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New York Giants Positional Breakdown: Linebackers

Throughout the next several weeks, I’ll be breaking down the Giants’ roster, position by position. We’ll take a look at what each player brings to the table, their chances of making the roster and, if applicable, their roles on the 2015 team. Next, we’ll take a look at the linebackers.

Jon Beason

Roster odds: 100%

Beason is coming off a lost season, having played in just four games last year before a toe injury put him on IR. In 2015, he looks to provide a spark to the Giants defense like he did when he joined the team in 2013.

Last season, Beason managed just six tackles in four games, but his 2013 stats are much more demonstrative of what he can do on this year’s team. That season, Beason played in 12 games after being traded from the Panthers, racking up 65 tackles.

(Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

Beason insists that he’s the healthiest he’s ever been, and until he gives the Giants a reason to doubt that, expectations will be high for the 30-year old middle linebacker. In Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, Beason should fill the Antonio Pierce role, calling the defensive plays and being pivotal stopping the run as well as dropping back in coverage.

As long as he stays healthy, Beason should be a key piece of the Giants defense.


Devon Kennard

Roster odds: 100%

Kennard is arguably the biggest Giants defensive breakout candidate.

After the Giants selected him out of USC in the fifth round of last year’s draft, Kennard appeared in 12 games (six starts), totaling 36 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He’s locked into a starting outside linebacker spot, and has received rave reviews early on in camp.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Tom Coughlin even singled him out as a player to watch as he enters his second season with the team.

He has the strength push the line of scrimmage, the speed to get at the quarterback quickly and the ability to seek out the ball and lay a viscous hit on whoever has it. He doesn’t exactly dominate in any of these aspects, but his versatility makes him a defensive weapon, and he could easily push for double digit sacks this season.


Jameel McClain

Roster odds: 100%

This one will depend entirely on McClain’s health.

McClain was set to start on the outside for the Giants once again this year, but news dropped on Thursday that McClain suffered a stinger, and he will be out for a while.

McClain notably had neck surgery that nearly ended his career while he was with the Ravens in 2012, so there’s reason to be concerned about this.

McClain began last season as a starting outside linebacker, but took over in the middle after Beason’s injury. He accumulated 75 tackles and 2.5 sacks, playing in all 16 games.

Kennard and McClain are probably the Giants’ best options at outside linebacker, but if McClain’s injury is to keep him out for an extended period of time, the team will have to look elsewhere.


J.T. Thomas

Roster odds: 100%

Thomas joined the Giants on a three-year, $12 million deal. With $4.5 million of it guaranteed, he’s a lock to see plenty of snaps.

The former West Virginia Mountaineer enjoyed a strong season last year with the Jaguars, recording 51 tackles, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery (returned for a touchdown), and two interceptions over 16 games (10 starts).

(USA Today)

(USA Today)

The pair of picks is a little deceiving, as Thomas has never been a particularly impressive coverage linebacker, but he’s a competent run defender and can make plays on special teams.

With the Giants, he’s expected to compete for one of the starting outside linebacker jobs.


Jonathan Casillas

Roster odds: 100%

Casillas, a New Jersey native, joined the Giants on a three-year, $10.5 million contract this past offseason, and with McClain’s injury, he may be thrust into a bigger role than the Giants anticipated.

Last season, he played in 13 games (6 starts) between the Bucs and the Patriots, recording 26 tackles. He profiles more as a special teamer who is competent as a coverage linebacker, but he could be in line for significant snaps if McClain’s injury proves to be serious.


Mark Herzlich

Roster odds: 100%

Herzlich is another option to start should McClain miss time. He began 2014 as a backup but joined the starting lineup following Beason’s injury. His stats don’t jump out at you (35 tackles, one sack), but he was very effective against the run last year.

This season, Herzlich could push for snaps even when/if McClain returns.


Cole Farrand

Roster odds: 35%

The Giants’ top six linebackers are pretty much set in stone, and as of now I don’t expect them to take more than six. But given that McClain has no timetable for return, those plans could change. Farrand probably has the best bet of the rest.

Farrand is coming off a statistically impressive senior season at Maryland, notching 118 tackles, seven passes defended and one forced fumble in 13 games. His 9.1 tackles per game ranked fourth in the Big Ten.

The former Terp isn’t known for being a great athlete, but has been commended as a hard worker who can elevate his play with his understanding of the game.

With Beason deeply entrenched as starting middle linebacker and McClain and Herzlich able to fill in if needed, Farrand will likely need an injury and/or special teams dominance to make the team.

He could be a nice piece on the practice squad, but his odds of making the 53-man roster have certainly increased since the McClain news hit.


Victor Butler

Roster odds: 10%

Butler has more NFL experience than the other back-end Giants’ linebackers fighting for a spot, but remains a longshot.

Last year, Butler was a final cut of the Saints before latching on with the Cardinals, for whom he never played. He then joined the Colts, but only saw the field in two games, recording one tackle.

Butler showed some promise during his first four years in the league with the Cowboys, managing 11 sacks as a sub-package pass rusher. But he suffered a torn ACL prior to the 2013 season and hasn’t been the same since.

Not helping Butler’s case is the fact that he’s suspended for the first four games of the year after failing a PED test.

On this year’s team, Butler wouldn’t be anything more than a deep reserve, so given his age (he just turned 28), ineffectiveness and suspension, it’s a pretty safe assumption that Butler won’t make the team.


Devin Unga

Roster odds: 5%

The good news about Unga: he recorded a whopping 143 tackles in his final season at BYU in 2013.

The bad news: He’s 27 years old and has yet to play in an NFL game, regular season or otherwise.

Unga won’t make the final roster, but I’d like seeing him on the practice squad. He showed potential the last time we saw him play football, and some seasoning could probably do him good.


Tony Johnson

Roster odds: 0%

Johnson is an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech who joined the Giants in June. He’ll probably be one of the team’s first cuts.

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