The New York Giants got a steal when they signed former Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez to a three-year/$30 million contract in March of 2020. Alongside Martinez at inside linebacker, the Giants never set a straight second inside linebacker. David Mayo, Devante Downs, and Georgia seventh-round pick Tae Crowder all received snaps. The South Carolina seventh-round pick TJ Brunson remained inactive for most of the season. The Giants released Mayo in the off-season to save cap space. They also signed former Super Bowl Champion Reggie Ragland as well as keeping Crowder, Brunson & Downs. The team also reverted Carter Coughlin to the inside during minicamps. Though Patrick Graham will likely rotate the linebackers next to Martinez, the 2021 New York Giants need to make the right decision in terms of who they are keeping.
2021 New York Giants: Inside Linebackers
The Starter: Blake Martinez
Barring injury, Martinez is the starting inside linebacker in and coming out of training camp. His presence from the inside last year boosted the New York Giants to 10th in run defense. As expected, Martinez lead the G-Men in tackles with 151 and ranked third in the entire NFL, only trailing Jaylon Smith and Zach Cunningham.
The Giants severely needed playmakers going into the 2020 off-season. Besides Martinez, Big Blue picked up James Bradberry, which also turned into an immediate success. Martinez deflected five passes, accumulated three sacks forced two fumbles, and intercepted Alex Smith in Week 9 against Washington.
Not just a tackler and a playmaker, Martinez is also one of the leaders in the locker room, as the signal-caller of the defense.
There is nothing too negative about Martinez. However, he is not suited to be a man coverage linebacker.
For the last few seasons, the Giants have been slaughtered by in-division tight ends like Jason Witten and Zach Ertz, due to a lack of coverage linebackers and safeties. Though undertalented, Patrick Graham schemed the defense to benefit the players rather than hurt them. Hence why Big Blue did not get killed by tight ends or running backs like in previous years.
The Backups: Tae Crowder, Carter Coughlin & Reggie Ragland
The New York Giants drafted four linebackers at the backend of the 2020 NFL Draft. They selected Cam Brown in the sixth round, while taking Carter Coughlin, TJ Brunson, and Tae Crowder in round seven. Coughlin and Crowder received the most snaps from the core of late-round linebackers. Crowder started receiving meaningful defensive snaps in Week 4 against the Los Angeles Rams and played 37% of the defensive snaps the entire year. Coughlin started to earn playing time in Week 6 against the Washington Football Team and got his first NFL sack two weeks later against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Both linebackers exceeded expectations because seventh-round picks are usually just special teamers in their rookie season. While Crowder played inside linebacker, Coughlin came out of Minnesota as a pass-rusher, though Patrick Graham did use him as a quarterback spy from time to time. Once minicamps came around in June, the Giants moved Coughlin to the inside. So the former Golden Gopher will have a crack at being a rotational linebacker this upcoming season.
For depth purposes, Big Blue signed former Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions linebacker Reggie Ragland to a one-year deal. Ragland played 50% of the defensive snaps for the Lions in 2020. He made 52 tackles, while accumulating four tackles for a loss, one sack, and six pressures. Ragland can play both inside and outside, but struggles with disengaging blocks in the running game and rushing in the passing game. He will likely come as a rotational piece behind Martinez on the 2021 New York Giants, sharing snaps with Coughlin and Crowder.
The Bubble: T.J. Brunson, Devante Downs & Cale Garrett
The Giants drafted T.J. Brunson in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Like the other late-round selections, Brunson made the 53-man roster. However, he played the least snaps out of the late-round linebackers. With that being said, he only appeared in four of the 16 games in 2020, indicating his slow development as a linebacker, compared to the other three. Brunson is on the roster bubble this year and if he does not make an immediate impact, he is likely to bounce on the practice squad or getting cut. With four preferred pieces over him, Brunson has to have the training camp of a lifetime.
The team first picked up Devante Downs off of waivers in 2019 from the Minnesota Vikings, not earning many meaningful snaps. Downs took Ryan Connelly’s roster spot in the summer of 2020, to everyone’s surprise. Downs started eight of the 16 games he appeared in for the New York Giants and played 21% of the defensive snaps. Unfortunately, he did not play well while on the field. Downs missed a lot of assignments, whether it be in man or zone coverage. One of the few things good about Downs is that he can stop a receiver from gaining yards after the catch and he is valuable on special teams. Other than that, there are not many positives and he will have to fight an uphill battle for a roster spot.
As for Cale Garrett, the Giants signed him to a reserved/futures contract back in January. Before that, Garrett spent the 2020 preseason with the Tennessee Titans and then spent a month on the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. He is a good box linebacker, however, he lacks the length and agility needed for a starting linebacker. Garrett is a long shot to make the 2021 New York Giants 53-man roster
Final 2021 New York Giants Inside Linebacker Analysis
The New York Giants upgraded a lot over the course of two seasons at inside linebacker. Signing Blake Martinez in 2020 and getting the most out of Carter Coughlin and Tae Crowder, while securing depth with Reggie Ragland. The Giants are unlikely to have a secure second linebacker, however; they are more likely to rotate in the depth behind Martinez. If the Giants can get a taste of Ragland’s college years, this linebacking core will take a big step forward with the development of Crowder and Coughlin.
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