5 Reasons Why the New York Giants' LB Situation Is Not OK
There are seven reasons why the Giants' linebacker situation is just not ready for the 2013 season. Follow along as we reveal all five of the issues within the 2013 Giants group.
2012 Performance Didn't Leave Much to Build From...
While Pro Football Focus is not the end-all, be-all of NFL analysis, they do a good job of verifying what we see with our eyes. And in 2012, that was the Giants linebacker corps with a combined -35.9 grade over their combined 3,046 snaps.
While normally you could say that the system might be a bit flawed, statistically, that can only account for 10-15 percent of the overall grade. Even if they were a -30ish grade, it is still one of the worst groups of linebackers in the entire NFL.
Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn and Mathias Kiwanuka were regularly out of position not just in the run game, but also in coverage and all registered negative grades in both aspects. The starting group was one of the worst in the NFL and didn't give coach Tom Coughlin much to work with.
Without a great foundation, the linebacker situation is not okay.
...and There Will Be 3 New Starters Due to Free-Agent Losses and Position Switch
Mathias Kiwanuka looks to be moving back to defensive end according to the good fellows at Ourlads. Michael Boley is a free agent who likely won't be coming back to New York, and Chase Blackburn has already signed with the Panthers.
So the Giants have a group that will include last year's trade acquisition Keith Rivers, former first-round pick Aaron Curry, former Dallas and Carolina backup Dan Connor, 2011 draft pick Jacquian Williams and a combined four undrafted free agents from 2011-2013.
While Etiene Sabino, Jake Muasau, Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger are all talented players, the Giants don't have a ton of starting caliber talent. They have a bunch of names who have shown nothing in the NFL and one legitimate starter in Rivers.
Because of three new starters with just one of them proven, the linebacker situation is not ok.
Dan Connor's Injury History in Carolina Leaves a Lot to Worry About
When determining the new starters for the Giants, the first place to look is right in the middle of the defense. There's a ton of potential in Mark Herzlich, but he's not ready yet. It's unlikely that Dan Connor will end up sitting on the bench to start the year.
Connor is much more experienced than Herzlich and much more talented than the Boston College product. The issue comes in when talking about his injuries. Connor has experienced a pair of season-enders as part of the Panthers after they took him in the third round of the 2008 draft.
In 2008, the story was a torn ACL that took him out after just three games (h/t Charles Chandler of the Charlotte Observer). In 2010, it was a hip injury that held him out for half of the season (h/t Gridironfans.com).
If Connor can stay healthy, there's no reason why he can't win and be effective in the middle of the Giants standard 4-3 front. But even there, he's just effective, not great and with their dearth of talent, he'll need to be great.
Because of potential starting middle linebacker Dan Connor's injury history, the overall linebacker situation is not okay.
Keith Rivers Should Start on the Weak Side
After the middle of the defense ends up in the semi-competent hands of Dan Connor, the outsides need to be settled. While the strong-side looks to be a muddled mess, Keith Rivers looks to be the best fit for the weak-side starter.
When he was with the Bengals, he played almost exclusively on the weak side and each year progressed into a better and better player from 2008 to 2010. He brought his Pro Football Focus grades from a -1.7 score to a plus-5.5 and then a plus 6.7 in the consecutive years.
However, he had an injury to his right wrist that took him out for the entirety of the 2011 season. Then, he rarely played in the 2012 season due to Michael Boley holding the starting role and being misfit at the strong-side linebacker spot.
Now that Boley is gone, it's time for Rivers to step up or ship out. Unfortunately, because Rivers still needs to prove that he can be that same player he was in 2009 and 2010, the overall linebacker situation is not okay.
Who Plays on the Strong Side?
So the middle and the weak-side starters are settled. They have a ton of questions. Will there be more stability on the strong side?
Probably not. There's a possibility that one of the remaining six linebackers would earn that starting role on the strong side. Let's run down the potential options:
Spencer Paysinger? While he's a bit of the fan favorite, he's not ready to end up as a starter on an NFL defense at this point in his career.
Jacquian Williams? He doesn't deserve to start on an NFL defense because he showed a lack of coverage ability and confusion in his run fits.
Mark Herzlich and Jake Muasau? They are better suited for the middle of the defense and will compete there instead of on the outside.
That leaves just Aaron Curry and Etienne Sabino. While Curry was once a high-level draft pick with what was considered a low floor, he is closer to fighting for the roster spot then the starting spot. Sabino is the last man standing more by default than by talent.
Sabino went undrafted but showed a ton of talent at Ohio State, and as a blitzing linebacker in the Giants defense similar to what Kiwanuka played, he should be able to transition well into the NFL. But there will still be a learning curve there.
Because the best fit for a starting linebacker role is an undrafted free agent rookie, the linebacker situation is just not ok.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac and Rotoworld. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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