All hope seemed lost for the New York Giants last year after injuries struck its defense. But four unheralded rookies — Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Tae Crowder, and Niko Lalos — provided excellent depth. None of these Giants second-year linebackers were selected before the sixth round in the NFL Draft. Yet their impact on both defense and special teams quietly helped the Giants stay in playoff contention.
Recent draftees and free agent additions to the New York linebacking corps might reduce some of these sophomores’ roles. But limited playing time may not prevent them from contributing. After all, only Crowder was a consistent starter last year. Here’s what to expect from each of the Giants second-year linebackers in 2021.
Projecting Roles for New York Giants Second-Year Linebackers
The Giants selected Tae Crowder with the final pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, making him that year’s “Mr. Irrelevant.” Despite the nickname, Crowder was a key piece of the Giants defense. In 11 games, he racked up 57 tackles and became a starter at inside linebacker next to Blake Martinez. He also returned a fumble for a game-winning touchdown against the Washington Football Team in Week 6.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 18, 2020
Although Crowder started last year, he’ll have to win the job in training camp. The Giants brought in Reggie Ragland in free agency, who will at least take on some of Crowder’s snaps barring injury. And with Azeez Ojulari and Lorenzo Carter primed for important roles, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham might sit Crowder on third downs in favor of pass-rushing edge rushers. Nevertheless, Crowder shows a ton of potential and will provide great depth. In a league where injuries are commonplace, that’s a necessity. Of all the Giants second-year linebackers, Crowder should earn the most snaps.
Carter Coughlin, a seventh-round draft pick out of Minnesota, didn’t see much action until injuries depleted Big Blue’s linebacking corps later in the season. The Giants spent a large part of the year converting him from an outside linebacker — his college position — to an inside linebacker. However, when Kyler Fackrell suffered a calf injury, Coughlin filled in well at both inside and outside linebacker during New York’s four-game winning streak. He was also a mainstay on special teams.
Coughlin has been practicing with the inside linebackers in training camp thus far, so it looks like he will stick with that position. With Crowder, Martinez, and Ragland ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s unlikely that Coughlin will get much playing time. But his versatility and solid pass-rushing skills make him valuable on blitz packages. That should earn Coughlin plenty of third-down snaps. And his familiarity with Patrick Graham’s scheme gives him an edge over newcomers for any starting spots that open up due to injury.
Cam Brown, a sixth-round draft pick, mostly played on special teams in his rookie year. Using his 6’5”, 234-pound frame, he thrived in that role. Brown’s physicality on kickoffs and punt coverages won him praise from the coaching staff.
“[Brown] has a big upside,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said in October. “He’s a good kid and he works his tail off. I tell him all the time, I think he has $70 million walking around inside of him. It’s up to him to tap it.”
That potential should guarantee Brown a spot on the 2021 roster. Like Coughlin, he likely won’t see the field on defense too often — especially in the first few weeks of the season. But the outside linebacker will be a leader on Big Blue’s special teams unit. If Brown can turn heads there, he could slide up the pass-rushing depth chart as the year goes along.
Niko Lalos came out of nowhere to become a key piece on the Giants defense during their midseason winning streak. The undrafted free agent started 2020 on the practice squad, but the Giants called him up to the active roster before their Week 12 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Lalos caught a game-changing interception that led to a 19-17 win and then recovered a Russell Wilson fumble in a 17-12 upset against the Seattle Seahawks the next week.
This is amazing — called on and making his NFL debut, former @DartFootball defender Niko Lalos with an INT in his first ever game.
Never give up. Never let em tell you that you can’t make it. pic.twitter.com/VuwjPPtz7s
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) November 29, 2020
The Giants converted Lalos from a 4-3 defensive-end to an edge. As another outside linebacker in a crowded pass-rushing room, Lalos may not even make the 53-man roster. He should, however, find a spot on the practice squad. Lalos’ ball awareness and knack for making big plays will make him the first in line to get called up if anyone on the Giants defense gets hurt. Those skills could also translate well to special teams. Assuming injuries don’t decimate the New York linebackers, he could play a role similar to Cam Brown’s last year.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images