New York Giants Linebacker Corps: Strength or Weakness?

New York Giants, Giants, NYG, Ryan Connelly

The New York Giants have long been plagued with a weakness on defense. For years, the Giants’ linebacker corpse created a vast hole in their defense. New York rarely invested top assets into the position and it was exhibited by the unit’s performance. New York has worked to correct this error under general manager Dave Gettleman. Gettleman had made multiple key acquisitions at the linebacker position, though not all of them have panned out according to plan.

Alec Ogletree was the first move that Gettleman made to strengthen the middle of the defense. But, as fans know all too well, Ogletree was a severe underperformer in Big Blue and was cut this offseason. Last season, there did seem to bee some improvement in the Giants’ linebacker corps. David Mayo became a serviceable starter, earning a contract extension. Additionally, in the first four weeks of the season, it seemed like the Giants found a gem in Ryan Connelly. Connelly unfortunately suffered a devastating, season-ending injury in the fourth game of the season.

Fast forward to the 2020 offseason: Dave Gettleman has once again prioritized the inside linebacker position. One of the Giants’ big splash signings in free agency was linebacker Blake Martinez. New York then went on to draft four linebackers in the final two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, providing the team with plenty of depth at the position.

Taking all this into account, how does the Giants’ new linebacker corps fare? Is it now a strength on the team, or is it still a weakness?

The Positives

The New York Giants’ linebackers excel in run defense. Blake Martinez and David Mayo are both excellent run defenders. Martinez has recorded 144 or more combined tackles in each of the last three seasons. He posted a career-high 155 combined tackles in 2019. In 2018, Martinez only missed 12 tackles (7.7%) and in 2019 he missed 18 tackles (10.4%). Mayo earned a 90.1 run-defense grade according to Pro Football Focus in 2019.

Another positive of the Giants’ linebacker corps is its depth. As stated earlier, Gettleman has invested into the position group multiple times in the past two years. The Giants’ starting linebackers, Mayo and Martinez, will be accompanied by rising star Ryan Connelly once he returns from injury. Behind the three of them are three new rookies drafted in the final two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. If injuries strike the linebacker corps again, the Giants have the depth to stay afloat.

The Negatives

The Giants still do not have a linebacker that excels in coverage. Some fans believed this flaw in the unit would lead the Giants to draft Isaiah Simmons in the first round. Evidently, that did not happen, and Giants fans are all happy to have their left tackle of the future in Andrew Thomas.

However, this still does not solve the Giants’ issue pertaining to a coverage linebacker; But a different draft pick just might. The Giants drafted safety Xavier McKinney in the second round. The versatile safety will see plenty of reps in the box as a coverage linebacker. McKinney serves as a possible solution to the Giants’ weakness, but they will still need to see improved coverage out of their linebackers in 2020.

In 2018, Blake Matinez surrendered a 73.8% completion percentage on the 61 targets in his coverage (45 completions). The opposition gained 410 yards on those 45 completions and scored 5 touchdowns. Martinez allowed a 118.9 passer rating when targeted in 2018.

2019 was an even worse performance by Martinez in pass coverage. His completion percentage allowed rose to 83.8%, allowing opponents to complete 62 passes on 74 targets for 570 yards and 2 touchdowns. This is definitely a major red flag for teams interested in signing Blake Martinez during the 2020 free agency period. Blake Martinez must improve in coverage for the Giants’ defense to flourish in 2020.

Are The New York Giants Setting Their Defense Up For Isaiah Simmons?

New York Giants looking at Isaiah Simmons in 2020 NFL Draft?

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.

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.

New York Giants Wise To Lock Up David Mayo

New York Giants, David Mayo

The New York Giants have signed linebacker David Mayo to a three-year contract extension (according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic). This Friday the thirteenth ended up being David’s lucky day. The Giants made the right decision and extended David Mayo on a team-friendly contract.

Affordable Contract

Mayo’s three-year contract extension is worth $8.4 million, according to Ian Rappoport. The former Carolina Panther is receiving a hefty pay increase while the Giants are retaining a consistent contributor in run defense. Mayo’s reliable performance in 2019 makes this deal a bargain for New York’s team.

Consistent Run-Defender

David Mayo started 13 games in 2019 despite being considered a reserve heading into the season. In those 13 games, though, Mayo exceeded all expectations. David’s consistent performance in run-defense throughout the season earned him his new contract.

