Bill Parcells: “I like linebackers. I collect ’em. You can’t have too many good ones.” He said that in the 1980s, when guys like Byron Hunt, Pepper Johnson and Andy Headen could have started for many other teams but were backups with the Giants. The game has evolved, with the NFL making the rules much harder for pass defenses. Passing statistics are inflated today because the rules make covering a receiver more difficult. Teams are drafting wide receivers to take advantage of the changes. And in turn, these same teams are more aggressive in going after cornerbacks in order to reply to the shift. Ernie Accorsi responded to this metamorphosis by going after defensive ends more aggressively so that quarterbacks could be disrupted on a good pass rush.
But what about linebacking? Is it a lost art, a position undergoing corporate downsizing from 3 to 2 as teams use 4 linemen, 5 defensive backs, with 2 LBs left over? Is there so much passing that you do not need LBs except on 1st down? In the past six seasons, there has been a tendency for slightly more passing attempts per game, but it is not significant enough to be a trend. When teams pass too much, they get one-dimensional and opposing defenses adjust and force those teams to balance with more run again. And considering that LBs are still needed for TEs and RBs in pass coverage, the role of these players is not going away by any stretch.
Giants Draft Choices in Round #1, Round #2
1998 S, WR
1999 OL, RB
2000 RB, DL
2002 TE, WR
2003 DL, DL
2004 QB, OL
2006 DL, WR
2007 CB, WR
There is only one position the Giants ignored with their first and/or second pick during this 10-year period … linebacker. (You have to go back to 1991, when the Giants picked Kanavis McGhee in the second round.) And it has been 24 years since the Giants drafted a LB #1: Carl Banks in 1984. The Giants have been extremely fortunate in recent years to anchor their LBs with players like 8th-rounder Jessie Armstead and free agents like Mike Barrow and Antonio Pierce. Mathias Kiwanuka was moved to LB because of need. Jerry Reese has been fabulous, but it is not rocket science to know that Kiwanuka moves better north (toward the QB) than south (to the TE). Kiwanuka is an impact lineman. He and Tuck will aid in the transition of Michael Strahan’s retirement. Accorsi might have been right to design a team that puts heat on the QB, gets talent on the corners, and plugs up with patchwork LBs, but you cannot totally neglect this position either. Since the NFL is a copycat league, you would expect pass rushing ends to go up in value. Does the NFL de-emphasize linebacking because of Accorsi’s actions? At this point it would appear that a high pick at (strongside) LB better be fast enough to blitz the QB or cover a TE to pay off the investment in today’s world of the pass.