The New York Giants defense faces a major question mark at the middle linebacker position that must be addressed before the start of next season. Starter Chase Blackburn is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and General Manager Jerry Reese must decide whether to resign him or look at other options for a middle linebacker whether it comes from a player already on their roster, free agency or the draft.
Despite being touted as on of the teams' deepest units, last season's linebacker squad anchored a Giants defense that ranked 31st allowing 6,134 yards. The defense also ranked 28th in the passing game (254.3 yards per game), and 25th against the run (129.1 yards per game). The team may suffer the same results again unless some type of upgrade is made.
Blackburn, who will be 30-years-old before the start of next season, was the starter in 23 of the last 25 games. Though Blackburn gave the Giants some consistency at the position with 98 tackles, it didn't seem he was able to make the key play when the team needed it like he was able to the season before. The player with most experience after him on the Giants roster is undrafted free agent Mark Herzlich. The Giants made it clear he was being groomed to be their future at linebacker, but in his limited opportunities, Herzlich's performance left something to be desired.
The Giants have several other youngsters who they could fill in at middle linebacker in Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger. Williams, a second-year player drafted out of South Florida by the Giants, showed promise at times but battled injuries all season. The Giants also sent a fifth-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for Keith Rivers who also has issues staying healthy. The other option currently on the roster is Michael Boley, who saw his playing time inexplicably diminish.
To improve the linebacker squad, Jerry Reese will likely look to free agency or the draft to find his middle linebacker of the future. Here's a look at some of his options.
Reese could go out and look at high profile free agents such as future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, Jacksonville's Daryl Smith, or Minnesota's E.J. Henderson, though these players don't help the team get younger. More realistic candidates will be Minnesota's Jasper Brinkley or Baltimore's Dannell Ellerbe.
What appears to be the most likely option to find a long-term solution at middle linebacker is to do what Reese does best…find a player in the NFL Draft. Of course, the big name that most Giants fans drool over is Heisman runner up Manti Te'o, though he will likely be selected by the Giants' 19th pick. However, this draft class has several other talented linebackers to offer that are expected to be available through the first and second rounds. Georgia's Alec Ogletree and LSU's Kevin Minter are both high profile prospects that Reese could pull the trigger on. Though Reese typically waits till the middle of the draft to find a linebacker or two, that philosophy could change this year.
The Giants franchise once prided itself on exceptional linebacker play, boasting some of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game in Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson and Carl Banks. The Giants owe it to the fans to find a leader to carry its defensive in the fashion these players once did.
Also…Chase Blackburn, Football, Jerry Reese, Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich, Michael Boley, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Spencer Paysinger
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