Pro Football Focus was a big fan of David Mayo in 2019. Mayo earned PFF’s second-highest run-defense grade by an inside linebacker this season. Mayo did struggle in pass-coverage, but his play against the run was consistent and makes him with valuable heading into 2020.

In 2019, David Mayo totaled 82 combined tackles in 13 games. Additionally, Mayo had 5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. But Mayo’s poor coverage stats will likely keep him from being the Giants’ primary inside linebacker next season. Mayo’s coverage was targeted 29 times and he allowed 19 completions, a 65.5% completion percentage. This is an area where David will need to improve in 2020 if he wants to see his role continue to expand on the Giants’ defense.

New York Giants re-sign LB David Mayo to three-year extension

New York Giants, David Mayo

While the NFL and sports world are under pressure due to the Corona Virus, the New York Giants are still working diligently to piece together a competitive team for the 2020 season.

On Friday night, GM Dave Gettleman and new head coach Joe Judge elected to retain linebacker David Mayo, who played in 13 games for the Giants in 2019. Mayo posted 82 combined tackles, 2.0 sacks, and five tackles for a loss, proving he can be a quality player, specifically as a reserve.

Mayo’s ability in coverage is limited but is stout against the run, which is why his skill-set enamors Gettleman and Judge. Retaining him for three more years gives Big Blue a consistent linebacker who can fill in diligently when called upon.

Despite the signing, I do believe the Giants are still intrigued by Isaiah Simmons in the draft and Corey Littleton in free agency. Both would provide a major improvement at the position.

New York Giants news, 12/26 – Did Giants strike gold on reserve linebacker?

New York Giants, David Mayo

Good Morning, New York Giants Fans!

When New York Giants’ Ryan Connelly went down in a week three matchup against the Washington Redskins in the waning moments, the linebacker position took a significant hit, despite the rookie having minimal experience in a starting role. His development undoubtedly took a substantial hit with the torn ACL he picked up, but his replacement rose to the occasion.

David Mayo, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, brought his talents to the Giants, and what a player he has been this season, specifically in the run game.

PFF stated:

David Mayo has struggled in coverage, but he’s been elite at defending the run. His 90.7 run defense grade this season is 2nd among 59 qualifying line backers.

Mayo’s cleanup abilities at the second-level have helped the Giants’ run-stopping grades elevate considerably in recent weeks. He has been blessed with 48 tackles, six tackles for a loss, two passes defended, and 1.5 sacks. These statistics are all career highs, providing optimism that he will return in 2020.

If the New York Giants draft another quality linebacker or address the position in free agency, Mayo can serve as a run-stopping specialist/reserve option. Having essential depth is vital at positions like linebacker attributes to the success of the team.

Mayo is currently on a one-year deal with Big Blue and will likely be in search of a starting role, which might hurt the Giants’ chances of bringing him back. However, with Alec Ogletree likely on his way out, Mayo’s retention makes complete sense.

Nonetheless–

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New York Giants: Can We Rely On Ryan Connelly In 2020?

New York Giants, Giants, NYG, Ryan Connelly

The New York Giants seem to have struck gold in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The Gmen had two picks in the fifth round, and so far, it looks like they hit on both of them. Their first fifth-round pick, Darius Slayton, has been the team’s most dependable and electric receiver this season, leading all rookies with 8 touchdown receptions.

The Giants’ second pick in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft was linebacker Ryan Connelly. Connelly had an excellent start to the season before having his rookie campaign cut short due to a gruesome knee injury. The Giants’ weak linebacker corps will be excitedly anticipating the return of Ryan Connelly in 2020.

Ryan Connelly’s Impressive Start to the 2019 Season

Before going down with a knee injury in Week 4, Ryan Connelly was an impact player on defense. Connelly had a combined total of 20 tackles through 4 games with 2 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended, and 2 interceptions. He was making plays against the run and the pass. Quarterbacks had a quarterback rating of only 22.6 when targeting Connelly’s man in coverage.

Ryan Connelly’s Week 4 performance was exceptional. In that game, Connelly had 5 combined tackles, including 1 tackle for loss. He was also getting after the quarterback with 1 quarterback hit and 1 sack. On top of that, Ryan Connelly had an interception. This was meant to be Ryan’s breakout performance, but, unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL later in the game that caused him to miss the rest of the season.

The Giants’ rookie linebacker flashed his potential through the first quarter of the season. But heading into his second season coming off of a severe knee injury, is Connelly someone the Giants can rely on? It seems like he has enough talent to lead the Giants’ linebacker corps, but who could be a suitable linebacker to play alongside Ryan Connelly?

