New York Giants: What If Jonathan Goff Does Not Return?

Louis Musto@LouisMustoContributor IIIMarch 23, 2012

New York Giants: What If Jonathan Goff Does Not Return?

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    For the most part, the assumption has been that middle linebacker Jonathan Goff would be back in a New York Giants uniform after missing the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL.

    News has surfaced, however, that Goff met with the Cleveland Browns. It is unknown if the two parties are close to a deal, but things do no look good between the young linebacker and the Giants. According to The Star-Ledger, Goff’s agent has confirmed that there is nothing worth reporting between Goff and the defending Super Bowl champions.

    Boasting a clear weakness already at the middle linebacker position, losing Goff would be a vital blow to their defensive unit. Without Goff in 2011, the Giants were a disaster at the position before adding former Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn in November. With Blackburn also being a free agent, the Giants require a dependable player to fill the vacant hole that could be left by their departures from the roster.

    The Giants do have some depth at linebacker, but losing both Goff and Blackburn could force their hand. Here’s a look at the Giants’ options if Goff does not return in 2012.

Mark Herzlich

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    Mark Herzlich was added as an undrafted free agent by the New York Giants and contributed from day one of his rookie season. While the cancer survivor saw few opportunities at middle linebacker, he saw valuable time on special teams that surely garnered him some appreciation in the eyes of Tom Coughlin, Perry Fewell and the Giants coaching staff.

    With a season under his belt, Herzlich could be ready to slide in and be the starting middle linebacker for the Giants. He tallied just 12 tackles in 2011, but showed flashes of potential when he saw the field.

    Herzlich is a hard worker, as shown by all he has overcome to make it in the NFL. If Jonathan Goff goes elsewhere, Herzlich should see an opportunity to earn the job.

Greg Jones

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    The starting linebacker heading into the 2011 season due to Jonathan Goff’s season-ending injury, Greg Jones was one of a number of rookies who say valuable playing time for the New York Giants.

    Unfortunately, Jones’ play was lackluster. He started just five games for the Giants before the middle linebacker position became a revolving door.

    Jones showed room for improvement, struggling in coverage and in run support. He played like a sixth-round pick would be expected to.

    In 2012, the Giants will expect more from their second-year linebacker and that could mean another shot at the starting job if Jonathan Goff is absent from the team. He will have to earn the spot in training camp again this year, though.

Chase Blackburn

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    Perhaps the most pleasant surprise for the New York Giants, Chase Blackburn played well above his head in 2011.

    The former Giants captain made a splash after being signed to man the middle linebacker position in November, never surrendering the spot as he played fabulously. Though he showed some weaknesses in pass coverage, Blackburn was head-and-shoulders above those who had filled the spot before him during the season.

    His contributions paid off, peaking with a clutch interception of Tom Brady in the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI victory over the New England Patriots.

    Blackburn is a free agent this offseason and had heard little from the Giants until recently.

    Despite his play in the last half of the 2011 season, Blackburn is not a prime candidate for the middle linebacker spot and would only be best-used as a short-term stopgap.

Luke Kuechly

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    Boston College’s Luke Kuechly is the top linebacker in the 2012 NFL draft. He is also unlikely to be on the boards when the New York Giants are tabbed to pick at No. 32.

    Kuechly shows great presence on the field, with impressive coverage ability and bloated tackle numbers in college.

    For the Giants to acquire Kuechly it will require them to either trade up—something the Giants and general manager Jerry Reese do not do—or have Kuechly miraculously fall to them at No. 32. If he does, it’s hard to believe the defending champions don’t take him.

    With the Philadelphia Eagles trading for DeMeco Ryans, this becomes a little more likely. There are still teams ahead of the Giants who would love to add a linebacker of Kuechly’s caliber though.

Dont'a Hightower

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    Dont’a Hightower enters the NFL after a very successful collegiate career with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

    Projected to be the second linebacker off the boards, Hightower is a much more likely prospect to be within the New York Giants’ grasps in the 2012 NFL draft. Well-accomplished, the biggest question surrounding Hightower with the Giants is whether or not it’s a good fit.

    Weighing over 260 pounds, Hightower’s size may benefit more in a 3-4 scheme rather than the Giants’ 4-3 defense. Despite this, Hightower is an intelligent player credited for his hard work and determination. He is a natural leader that would boost any team he lands with.

    Though they may be a mismatch, the Giants will certainly give Hightower a look. His intangibles and abilities make him a very tempting prospect to look for any team looking to fill a hole at linebacker.

Mychal Kendricks

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    Mychal Kendricks is a guy that grabbed attention at the NFL combine last month. He posted the best 40-yard dash time at 4.47 seconds and impressed scouts in position drills.

    DraftTek currently has Kendricks going to the New York Giants in the first round and while I’m not keen on the placement of the selection, I do love the idea of Kendricks in New York.

    Kendricks is the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year after leading California with 106 tackles, 14.5 of which came for a loss.

    He is a fluid runner with great change of direction skills and the ability to get after the ball carrier. Kendricks is a punishing tackler who would fit-in well with one of the NFL’s most lethal defensive units.

Audie Cole

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    North Carolina State’s Audie Cole is a good late-round pick-up that could fill the middle linebacker for the New York Giants.

    Cole boasts good size (6’4” and 246 pounds) and has displayed good instincts in coverage, something the Giants poor pass defense should find valuable in a late-round prospect like him. His stock took a hit with a poor combine effort, but he improved some with a better performance at his pro day on March 21st.

    That drop in Cole’s stock could enable the Giants to pick him up as a late-round steal and bring him in to battle with Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich for the starting middle linebacker spot in training camp. If nothing else, Cole would provide solid depth at the linebacker position.

    Cole’s versatility, having played outside linebacker at NC State, could be a valuable addition for the Giants.