The New York Giants made a couple of big-splash signings on the first day of free agency. New York landed cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez, both of which will be new starters on the defense making over $10 million per year.
What NFL teams do in free agency usually indicates what they are planning to do in the draft. The Giants’ general manager Dave Gettleman once said, “You address issues with free agency so that you can set yourself up in the draft so you take the best player available.”
Who would be the best player available for the Giants with the fourth overall pick? Most likely, linebacker Isaiah Simmons. But the Giants just signed three linebackers: Blake Martinez, Kyler Fackrell, and David Mayo. Does this mean they will not be drafting Simmons? Well, it might actually indicate the opposite.
The Giants Did Not Improve Their Linebackers’ Coverage Ability
The biggest complaint Giants fans have with the Blake Martinez signing is not about the player’s actual talent level. Instead, it is about Martinez’s playing strengths and style. Blake Martinez is not a coverage linebacker. In 2019, Martinez allowed a completion percentage of 83.8% in his coverage. Giants fans will criticize this signing because Cory Littleton and Joe Schobert, linebackers who are known for being able to make plays in coverage, were signed to contracts similar in price to that of Martinez.
The Giants’ inability to guard athletic tight ends and receiving running backs has been the Achilles heel of the defense for years. Former Giants’ linebacker Alec Ogletree allowed a completion percentage of 83.0% in his coverage in 2019. The Blake Martinez signing (83.8%) does not exactly fix this error in the Giants’ defense. But there is another linebacker who will be available this season that could fix that error.
Isaiah Simmons’s top strength is his ability to make plays in coverage. Simmons, the Swiss-Army-Knife defender out of Clemson is the top linebacker prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft. He is expected to be on the board when the Giants are picking fourth overall and he is expected to be the best defensive player available. Gettleman wants to take the best player available, but after investing heavily in the linebacker position in free agency, will he? Many fans believe Gettleman’s moves in free agency signal that he will be going offensive tackle in the first round of the draft. Here is why that might not be true:
Isaiah Simmons Would Mesh Perfectly With The Giants’ Linebackers
Blake Martinez and David Mayo are prototypical run-stuffing inside linebackers. Martinez racked up 144 tackles in 2017, 155 tackles in 2018, and 144 tackles in 2019. He is known for being a stalwart run-defender. But he is also known, as stated above, for struggling in pass-coverage.
In 2019, David Mayo totaled 82 combined tackles in 13 games. Additionally, Mayo had 5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. However, Mayo’s coverage was targeted 29 times and he allowed 19 completions, a 65.5% completion percentage. His poor performance in coverage makes it hard to imagine the Giants relying on him and Martinez as their primary inside linebackers. Neither Martinez nor Mayo are proficient in coverage. But Isaiah Simmons is.
According to Pro Football Focus, Isaiah Simmons has allowed only 6.0 yards per target and has earned a PFF coverage grade of 92.5. Isaiah Simmons is exceptional in man-coverage. He has the coverage-ability of a safety but has the size to play linebacker in the NFL. Simmons is no pushover in run-defense either, totaling 104 tackles in 2019 to go along with his 3 interceptions.
Isaiah Simmons is a FREAK. Insane that a 6-4, 230lb linebacker can do this. He has game-breaking speed and sticky man-coverage for his position. A name to keep an eye on ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft. #Giants #GiantsChat #GiantsPride pic.twitter.com/8t7M1RzTui
— Anthony Rivardo (@Anthony_Rivardo) January 3, 2020
All of this falls perfectly in line with what head coach Joe Judge said during his introductory press conference:
Let them play to their strengths. Don’t sit in a meeting and tell me what you don’t have in a player. Don’t tell me they can’t do certain things, tell me what they can do and then we’ll figure out as coaches, because that’s our job, how we can use that. –Joe Judge, head coach of the New York Giants
The Giants’ new head coach plans to play his players to their strengths. If that holds true, do not expect to see Blake Martinez and David Mayo lined up in man coverage on tight ends and slot receivers very often. If the Giants do in fact draft Isaiah Simmons, he will be lining up in man coverage while Martinez plugs the gaps in run defense and blitzes on passing downs. Adding Simmons into the fold masks Martinez’s weaknesses and allows the defense to operate at an efficient level with the linebackers playing to their strengths.