The Giants’ Second Linebacker

The New York Giants are almost certainly going to move on from Alec Ogletree this offseason. The veteran linebacker has been extremely inconsistent during his time in New York. On top of that, Alec is being paid as one of the NFL’s best as his position.

If the Giants are feeling confident in Ryan Connelly’s recovery in 2020, they could easily cut ties with Ogletree. But in a 3-4 defense, the Giants will need a second inside linebacker to play alongside Ryan. This player could already be on the roster.

Giants linebacker David Mayo has shown that he is a keeper. Mayo has not been great in coverage, but he has been stout against the run. Pro Football Focus has given David Mayo an overall grade of 73.7 with an elite run defense grade of 90.0. The Giants’ 2020 inside linebackers could already be on the roster.

Linebacker David Mayo showing Giants he’s a keeper

New York Giants, David Mayo

Despite spending seven of their ten 2019 draft picks on defensive players, the New York Giants will still be seeking defensive help and upgrades in the upcoming offseason. They will likely add players at all three levels and could possibly have a new defensive coordinator running things in 2020.

That aside, which players on the roster are in danger of losing their roster/starting spots after this season? I’m not expecting them to continue on with 35-year old Antoine Bethea at safety and Alec Ogletree at inside linebacker. No one is sure yet if the Giants will throw good money after and sign Leonard Williams to a lucrative extension. He hasn’t shown he’s worth the top dollar he’ll be asking for.

The linebacker spots could all be filled by internal candidates. Markus Golden is a free agent the Giants could try to sign before free agency begins in March. He leads the team in sacks (7.5) and QB hits (17) and could be lost in free agency, especially if his mentor, James Bettcher, is let go as the team’s defensive coordinator.

It’s a good bet the Giants will try Ryan Connelly in one of the inside linebacker roles next year. Connelly was coming on as a rookie this year before tearing up his knee in Week 4 against the Redskins. Oshane Ximines, another rookie, could see his snaps increase over the last four games. The Giants spent a third round pick on Ximines but have not yet found where and when to use him exactly. He is third wheel at OLB behind Golden and Lorenzo Carter.

Speaking of Carter, he’s been a tad bit of a disappointment thus far in his first 28 games in Blue. It’s possible they up Ximines’ playing time and reduce Carter’s to see how the rookie performs. All of this could be moot if the Giants bring back Golden and somehow end up with Ohio State’s Chase Young in the first round of the draft.

One player who the Giants will be looking to stay in business with is inside linebacker David Mayo, who was picked up after the roster cut deadline and has ended up starting nine games for the Giants at inside linebacker after Connelly’s injury.

Mayo has been one of the Giants’ most aggressive players and has been equally productive. Is he a starter? Probably not, but he’s an excellent special teams player and a guy who has shown he’s worth a roster spot.

Mayo was drafted by current Giants GM Dave Gettleman during his time in the same position with the Carolina Panthers in 2015. Mayo signed with the San Francisco 49ers this year but was cut during the final roster trim down on September 1.

The New York Giants already have one future linebacker on the roster

New York Giants, Giants, NYG, Ryan Connelly

When Ryan Connelly went down in the waning moments of a victory over the Washington Redskins in week four of the regular season with a torn ACL, the New York Giants suddenly faced a reality they were not anticipating.

Having already designated their trust in several inconsistent linebackers, Connelly shot up the roster, overtaking Alec Ogletree and pushing BJ Goodson into the waiver wire after the pre-season. The Wisconsin product not only proved he can be a play-maker, but also a leader on defense who has the physical traits to become a quality starter in the middle of the field.

How well did Ryan Connelly perform with the New York Giants?

In just four games and three starts at inside linebacker, Connelly racked up 20 combined tackles, one sack, two interceptions, and two tackles for a loss. That would put him on pace for 80 combined tackles, four sacks, eight interceptions, and eight tackles for a loss in his rookie campaign. The best part about that prediction is how quickly he managed to develop into a starter on an NFL team.

Ogletree, who racked up the interceptions in 2018 with five, quickly fell out of favor with the Giants after missing tackles and failing to compete in coverage against tight ends. Connelly was stellar in coverage in the short game but also showed incredible instincts at the line of scrimmage.

Connelly was known in college for shooting the gap and stopping runners behind the LOS. With Wisconsin in 2018, he managed 10 tackles for a loss and 3.0 sacks in 12 games. Tearing his ACL undoubtedly sets him back in his progression, but this type of injury isn’t as significant to a player’s career as it once was. He will return to 100% health and has already been out of the walking boot for quite some time.

