When Jerry Reese selected linebacker Clint Sintim with the 45th pick in 2009 NFL Draft, it appeared New York’s general manager had found his next great pass-rusher.
After suffering two torn ACLs and failing to carve out a role on defense, the former second-round pick stands as the player with the most to lose at Giants training camp.
To understand Sintim's uneven career track, let's dial back the clock to the 2009 draft.
You might remember that the Seattle Seahawks took Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry with the fourth overall pick.
Eleven spots later, Southern California linebacker Brian Cushing came off the board before the San Diego Chargers scooped up Larry English with the 16th pick.
The Green Bay Packers found a stud pass-rusher in Clay Matthews with the 26th pick.
Just 19 spots later, the Giants pounced on Sintim, a 6’3”, 256-pounder who posted 11 sacks as a senior outside linebacker in Virginia’s 3-4 system.
Blessed with an ideal frame and solid athleticism, Sintim may not have been an ideal fit for a 4-3 defense, but with the Giants’ penchant for maximizing pass-rushing talent, the former Cavalier appeared to be an asset.
Unfortunately for both team and player, the marriage hasn’t been so fruitful.
The once-promising prospect has seen his NFL career derailed by two gruesome knee injuries, and he hasn’t exactly made the smooth transition from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 strong-side linebacker.
As a rookie, Sintim contributed mostly on special teams, finishing the year with just 20 tackles and a sack.
His fortunes seemed to improve in 2010 as he opened the season as the starting strong-side backer before ultimately getting beat out by then-33-year-old Keith Bulluck.
As if getting beat out by an aging veteran in decline wasn’t bad enough, Sintim’s sophomore season ended prematurely courtesy of a torn ACL.
Three seasons after investing a high draft choice on Sintim, the Giants have just 33 tackles and one sack to show for it.
For the guy who has shredded his knee more times than he’s brought down an NFL quarterback, the 2012 training camp figures to be a make-or-break one.
Besides trying to regain his pre-injury “form”, the man who’s failed to hold down a starting spot may not even be able to earn a roster spot.
The Giants’ weak link used to be their linebacker depth, but Reese has done an excellent job of rebuilding a group that was once slow, unathletic and undermanned.
Michael Boley is entrenched at one spot, and Mathias Kiwanuka has proven himself to be a valuable asset (via Ralph Vacchiano of New York Daily News) as a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end.
Beyond the veteran starters, the Giants boast a solid array of backups with complementary skill sets.
This offseason, Reese made a shrewd trade by acquiring another draft disappointment—former Cincinnati Bengals first-rounder Keith Rivers—for just a fifth-round draft pick (via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York).
Although Rivers never became the playmaker the Bengals had hoped for when they took him ninth overall in 2008, the former USC star has largely been a victim of the injury bug during his career.
The former 5-star high school prospect got off to a hot start as a rookie before Hines Ward introduced himself to Rivers’ jaw.
Rivers missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing offseason wrist surgery, but if healthy, he should be a starting-caliber player, and at worst, a very capable backup.
Besides Rivers, the Giants also have a quality pass-coverage linebacker (Jacquian Williams), a run-stopper (Greg Jones) and a former ACC Defensive Player of the Year (Mark Herzlich).
All three are entering their sophomore seasons and carved out roles as rookies.
With a starting trio of Boley, Chase Blackburn and Kiwanuka and a projected backup quartet of Rivers, Williams, Jones and Herzlich, Sintim could be the odd man out.
At this point, it’ll take a miracle for the former second-rounder to become the pass-rushing star everyone thought he would.
Even worse, it may take more than that for him to make the roster.