The New York Giants are in the second year of a rebuild and need to put an emphasis on fixing their linebacker corps. Rookie linebacker Ryan Connelly was having an excellent season before tearing his ACL, but outside of him, the linebackers have not displayed adequate talent.
Alec Ogletree is also injured and has not been performing up to his contract with the Giants. It is likely that New York will move on from him this offseason. The Giants’ week five matchup was a clear example of how badly they need to improve their linebacker group.
The Giants missed 16 tackles against the Vikings, most in the NFL in week five. Additionally, the Giants’ lowest graded player on defense according to Pro Football Focus was linebacker Nate Stupar with an abysmal 27.4 overall grade. This grade is due to multiple missed tackles and failures in coverage.
It is quite possible that the Giants will look to sign a veteran linebacker mid-season in order to bandage their broken group. There are a few options out there for the Giants to sign, but if they are thinking long-term, they will need to look ahead to the 2020 offseason. Here is a peek at some of the top linebackers that will be available in NFL free agency 2020:
Joe Schobert is a 26-year-old linebacker for the Cleveland Browns. He has been an underrated player throughout his career so far but is a definite top ten talent at his position. Joe is an excellent coverage linebacker and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2016.
In 2018, Joe Schobert had the second-highest Pro Football Focus coverage grade of all linebackers at 87.7. Joe allowed only 92 yards after the catch in coverage and a 72.4 passer rating when targeted. These stats were both top ten in the NFL.
But Schobert is also a solid pass-rusher for a linebacker. He totaled 3 sacks and 6 quarterback hits in both 2017 and 2018.
Kyle Van Noy
This 29-year-old linebacker made a name for himself during the 2018 playoffs en route to the Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl. Van Noy is an excellent pass-rusher.
In 2018, Kyle Van Noy totaled 47 pressures. Mastermind Patriots coach Bill Belichick used Kyle Van Noy as a pass-rusher disguised as an off-ball linebacker. This allowed Van Noy to be a disruptive pass-rusher and total 3.5 sacks in the 2018 regular season and 4.5 sacks in the 2018 postseason.
According to Pro Football Focus, no off-ball linebacker rushed the passer more than Van Noy with his 275 pass-rush snaps in the regular season. So far in 2019, Van Noy has 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and an elite 89.4 overall PFF grade.
Kyle Van Noy would be a perfect addition to the Giants’ defense and could fill two needs for them. The Giants need an off-ball linebacker badly with Alec Ogletree being overpaid and underperforming and Ryan Connelly suffering an ACL injury. Connelly proved he can be the Giants’ starting linebacker, but he and Van Noy would be a nice one-two punch.
Of course, Van Noy has proven to be an important piece of the Patriots’ defense, so it is unlikely they will let him walk in free agency. But if he does hit the open market, this is a productive veteran that the Giants should jump on immediately.
Cory Littleton is another young linebacker about to hit free agency. The 26-year-old linebacker is off to a hot start this season. In week one, Littleton made Pro Football Focus‘s Team of the Week after a performance that saw him finish the game with four tackles resulting in a defensive stop, a pass breakup, and an interception.
Pro Football Focus commended Cory for his performance in coverage, stating that Littleton faced a whopping 10 targets in Week 1 and allowed seven of them to be caught. However, it was for a mere 47 yards, and he notched an interception. His 94.1 coverage grade was tops at his position.
Littleton is another player unlikely to hit the open market, but the Rams have spent a lot of money on their talented roster, so they might have to cut ties with their linebacker this offseason. Cory Will receive a nice pay-day if he does hit the open market in 2020. But his coverage ability would sure go along way in fixing the Giants’ defense if they were able to sing him.