Linebacker- Staple or Buggy Whip?

Bill Parcells: “I like linebackers. I collect ’em. You can’t have too many good ones.” He said that in the 1980s, when guys like Byron Hunt, Pepper Johnson and Andy Headen could have started for many other teams but were backups with the Giants. The game has evolved, with the NFL making the rules much harder for pass defenses. Passing statistics are inflated today because the rules make covering a receiver more difficult. Teams are drafting wide receivers to take advantage of the changes. And in turn, these same teams are more aggressive in going after cornerbacks in order to reply to the shift. Ernie Accorsi responded to this metamorphosis by going after defensive ends more aggressively so that quarterbacks could be disrupted on a good pass rush.

But what about linebacking? Is it a lost art, a position undergoing corporate downsizing from 3 to 2 as teams use 4 linemen, 5 defensive backs, with 2 LBs left over? Is there so much passing that you do not need LBs except on 1st down? In the past six seasons, there has been a tendency for slightly more passing attempts per game, but it is not significant enough to be a trend. When teams pass too much, they get one-dimensional and opposing defenses adjust and force those teams to balance with more run again. And considering that LBs are still needed for TEs and RBs in pass coverage, the role of these players is not going away by any stretch.

Giants Draft Choices in Round #1, Round #2
1998 S, WR
1999 OL, RB
2000 RB, DL
2001 CB
2002 TE, WR
2003 DL, DL
2004 QB, OL
2005 QB*,CB
2006 DL, WR
2007 CB, WR

There is only one position the Giants ignored with their first and/or second pick during this 10-year period … linebacker. (You have to go back to 1991, when the Giants picked Kanavis McGhee in the second round.) And it has been 24 years since the Giants drafted a LB #1: Carl Banks in 1984. The Giants have been extremely fortunate in recent years to anchor their LBs with players like 8th-rounder Jessie Armstead and free agents like Mike Barrow and Antonio Pierce. Mathias Kiwanuka was moved to LB because of need. Jerry Reese has been fabulous, but it is not rocket science to know that Kiwanuka moves better north (toward the QB) than south (to the TE). Kiwanuka is an impact lineman. He and Tuck will aid in the transition of Michael Strahan’s retirement. Accorsi might have been right to design a team that puts heat on the QB, gets talent on the corners, and plugs up with patchwork LBs, but you cannot totally neglect this position either. Since the NFL is a copycat league, you would expect pass rushing ends to go up in value. Does the NFL de-emphasize linebacking because of Accorsi’s actions? At this point it would appear that a high pick at (strongside) LB better be fast enough to blitz the QB or cover a TE to pay off the investment in today’s world of the pass.

8 Responses to “Linebacker- Staple or Buggy Whip?”

  1. Crank Says:

    What about Zach Thomas. He is kinda old and just had surgery but I think he wolud be reborn In Spag’s deffence. I think is agent is Drew Rosenhouse so he may want to much Dough.

  2. Andy F. Says:

    Historically, the Giants have not gone after older free agents, and certainly not high profile ones w big contracts. The only one I can recall being over 30 that they signed who was a high profile at all was Madison (when he was ~31). They want them to be younger. Even Pierce, who has been a gem with us for 3 years, is now 29 and (for linebackers) soon perishable. For Thomas, who is 34, I would not believe the Giants would go after him because they need someone outside with speed.

  3. Cody Says:

    I think K Mitchell must be re-signed. This guy led the Chiefs in tackles for 2 yrs before he came to the Giants. Yet I have no clue why the Chiefs let their leading tackler walk in free agency; that’s the equivalent to the G-Men letting a guy like A.P. go in free agency. However, along with the young guys (Torbor/Wilkinson), I think the G-Men are in good shape at LB. Safety and o-line depth would strike me as an equally pressing need.

  4. Andy F. Says:

    Tomorrow’s post discusses needs. Thanks for all the comments.

  5. Chris Says:

    These Giants collect DE’s who can play LB–and vice versa.

  6. glenn w Says:

    Andy, good posts all week on the Fifth Down Blog.I think the Giants were stacked at LB position for years. Therefore, dratfting a linebacker was not a need. Yes, I agree with you about the league changing and becoming pass oriented. Take for example, Super Bowl XLII, in the 4th quarter, there were only two rushing first downs.I do not think there is any downsizing regarding the linebacker position.Over the years, the Giants used free agency to fill their need. Recall, they acquired Michael Brooks from Denver in the early 90’s as well as signing Carlton Baily to a contract. You mentioned recent signings of Pierce and Barrow.please check out

  7. Andrew Says:

    Keith Rivers, let’s draft another Trojan. When there is a great player from an elite school, it is almost as though they have built in NFL experience, and definitely big game experience (note steve smith in the super bowl). Rivers is a great OLB, fast, strong and smooth. He can get through blockers to pressure the quarterback, bring down downhill runners with his strength, and catch fast backs before they hit space. He is excellent at limiting outside runs, and I think this is something we really really need. The other big need, if and when Wilson is gone is definitely Safety, but I’m sort of torn there because I’d rather find an adequate safety and pick up a top choice CB. Hall would definitely be a big boost. If we can get Hall, draft Rivers, Osi gets sorted out and Strahan stays… this will be one of the best defenses of all time.

  8. Andy F. Says:

    Marvelous on Rivers:”Rivers will be a middle to late 1st round pick. If he’s around for the gmen I’d GRAB him -He’s going to be a Sunday player for many years! I see him going 20 —27 so I do not see him reaching the Giants.”

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