The New York Giants’ defense came to life right around Week 7 of the 2013 season. In the next two games, they held their opponents, the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles, scoreless on the offensive side of the ball. The rise in play can be best attributed to the promotion of Will Hill to the starting lineup in Week 5 and the trade that brought in Jon Beason to start at middle linebacker in Week 6. A rangy linebacker in the middle of the defense and safety to cover the back half of the field proved to be exactly what was needed to make Perry Fewell’s defensive scheme click. I credit last season’s success to Hill slightly more than Beason, and the answer to finding a rangy linebacker who fits the scheme is in the 2014 NFL Draft. The solution is Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey.
Kirksey did not run at the NFL Combine, which makes it more difficult to predict where he might get drafted, but the general consensus has him in the third-to-fourth round range. At the Combine, Kirksey measured in at 6-foot-2 and 233 pounds, which will surely lead some to question if he is too small for the next level. Some might also discount Kirksey because he only completed 16 bench press reps, which was second worst of all linebacker prospects who participated. These people are failing to look at his overall skill set, and thus making a major mistake.
Although Kirksey’s strength is not his best asset, he is far from weak. He uses his long arms (32 3/8) to control his blocker before shedding him to make a play on the ball — this an ideal trait needed for any linebacker, especially one who plays in the middle of the defense. He is also a great form tackler who rarely allows broken tackles. Where Kirksey really stands out is in his football instincts, football IQ and most distinctly his prowess in coverage. If you are looking for a knock on his game, you can reference his blitzing ability, but he was rarely used to blitz in college.
As I mentioned above, Kirksey is a perfect fit for Fewell’s defensive scheme. His skill set projects best as a middle linebacker in a cover two defense. While Fewell’s defense is not strictly cover two, the majority of his scheme is based on zone coverage concepts, often with origins in the cover two.
For some reason, there seems to be a stigma against Big Ten linebackers in the NFL Draft. Three former Big Ten linebackers, Navorro Bowman (91st overall), Sean Lee (55th overall) and Paul Posluszny (34th overall), were all drafted lower than they should have been. Lee and Bowman are all-pros and two of the best linebackers in the league, while Posluszny has been an above-average middle linebacker every season since entering the league. Kirksey’s skill set reminds me the most of Lee, even if he is not quite as fast.
If the Giants draft Kirksey, he can come right in and start at middle linebacker. More importantly, he can carry over the leadership skills he displayed at every stage of his career up until now and become the “quarterback of the defense,” like Beason was in 2013. If the Giants can’t find a reasonable contract agreement with Beason, they need to target Kirksey in the third round.