2010 NFL Draft: Can Rolando McClain Restore New York Giants' Linebacker Legacy?

Tom DennisonContributor IMarch 18, 2010

Truth be told, the last great Giants linebacker that I have a cognizant memory of seeing play was Jessie Armstead.

As fate would have it, I was not lucky enough to have been born decades earlier, where I could have watched the likes of Sam Huff, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, and Lawrence Taylor—iconic figures when one recalls the top linebackers in Giants history. Stories of their dominance sounded more to me like tales of lore rather than reality.

Youth aside, I've watched enough film and read enough about the fabled Giants linebackers that I can begin to grasp their impact on the team and their true greatness as football players.

With the position of linebacker having once been such a proud cornerstone of this storied franchise, one wonders if the New York Giants will ever field such a dominant linebacking corps again.

Now don't get me wrong—the Giants have had some pretty decent players at that position in the last 15 years, but never have the Giants assembled a group at any given time that could've held a candle to those Super Bowl champion teams in ’86 and ’90.

In fact, the recently departed Antonio Pierce and the now retired Armstead are the only Giants LBs to have been selected to the Pro Bowl in that entire span.

Enter Rolando McClain.

The former Alabama junior is widely considered to be the top ILB prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft, a position that represents a glaring hole for the New York Giants.

If the stars aligned and McClain fell to them at the 15th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, he would join a young crew of LBs all looking to make an impact in a starting role this year.

The Giants seem to have a vested interest in the young man, having sent Tom Coughlin, Jerry Reese, and assorted personal to his recent Pro Day.

As far as his credentials, McClain has made an impact from the time he was a true freshman in 2007, starting eight of 13 games and finishing fourth on the team with 75 tackles.

He improved each and every year, including during his final season at Alabama in 2009, during which he racked up 105 tackles, earning Butkus and Lambert Awards, as well as First-Team All-SEC honors and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award.

Not only has he played well, but he has also contributed on a competitive team, gaining big game experience from having won a BCS National Championship in his final year.

If that isn’t a successful résumé for anyone looking to land a starting spot on an NFL roster, I don’t know what is.

Of course, Giants personnel may need to take into account the recent criticisms that McClain has faced about his health.

McClain’s failure to complete key events at the Combine, as well as his early departure from his Pro Day due to illness related to Crohn’s disease, has yielded many questions about his future success.

Nevertheless, Giants scouts can consider that other professional players, including David Garrard of the Jacksonville Jaguars, compete while being afflicted with Crohn’s. McClain himself has even stated to the media that his condition has never interfered with his on-field performance throughout his career.

If the Giants were able to put him in a blue uniform, he would most likely be under the tutelage of returning MLBs Jonathan Goff and Chase Blackburn.

It would seem almost inevitable that McClain could make a push into a starting role somewhere around midway through the season after having gained such precious experience playing in a pro-style defense in Alabama.

Barring any injuries, this would have McClain anchored on each side by the 27-year-old speedster Michael Boley and second-year player Clint Sintim, who showed flashes of sheer brilliance in limited play last season.

Combining such young, athletic, and intelligent talent under the capable hands of new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, the Giants could be poised to assemble the best group of linebackers since the famed “Crunch Bunch” of the early 1980s—a proclamation that I would never make unless I believed they truly possessed the prodigious talent necessary to garner such a comparison.