Right now the New York Giants’ biggest weakness is at linebacker. A franchise that has long had some of the all-time great linebackers now has not a single proven player in their linebacking corps.
The Giants are two starters down: They cut Michael Boley and lost Chase Blackburn to the Carolina Panthers. In addition Mathias Kiwanuka has moved back to defensive end, his natural position, further thinning the linebackers. The linebacking corps was not great as it was last year either, ranking 21th in DVOA against run plays (DVOA is a statistic that adjust for opponent, down and distance). Now the linebackers will all be new, and none of them can be described as major improvements.
Still, they do have young talent. Keith Rivers and Mark Herzlich did get playing time last year and showed hints of talent. Rivers was a former first round pick and Herzlich was helpful against the run last year. Keen Giant fans have certainly noticed Spencer Paysinger on special teams. In the last two years he has led the special teams in tackles with an impressive 27. He was undrafted like Herzlich; both have worked hard for their chance at a starting role.
The Giants also added Dan Connor, who now looks like the likely starter at middle linebacker. He was a solid free agent signing on a small deal for the Giants, but after an arrest at a Philadelphia airport over a switchblade in his luggage one has to wonder about his future with the team. The Giants usually do not hold on o players with off the field issues, but they may need to give Connor playing time and the playing time may prove his worth.
Jacquian Williams is also a candidate for playing time. Though he only started three games last year he played in all 16 and had 58 tackles. Reports out of the Giants camp suggest he has been playing well especially in coverage. This may possibly help him to push out a starter or get a place in third down passing situations. The Giants also signed the oft-injured Aaron Curry, but Curry has not been a serious NFL contributor since 2010. If he finds a starting role with the Giants it will most likely be because of injuries or slow development of their young players.
The Giants defense has to be better than last year. It all starts with the defensive line, but the linebackers remain the biggest mystery going forward. If the Giants can find three solid starters of their young bunch it could aid a run defense that ranked a dismal 21st in DVOA against the run.
Jay Cullen is a New York Giants writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter at JayCullen92 or add him to your network on Google.