and 1st Team All Big 10. His frame and style of play screams 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end as long as he can put on the weight he needs. He is short on talent but as advanced as a college player can be when it comes to technique, smarts, and phone booth-movement. Dark horse prospect.
*I wonder if some 4-3 teams are looking at Watt as a DE. Part of me thinks that is where he should end up, because I think he easily adds 10-15 pounds to his frame. No matter what he ends up doing, he is a guy that I would be very secure with in round 2. He is as good as anyone at defeating blockers and making plays. He can be an extra edge rusher on passing downs and an elite run defender elsewhere. He isn’t a very fluid athlete and I wouldn’t want him in certain coverage roles, but there is a ton to his game that would help the NYG defense. May have to get a little creative here but I feel like NYG has been looking for this kind of player for years.
Upside Pro Comparison: Anthony Barr – MIN
6 – Samson Ebukam – 6’2/240 – Eastern Washington: 78
Summary: Three year starter that steadily improved from athletic freak to football player each year. Earned 3rd Team All American honors in 2016. The hybrid OLB/DE has a unique combination of speed, explosion, and short area power that can give any blocker a handful. His football intelligence and hustle are top notch and the coaches speak volumes about his leadership and character traits. Ebukam isn’t a household name because of where he went to school, but when considering everything he can do, he has to be considered one the highest upside prospects in the class.
*Here you have it. Ebukam is my top sleeper in the draft and I have him graded as a legit 2nd rounder and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see him outperform both Reddick and Bowser. They are all very similar prospects, yet Ebukam is rarely discussed. Athletically, he tested out as well as any LB in the entire class and on the field this kid is a terror. He mostly rushed the passer but in limited opportunities, he showed natural and easy movement when dropping back. I think we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg here. Combing the talent with his approach, I see a potential star here.
Upside Pro Comparison: Bruce Irvin – OAK
7 – Brooks Ellis – 6’2/240 – Arkansas: 77
Summary: Four year contributor for the Razorbacks that led the team in tackles in both 2015 and 2016 respectively. Ellis won’t jump off the screen athletically, but his ability to almost always be in the right place at the right time covers that weakness for the most part. He can’t fit in to every scheme but at a position where instincts and anticipation trump all, Ellis has enough there to be a quality backup at least.
*You want a smart, reliable, consistent performer in the middle? Ellis is your guy. Nobody is going to confuse him with Luke Kuechly, but Ellis is going to be a solid presence on all three downs in any scheme. He is more athletic than you think and combining that with his quick reads and anticipation, you know this guy is going to rack up the tackles. Not a star but he doesn’t need to be. He will get the job done each week.
Upside Pro Comparison: Chad Greenway – RET
8 – Ben Boulware – 6’0/238 – Clemson: 76
Summary: Fourth year senior. Team captain that has been the signal caller of the Clemson defense for two years. Boulware is an old school, blue collar linebacker that lacks ideal tools but more than makes up for them with his instincts and repeatable techniques. He does all the little things right and can be a major difference maker in any defensive scheme. His role should be best suited inside where he can make the calls and sniff things out. He is not a space player and he won’t be a major factor against the pass. However his value could be through the roof between the tackles.
*While I don’t like this guy the way I liked Chris Borland a few years ago, I do think Boulware is the kind of prospect that can come in year one and lead your team in tackles. He isn’t the same kind of athlete and there is some lack of power presence, but he can simply think his way in to a lot of production. Such a smart player that can play the role of quarterback on your defense. He sniffs plays out with the best of them. He may be a guy that comes off the field in certain situations, but for a 3rd or 4th rounder you could do much worse.
Upside Pro Comparison: Denzel Perryman – LAC
9 – Jalen Reeves-Maybin – 6’0/230 – Tennessee: 75
Summary: Fourth year senior that started for three years, leading the team in tackles in both 2014 and 2015. After missing most of 2016 with a shoulder injury, Reeves-Maybin opted to enter the draft rather than apply for a medical redshirt. Reeves-Maybin is one of the best short area movers in this class. He understands how to use his lack of ideal size to his advantage, shifting through traffic with ease. He is a hard guy to get a hold of and he knows how to finish. Reeves-Maybin will have to prove his shoulder is stable but if all checks out, he could be a weak side starter week 1.
