American Football

Giants position review: There’s work to do at linebacker


Houston Texans v New York Giants
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The Giants need a complete overhaul of the linebacker position

No position group on the New York Giants roster needs upgrading more than linebacker. The Giants’ linebacker situation was a revolving door with no reliable opening; Big Blue cycled through young linebackers, rookies, veterans, and familiar faces, but no one provided the needed consistency.

The Giants ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed per game (146.3). New York ranked 31st in Total Rushing Defensive EPA (Expected Points Added); the only team worse was the Los Angeles Chargers.

The primary reason for the bad linebacker play was the Giants’ inability to consistently fit power/gap and counter concepts. The linebackers failed to react in a prompt manner and scrape over the top of traffic to position themselves advantageously to stop opposing rushing attacks.

Darrian Beavers was the Giants’ last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The sixth-round selection out of Cincinnati had a great training camp but tore his ACL in the Giants’ preseason victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. Beavers was taking snaps at MIKE and would have undoubtedly started early for the Giants.

The Giants released Blake Martinez in a cordial manner after Martinez was not voted captain and was not going to be an every-down type of player .

Tae Crowder, Austin Calitro and rookie Micah McFadden tried to fill the void. By season’s end, Crowder and Calitro were ex-Giants, and McFadden was inactive. Stop-gap veterans Jaylon Smith and Jarrad Davis were at linebacker in the playoffs.

2022 in review

The roster

Starters: Jaylon Smith, Jarrad Davis
Backups: Micah McFadden, Landon Collins, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown
Injured Reserve: Darrian Beavers
Released: Tae Crowder, Austin Calitro

Both Crowder and Calitro were the Week 1 starters against the Tennessee Titans, and neither lasted the season. The latter’s chances expired after a 46-yard Tony Pollard rush where he shot the inside gap and was pinned against Dexter Lawrence by Jason Peters in Week 3.

Crowder’s time ended when he tweeted ‘Free Me’ after he failed to see the field in a Giants’ 20-20 tie versus Washington. A few weeks after the tweet, he was released but subsequently added to the practice squad before the Pittsburgh Steelers poached him.

He ended his 2022 season with the worst Pro Football Focus tackling grade and run defense grade of linebackers that played at least 20 percent of their team’s snaps. The Giants were desperate and needed bodies at linebacker.

McFadden showed some moments of promise sporadically throughout the season. He’s solid in the tackle box in run defense, stays square, gets low, and provides good physicality when coming downhill. However, his mistakes were easy to see on film.

McFadden was effectively benched against Green Bay when he surrendered two catches on his first four snaps of the game: one catch went for 8 yards to running back Aaron Jones, and the other went for 12 yards to tight end Josiah Deguara. McFadden was out-leveraged to the outside on both plays, and Green Bay knew where to attack for easy yards.

McFadden didn’t see defensive snaps for two games before playing 27 snaps against the Seahawks. He started six games after the bye week with some ups and downs. Overall, his rookie season was okay, at best. The Giant’s coaching staff found a perceived upgrade in Jarrad Davis, who they signed off the Detroit Lions practice squad at the end of December.

Davis was a former first-round pick by the Detroit Lions in 2017. He was waived by Detroit, and the Giants signed him before their Week 18 game in Philadelphia, where he started. Davis did enough to start the next week in a playoff game.

Not only was McFadden usurped by a discarded player that just arrived, but he was a healthy scratch for both playoff games – that’s somewhat telling. Davis made 12 tackles and five stops in three games with the Giants.

In their lighter personnel packages, Landon Collins had a very nice role for the Giants’ linebackers. He played in 171 defensive snaps, and they were mostly in quarter or dime personnel. He finished the year with nine tackles, eight stops, and a memorable pick-six against Nick Foles and the Indianapolis Colts.

The primary linebacker for the 2022 New York Giants was Jaylon Smith, who played for Joe Judge in 2021 but was not initially retained by the new coaching staff. Smith was the Giants’ best linebacker, which isn’t necessarily a compliment.

Smith recorded 74 tackles in 724 total defensive snaps, with a sack, eight pressures, and 36 stops. The Giants signed Smith after the Austin Calitro experiment failed. Smith’s best overall performance may have been his first game action in Week 4 against Chicago.

A microcosm of the 2022 Giants’ linebackers was on display in New York’s 38-7 Divisional Round loss against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles’ plan was to attack the Giants’ second level with their rushing attack and quick passing game. Davis and Smith were left scrambling most of the night, and the Giants failed to find an answer.

What compounded the issues in Philadelphia was the lack of use for Landon Collins, who was coming on nicely down the stretch of the season. Collins did not play a snap against Philadelphia – not even in their seven-quarter personnel snaps.

Both Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown are primarily on the roster for their special teams’ ability. They both played 439 special teams’ snaps. Neither played more than six snaps on defense.

It’s arguable, but no position group was a bigger liability for the 2022 Giants than their linebackers. The position will likely look very different next season.

2023 outlook

There’s no sugar-coating this – the Giants need to find a way to upgrade their starting linebackers in the offseason. There are available free agents the Giants could look to pursue; some expensive (Trumaine Edmunds, BUF), some cheaper (T.J. Edwards, PHI). New York may also look to invest some of their 11 draft picks into the position group.

Smith, Davis and Collins are all free agents this offseason. I wouldn’t be opposed to the Giants bringing Collins back for his role in lighter personnel packages. His ability to be a hybrid safety in quarter and dime personnel allowed the Giants to play lighter, but that doesn’t solve their issues in base and nickel personnel.

Smith and Davis may be retained on the cheap, but they’re far from priorities and shouldn’t be counted on as starters next season.

There’s hope that Beavers could return healthy and be an asset, but relying on that is precarious. However, other than the special teams’ guys, I wouldn’t be shocked if McFadden and Beavers are the only two linebackers retained from 2022.

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