For the first time in a long time, the linebacker position was not the leakiest unit on the defense for the New York Giants in 2013. After trading for Jon Beason, the linebacking core was shored up and helped make the Giants finish the season strong with a 7-3 record. They added some more help in free agency with Jameel McClain to go with the promising tandem of Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger. They did not stop there, as they also added Devon Kennard in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of USC.
Kennard is an extremely versatile player, moving around the defensive front for the Trojans. He played defensive end and along the second tier of the defense at inside and outside linebacker. He had solid production wherever he lined up for USC, and his versatility is something Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will be excited to put to use.
Kennard has good bulk and build for the position with the scheme that the Giants use. He has good height at 6-feet-3, and possesses good top-end speed even at 249 pounds. The biggest thing working against him currently is his spotty injury history.
It is an extensive list for Kennard, which in part knocked him down some draft boards. Following the 2010 season he had to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his hip in addition to surgery on his thumb. Because of those injuries, Kennard was forced to miss 2011 spring practices. During the summer in 2012, he then tore his pectoral muscle lifting weights, undergoing surgery and receiving a medical redshirt for that season.
With the extra season being awarded to him, Kennard made the most of his chance. He started all 14 games for USC that season, compiling 60 tackles, 13.5 for loss and nine sacks.
The intangibles are there for Kennard to have a successful NFL career, as his athleticism is something that will help him along until he refines the rougher parts of his game. He will have a shot right away at proving he belongs; he will be forced into a more prominent role after Beason injured his foot during OTAs.
With Beason sidelined, Kennard was taking some of the first team snaps last week at OTAs. At mini-camp this week McClain was moved into the middle, but Kennard figures to work his way into some of first team work at the OLB spot McClain has to be moved out of.
Even before Beason went down, Kennard figured to find his way onto the special teams coverage unit. Like fellow 2014 Giant draftees Bennett Jackson and Nat Berhe, Kennard may not have the highest ceiling but has strong character traits and is a player that should be able to come in right away and make an impact.
This is a golden opportunity for Kennard to make a positive impression on Tom Coughlin and the Giants coaching staff. He has a chance to showcase his talents on the defensive side of the ball, while carving out a niche on special teams. He was little known heading into team practices, but this is a player Giants fans and people around the NFL will soon know well.