*Interesting prospect here. Reeves-Maybin does look smallish initially, but this guy has an incredibly strong and quick-twitched lower body. That is a nice combination to have. He is an excellent open field tackler and there aren’t many guys that can pursue as well as he does. In addition, we are talking about an excellent cover linebacker and in today’s NFL, this is the kind of guy that can really excel on all three downs.
Upside Pro Comparison: Wesley Woodyard – TEN
10 – Raekwon McMillan – 6’2/240: Ohio State: 75
Summary: Junior entry. Team leader in tackles two years straight. Butkus Award Finalist in 2015 along with 2nd Team All Big 10 honors. Earned a spot on the 1st team in 2016. McMillan is an old school between the tackles force that can own the opposing inside running game. He is very stout and physical downhill player that can make the tough tackles in traffic. His point A to point B burst us underrated, but nobody can say he is a top tier athlete. He needs a specific inside role but in there, he can be a big time difference maker.
*If you are a fan of David Harris from NYJ, you’re gonna have to like McMillan. Very tough and stout in the middle. Can sniff out plays and knows how to finish. He can close that 10-15 yard gap downhill as fast as anyone and when he gets there, watch out. He isn’t a great lateral mover and he does struggles to change direction and adjust his weight. 3-4 teams may have a higher grade on him.
Upside Pro Comparison: David Harris – NYJ
11 – Duke Riley – 6’1/230 – LSU: 75
Summary: One year starter that took full advantage of his opportunity. Riley led the Tigers in tackles and proved he can make plays despite being undersized. His speed and aggression are big time factors. He projects as a weak side-only type but can be a weapon on special teams and eventual starter in the NFL. If Riley is in the right scheme with the right players around him, he can be a force.
*Speed is the name of the game for Riley, as he struggles to make the impact between the tackles and won’t get off a ton of blockers. But get this kid in space and tell him to chase the action, you may have yourself an elite playmaker. He needs to be protected but if you can keep him clean and out of traffic between the tackles, watch out.
Upside Pro Comparison: Kwon Alexander – TB
12 – Zach Cunningham – 6’3/234 – Vanderbilt: 75
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Overlooked high school recruit that evolved in to a two time 1st Team All SEC linebacker, while adding a 1st Team All American honor to his wall. In a league speed and versatility is the name of the game, Cunningham is going to raise a lot of eyebrows. Despite the less than ideal frame for physical play, his ability to play sideline to sideline and run like the wind will potentially be in high demand. Cunningham stood out weekly on a defense with very little talent. He is a playmaker that, if used correctly, can be an immediate impact. There are holes in his game that could be significant in the NFL. High risk, high reward.
*I have never quite seen it with Cunningham. I just hate the slender build and straight-line-only athleticism. Everything want in a LB, Cunningham basically can only project to. He has tools that some others don’t, but he isn’t Barr from MIN. He gets pushed around too much and won’t impact the game between the tackles well enough. You can gamble on his upside, but in round 1 or 2? I say no way.
Upside Pro Comparison: Thurston Armbrister – DET
13 – Jordan Evans – 6’3/232 – Oklahoma: 74
Summary: Three year starter that was second on the team in tackles in both 2014 and 2015 before leading the team in 2016. Two time 2nd Team All Big 12. The leader of the Sooners defense was a big time high school running back as well. His athleticism is more than noteworthy, as his ability gets him involved in the action often. He is a reaction-based player that can beat blockers and ball carriers to a spot, but he has struggled to show he can anticipate running lanes and read blockers. He will need to start off as a special teamer, where he could excel, while he develops the mental side of the game. If he can do that, he has a very high ceiling.
*You have the like the package you are getting with Evans. He is a guy that comes on to your team and immediately becomes the best cover LB in all likelihood. That’s how he can get on the field right away and from there, we’ll see if he can develop in to every down duty. Evans needs to get stronger and tackle better. He is a reaction player rather than an anticipation player, which can always backfire. But I like the upside if we are talking day 3.
