Football Outsiders is doing a series of posts called "Red Flags," which take a look at the biggest remaining issue facing each team with the draft behind us and minicamps getting underway. Today's post is on the NFC East teams, and I'm breaking it up into four smaller posts to examine the red flags team-by-team. This one's on the New York Giants, for whom the greatest remaining concern appears to be linebacker.
I don't remember whether I mentioned this to you guys at all before the draft, but the Giants haven't picked a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks in 1984. So it's no coincidence Sean McCormick thinks "it's hard to remember the last time the Giants had even one really good player in their linebacking corps." The Giants tend to spend their resources on really good players who play other positions, like the defensive line and wide receiver and quarterback, and the result at linebacker is stuff like this:
The current starting trio of Dan Connor, Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams is typical of the patchwork approach general manager Jerry Reese has taken during his tenure. Connor is a solid two-down plugger who is vulnerable in the passing game due to his lack of speed. Rivers is a former top-10 pick who has accumulated more surgeries than sacks in his five-year career. And Jacquian Williams is a guy named Jacquian Williams; he reportedly played in each of the past two seasons, but Giants fans can neither confirm nor deny his presence on the roster.
Sean's being cute here, of course. Giants fans surely know Williams as the 2011 sixth-round pick who made a key contribution as a special teamer and coverage linebacker during the postseason run two years ago and had had injury problems in 2012. But none of that makes him a reliable starter on a team that always contends for the division title, and there are reasons to doubt the credentials of both Rivers and Connor on that front as well. Mathias Kiwanuka appears to be moving back up to the defensive line full-time. They recently signed former first-rounder Aaron Curry in case they might be able to get something out of him that his first two NFL teams couldn't, and as Sean writes, they still have Mark Herzlich kicking around. They get by at the position, but they rarely do anything great there.
It's also important to note the Giants spend less time every year in their base 4-3 as passing offenses continue to get more complex and they have to run nickel corners and third safeties into the lineup to offset them. So linebacker is, by definition, a low-priority item for them. Still, there are times when the pass rush isn't dominant and the secondary is lost and the Giants look soft in the middle of the defense, and when that happens you have to think the lack of top talent at the linebacker position is costing them. It's likely to happen a few times this year as well. It's just a decision the Giants always seem to make to go in that direction.