The New York Giants' 2010 season came to an end after Michael Vick led a Philadelphia Eagles fourth-quarter comeback. To prevent future embarrassment, the Giants will need to select a linebacker within the first three rounds of the 2011 NFL draft.
Giants fans remember the game all too well, even though it did not automatically remove the Giants from playoff contention. But for all intents and purposes, the Eagles comeback left fans looking forward to next season, regardless of the math.
Ten carries, 130 yards. Those are the numbers Vick had next to his name after his performance. Vick often forces defensive backs to spy him, but as with stopping any rusher, linebackers are the key.
When Vick turns a corner, there needs to be a linebacker available to deliver a body-slamming hit. When Vick rolls out, there needs to be a fire-eyed linebacker daring Vick to cross the line. When Vick is trying to bring the Eagles back next season, a Giants linebacker needs to will his team to victory with a stop before the crucial first down marker has moved another 10 yards downfield.
The Giants depth chart currently lists the starters as Keith Bulluck and Michael Boley on the outside and Jonathan Goff in the middle. Goff had a good 2010 campaign and impressed many fans. Phillip Dillard, another recent draft pick, will give Goff competition when (and if) practice begins. The Giants would be fine leaving him at MLB next season.
Keith Bulluck is a free agent next season and will likely not be a Giant. Michael Boley is a mediocre, but serviceable linebacker on the outside. Boley is a good coverage back and has good instincts in a zone defense, but can have trouble stopping the run and is too easily blocked out of plays. Clint Sintim will also be competing for a starting spot on the outside.
The outside linebacker options the Giants have are not stellar and will have to build through the draft.
Over the last decade, the Giants have never taken a linebacker in Round 1. This might be the year to change that.
Akeem Ayers' name has been linked to the Giants throughout the offseason. Ayers could be available when the Giants pick at No. 19 and has a unique combination of side and speed.
Look for the Giants to look at Kelvin Sheppard, an outside linebacker from LSU, in the later rounds of the draft.
It shouldn't take too much for the Giants to be able to contain Vick next season. In the first Giants-Eagles game, the Giants held Vick to his second-fewest yards per carry of the season. For the first three quarters of the second matchup, the Giants held Vick in check.
So while last year's team was not overmatched by Vick seven-eighths of the time, a young, talented linebacker could ensure Vick does not run wild and single-handedly win a game for the Eagles again.
Well, that and a new punter.