Upside Pro Comparison: KJ Wright – SEA
14 – Connor Harris – 5’11/242 – Lindenwood: 73
Summary: Fifth year senior that missed the majority of his true sophomore season with a shoulder injury. The three time team captain is the all time, all-NCAA career tackle leader with a total of 633. His production would have been high at any level, not just Division II. Harris is a smart, instinctive, powerful, fit-into-any-crease type defender that is always around the ball. He was born to play linebacker. His physical limitations will have an impact on his versatility in the NFL, but there is a place for him in most defensive schemes. Harris should not be overlooked. In fact, he should be considered one of the safer picks in the class.
*If you like Boulware, you have to at least Harris a little bit Very similar players when it comes to instincts and reaction. Very similar players when you stack their measurables next to each other. I actually think Harris is better put together and can handle NFL blockers easier. He is an absolute rock. He plays a little stiff and likely needs to be taken off the field more than some of these other guys, but he will be productive in the right role. Coaches love these guys inside.
Upside Pro Comparison: Mychal Kendricks – PHI
15 – Vince Biegel – 6’3/246 – Wisconsin: 73
Summary: Four year contributor for the Badgers, earning a spot on the All Big 10 Football squad twice. Biegel hails from a football family and his passion for the game is obvious. He is a worker bee that relishes his opportunity. He is a limited impact type guy, but it’s safe to assume he can at least fit in as a quality backup as a 4-3 SAM or 3-4 rush ‘backer. Medicals need to be looked in to concerning his foot which has been a recurring issue.
*There are some issues here, mainly with his foot and the fact he essentially played 3-4 OLB in college. He is such a smart player though that understands hustle and reading offenses. Good combination. Better athlete that people think too and if they strike out on the some of the outside guys we talked about above, Biegel is a nice fallback option.
Upside Pro Comparison: Rob Ninkovich – NE
BEST OF THE REST (16-30)
16 – Cole Langer – 6’0/239 – Missouri State: 73
17 – Jayon Brown – 6’0/231 – UCLA: 73
18 – Kendell Beckwith – 6’2/243 – LSU: 73
19 – Alex Anzalone – 6’3/241 – Florida: 72
20 – Anthony Walker – 6’1/235 – Northwestern: 72
21 – Ryan Anderson – 6’2/253 – Alabama: 72
22 – Brandon Bell – 6’1/233 – Penn State: 71
23 – Ukeme Eligwe – 6’2/234 – Georgia Southern: 71
24 – Carroll Phillips – 6’3/243 – Illinois: 70
25 – Steven Taylor – 6’0/228 – Houston: 70
26 – Riley Bullough – 6’2/226- Michigan State: 69
27 – Charmeachealle Moore – 5’11/223 – Kansas State: 69
28 – Ben Gedeon – 6’2/244 – Michigan: 69
29 – Marquel Lee – 6’3/240 – Wake Forest: 69
30 – Tanner Vallejo – 6’1/223 – Boise State: 69
The linebackers are good enough to get the job done for a quality defense. And this may be the first time I have gone in to the draft saying that in quite some time. But in no way am I crossing these guys off the list if the value is right, and that is starting with Jarrad Davis in round 1. I have had my eye on this kid for 2 years now and I am as sure about him as any player in this class. He is going to be a difference maker, a rock for a decade if he stays healthy. He represents everything I want in a LB. Besides him, I can understand the desire for the edge rushing 4-3 guy that can play the run and drop in to coverage. Very hard to find, but if there are a few in this class that can fit that mold. I simply don’t want to use the 23rd pick on any of them because I just don’t see the value grade wise and I think there will be better talent available. Reddick and Foster will likely be gone before I think they are worth taking. But a solid round 2 target could be Watt or Bowser. After that the players are very similar grade wise and it will depend on what you want out of the position. There will be quarterback of the defense types there as well as the athletes with upside. Either way, I think a pick should be used on one. Keep your eye on Ebukam!