By Michael Stewart
Introduction: During the Jerry Reese era, the linebacker position was extremely overlooked especially in the early rounds of the draft. Now with the new regime in place, that should change in this upcoming draft. A projected 19 outside linebackers have been forecasted to get their name called during the 2018 draft and additional UDFA should also have an opportunity as well. Courtesy of Walterfootball.com; here are possible options for the New York Giants:
OLB-Roquan Smith-6’1/225 (Georgia): Scouting sources were raving about Smith in 2017, and he was tremendous for Georgia. Smith was all over the field for the Bulldogs with a big presence in defending the run while also being a reliable contributor in pass coverage. The fast and instinctive Smith flies around the field, making tackles while also showing the ability to play in pass coverage. He has drawn comparisons to the Buccaneers’ Lavonte David and the Falcons’ Deion Jones. Smith amassed 137 tackles with 6.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and two passes batted in 2017. In 2016, he totaled 95 tackles with five tackles for a loss, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles.
OLB-Tremaine Edmund-6’5/236 (Virginia Tech): Edmunds totaled 109 tackles with 5.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss, two passes batted and three forced fumbles in 2017. He is a fast and physical linebacker who can help defenses in a variety of ways. Edmunds has the speed and size to rush off the edge in passing situations yet also plays as a physical run defender in the tackle box.
OLB-Harold Landry-6’3/250 (Boston College): Sources say that Landry is smaller than his listed numbers of 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, too. They believe he is an inch or two shorter and weighs in the 240s, which makes him more of a linebacker’s body type for the NFL; which is why he is on the list. Teams that run a 4-3 defense have concerns about Landry holding up on the edge as he is very undersized to be a base end. More than one NFL source sees Landry as a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
OLB: Dorance Armstrong Jr.-6’4/240 (Kansas): Armstrong has an excellent skill set, but it was hard for him to illustrate in 2017 because the team around him was so bad. Opponents were able neutralize him with double teams and plays going away from him while taking advantage of the lack of talent elsewhere on the Kansas defense. As a result, Armstrong may be more of a second-day talent for the 2018 NFL Draft. In 2017, Armstrong totaled 63 tackles with 9.5 for a loss, two sacks, four forced fumbles and four passes batted. He is a fast edge defender with very good athleticism.
OLB-Lorenzo Carter-6’6/242 (Georgia): Carter was improved as a senior while starting to play up to his athletic potential. He showed dangerous edge-rushing skills against Notre Dame and made a lot of big plays to help the Bulldogs win in South Bend. In 2017, Carter had 57 tackles with 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 7.5 tackles for a loss. Sources say they are giving Carter third- or fourth-round grades, although the team that likes him enough to draft him could take him earlier. OLB-Jeff Holland-6’2/248 (Auburn): Holland impressed team sources in 2017 with a strong season as an edge rusher for Auburn. He doesn’t have good size for the NFL, but he has some speed and athleticism on the edge with a nose for the quarterback. On the year, Holland collected 45 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, four forced fumbles and a pass batted. He made some clutch sacks for Auburn.For the NFL, Holland could fit best as a 3-4 outside linebacker. In a 4-3 defense, his role might be limited to being a situational pass-rusher, given his size.
OLB-Uchenna Nwosu-6’2/245 (USC): Nwosu enjoyed a good 2017 season for the Trojans to help his draft stock. On the year, he had 75 tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, one interception and 13 passes broken up. Nwosu is a pursuit outside linebacker for the NFL. He has some speed and athleticism off the edge. In the ground game and in the pass rush, Nwosu can struggle with the length and strength of offensive tackles, leading to him getting covered up. Nwosu would fit best as a a 3-4 outside linebacker.
OLB-Skai Moore-6’2/218 (South Carolina): Moore is a good player who would be higher on this list if it weren’t for size and durability issues. He had 93 tackles with eight for a loss, two sacks, two passes broken up and three interceptions in 2017. Moore is a linebacker/safety tweener. For the NFL, there could be a lot of debate on his future position. Some might seem him as an undersized Will linebacker, or a strong safety, or in one of the linebacker/safety-hybrid positions like how the Cardinals use Deone Bucannon.
OLB-James Hearns-=6’3/248 (Louisville): Hearns had 42 tackles with 13.5 for a loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and three passes batted for 2017. He played well against Clemson after underwhelming against North Carolina. Hearns was very streaky and inconsistent in 2017. Sources say that Hearns is a bigger version of Devonte Fields. They say that Hearns is loose, limber, quick and fast to close. He needs to be more consistent, but his pass rush talent is developed. In 2016, Hearns totaled 42 tackles with 10 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, two passes batted and five forced fumbles. Hearns could produce a big 2017 season
OLB: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo-6’1/243 (Oklahoma): Okoronkwo racked up eight sacks with 76 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, two passes batted and three forced fumbles. He was a leading defender for the Sooners and received a lot of media hype. In speaking with a director of college scouting, they say they think that Okoronkwo is fast and explosive to rush the passer, but is tight. He gets covered by length and mass on the edge with offensive tackles, and that will be a bigger issue in the NFL. They think that Okoronkwo could be a hybrid inside and outside linebacker for the NFL. They gave him a fourth- to fifth-round grade for the 2018 NFL Draft.
OLB-Shaquem Griffi-6’1/223 (UCF): Griffin is an interesting story. He thrived under Scott Frost, making a real impact in both of Frost’s seasons with the Knights. Griffin made a big impact as a senior, including a lot of clutch plays for his undefeated Central Florida squad. The other standout thing about Griffin is that he is missing his left hand, which was amputated when he was 4 years old due to an aggravated birth defect. Griffin notched 74 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2017
OLB: Davin Bellamy-6’5/240 (Georgia): Bellamy really picked up his play as a senior and was very impressive against Notre Dame. He beat Fighting Irish left tackle Mike McGlinchey on a speed rush to get a strip-sack to close out Georgia’s one-score victory late in the fourth quarter. In 2017, Bellamy had 34 tackles with 7.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three passes batted and two forced fumbles. Final Thoughts: The Giants could address the linebacker position during free agency as there will be several quality linebackers available such as Demario Davis (Jets), Avery Williamson (Titans), Kevin Minter (Bengals) and Anthony Hitchens (Cowboys). It’s unclear how much cap space GM Dave Gettleman is planning on investing this off season with future standouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Landon Collins rookie contracts expiring soon.