The Giants have a future starter at the linebacker position in Connelly. In the meantime, David Mayo has performed well, grading out as the 17th best linebacker in football this season (so far).

As per PFF’s Team of the Week:

LB DAVID MAYO, NEW YORK GIANTS

One of few bright spots in the Giants’ 19-14 loss to Chicago, Mayo recorded a 92.4 overall grade across 36 defensive snaps on Sunday. He recorded six defensive stops and one pass breakup on his one target in coverage.

An impressive game from Mayo who could earn a starting spot on the team with this type of performance. However, I estimate the Giants will pursue a premium linebacker in free agency or the NFL Draft to pair with Connelly. Retaining Mayo as a depth piece or situational option is a great idea, nonetheless.

New York Giants already have one linebacker they can be excited about

New York Giants, Giants, NYG, Ryan Connelly

The downfall of the New York Giants defense this year has undoubtedly been at the linebacker position. Featuring David Mayo and Alec Ogletree for a majority of the season, Big Blue has struggled to find its identity in the middle of the field and considering Ogletree is taking up $11.75 million in cap space. It’s disappointing to see how ineffective he’s been.

The linebacker position will be a priority for the Giants next offseason, as it should be. The free-agent market is weak, though, with only Shaq Thompson standing out as a bonafide starter who can be relied on. Both Bobby Wagner and Deion Jones were re-signed to their respective teams before hitting the market, an unfortunate turn of events for Big Blue.

Despite having little to work with next offseason, aside from the draft, the Giants do have Ryan Connelly waiting in the wings, a player who showed immense potential in just three games this season. Before tearing his ACL, Connelly shot up the depth chart and claimed the top linebacker spot, replacing Ogletree in his rookie season with only three games of tape.

How did Ryan Connelly look for the New York Giants?

In those three games, Connelly logged 20 combined tackles, two tackles for a loss, one QB hit, two passes defended, and two interceptions. His influence was impressive as he was on his way to being a force in the middle of the defense. While a torn ACL undoubtedly put a road-block on his path, most players can return from the injury and continue developing.

Connelly has already found his way out of the knee brace and stated that he feels better every single day.

With the Wisconsin product’s ability to cover tight end and running backs in the flat, the Giants can go out and sign a hard-hitting linebacker that focuses on the run game. Don’t limit Connelly to life in the secondary, though, he has incredible reactions and quickness close to the line of scrimmage, making him a threat in the run game as well. His ability to shoot gaps made him integral to the Giants’ run defense, which has fallen off since his injury.

As Connelly grows and alleviates any experiential mistakes, he has the potential to become a stape for the Giants on defense for years to come.

New York Giants news, 11/14 – One linebacker the Giants can pursue next free agency

Should the New York Giants look into Shaq Thompson next offseason?

Good Morning, New York Giants Fans!

The New York Giants have been starting Casper the friendly ghost at linebacker for weeks now after rookie Ryan Connelly went down with an ACL tear. Both Alec Ogletree and David Mayo have been non-existent in most aspects, but playing in coverage has been the biggest concern.

Despite missing tackles in the run game, Ogletree is allowing quarterbacks to complete 90% of passes against him, earning a small portion of his $10 million salary. Ogletree continues to prove general manager Dave Gettleman’s inability to solve the position through free agency, but he will have another chance in 2020.

With Bobby Wagner and Deion Jones receiving hefty extensions before the start of the 2019 season, it leaves only one player worthy of a significant deal. Shaq Thompson is the player of choice, and coincidentally he’s a former Gettleman draft pick.

Thompson is an extremely athletic linebacker who can cover and tackle efficiently. PFF has him ranked 5th in solo tackles, while Ogletree is 30th with 43 solos. His 70 rating gives him an entire tier ranking above the Giants’ linebacker, making him a stellar option to take his job.

I fully expect the New York Giants to cut Ogletree this upcoming offseason, especially with his dead cap hit dropping significantly. This season, he holds an $11.25 million dead cap hit, but it drops to $3.5 million after the season. Cutting Ogletree would open up approximately $8.25 million in salary cap, which should be designated to a new linebacker to pair with Connelly, who’s already out of his walking boot.

Aside from Thompson, other options include Joe Schobert and Blake Martinez, both hard-hitting linebacker that lacks the statistical output Thompson has provided for Carolina.

Nonetheless–

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