By Michael Stewart/@golferbad
This is part 3 of 5 in a series showcasing my top 5 positional battles once training camp begins. In this article, we take a look at the outside linebacker which was once the Giants trademark defensively. Lawrence Taylor set the bar and standard of excellence that has yet to be duplicated since his retirement. However; the Giants had abandoned the linebacker position under GM Jerry Reese to a fault and the results were a team with a lack of playmakers at the linebacker position.
Currently; there are no linebackers still on the roster that was brought in by Reese as GM Dave Gettleman has completely rebuilt the position; which many consider as one of the most talented and deepest positions on the roster. Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham has already envisioned a fierce battle once training camp begins and that’s not including the teams sack leader in 2019 Markus Golden who is still unsigned.
Head Coach Joe Judge placed the May 5 tender tag which entitles the Giants compensation should another team sign Golden before July 22. If not, there’s a very strong possibility that the Giants will re-sign Golden for a fraction of what he was expecting ($4.125M) when free agency started. So let’s take a look at the contenders:
- Lorenzo Carter: Carter has had two seasons under his belt as a Giants and he has experience many highs and lows. Carter’s rookie season saw a lot of promise as he produced 4.5 sacks and played solid against the run. 2020 was not so productive for Carter as his sack total equaled his rookie season with 4.5 and he was not as productive against the run. There’s no question that 2020 is a make or break season for Carter and GM Dave Gettleman and Head Coach Joe Judge have added depth and talent at the outside linebacker position via free agency and the draft. Carter understands what he needs to do this season and I expect him to take a step up and showcase his overall ability that the Giants coaching staff are looking for.
- Kyler Fackrell: Kyler Fackrell had success under DC Patrick Graham in 2018 at Green Bay recording 10.5 sacks. However; the Packers invested on the defensive side of the before the start of the 2019 season with the additions Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith ;which limited Fackrell’s playing time. The Giants are hoping for Fackrell to be this year’s Markus Golden who last season was signed to a one-year show me contract and he responded with 10 sacks. Fackrell is not only a pass rusher, but can also contribute in pass coverage. With only one year to prove his worth, Fackrell will do whatever it will take to show the Giants coaching staff that he deserves to play.
- Oshane Ximines: Probably the most exciting outside linebacker in terms of progression is Oshane Ximines who had a solid rookie campaign with 4.5 sacks playing mostly as a 3rd down specialist. Ximines and the Giants are expecting a more complete role in 2020 and be more involved on 1st and 2nd downs. Ximines has good size and mobility to be an effective outside linebacker playing all three downs, the biggest question is: will he get enough playing time in 2020 to show improvement? Keep in mind that the Giants invested on the outside linebacker position this off season via free agency and in the draft. Not to mention the possibility of Markus Golden returning to the Giants after July 22 and before training camp is expected to start.
- Devante Downs: Downs is not expected to see much playing time on the defensive side of the ball, but he does have a slim chance of making the final 53 roster if he can perform well on special teams. He will not be the only linebacker that will need a solid training camp on special teams in order to make the team; which is why it is more reasonable to believe that Downs could find his way on the practice squad, but even in that scenario, he needs to perform extremely well in training camp.
- Cam Brown: The Giants like Cam Brown and what he can bring to the table not only as a rookie but also once he develops and refines his game. Brown played outside linebacker for Penn State and although he is labeled an outside linebacker this season. He has the length and body frame to add more size and strength to possibly move to the defensive end position in a few years. For now, Brown will compete at outside linebacker and try to earn his way onto the roster anyway he can. Many football experts (including myself) believe that Brown has the highest ceiling among the linebackers drafted this year and could wind up a diamond in the rough for the Giants.
- Carter Coughlin: Coughlin was a standout for the Minnesota Gophers during his college career; especially in 2018 where he recorded 9.5 sacks. In 2019, Coughlin didn’t amass the same sack totals (only 4.5), but he was still active around the ball with more total tackles (49). The Giants like his high intensity and endless motor and he is projected to be a solid depth linebacker and a productive special teams player in 2020.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham utilizes this group of outside linebackers. Will he have his starters play most of the defensive snaps or will he implement a four-man rotation; which will keep everyone fresh and possibly having a more productive group overall.
Also, July 22nd is only two weeks away and Giant fans will know soon enough if the Giants decide to bring back Golden. If so, the competition at the Outside Linebacker position will be one to watch and it will only make the Giants defense better. Think about it, when was the last time Giant fans could feel excited about the Giants outside linebackers.