If you follow me at all, you know the New York Giants haven't drafted a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks in 1984. This is not a coincidence. This is a deep-seated organizational philosophy about what is and is not a premium position. The Giants have long believed they could solve linebacker without devoting high-end resources (meaning early draft picks and big free-agent dollars) to the position. Sometimes they've succeeded, other times they have struggled, but this is 30-plus years of actively avoiding the position in the first round because they prioritize other positions, including quarterback, wide receiver, left tackle, cornerback and pass-rusher.
Could that all change this year? Sort of.
The Giants are in the midst of a defensive rebuild and need more high-end talent on that side of the ball. They spent exorbitant money on the first day of free agency on cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and defensive end Olivier Vernon because they project all of those players to play at a higher level than they've already achieved. They believe those players, all of whom have shown they can play in the league, have the talent inside of them to play like even bigger stars going forward.
Expect them to do the same in the draft -- find a defensive player who's shown high-end ability and projects, in their minds, to show even more going forward. The example I have in mind these days is Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd.
Yes, Floyd is technically a linebacker, and technically he would break the Carl Banks streak. But the reason he's a first-round pick is because of his abilities as a pass-rusher. In the Giants' world, he could be a strongside (or "SAM") linebacker on early downs who could move up to the line as an additional pass-rusher on early downs. They are looking for a player like this, to the extent that they even expressed interest last week in free agent O'Brien Schofield -- the player they signed for that role two years ago before failing him on his physical and scuttling the deal. (He told them thanks but no thanks this year, obviously.) Someone like Floyd, even if he doesn't play linebacker for the Giants right away, could help in sub packages as a rookie when they need an extra pass-rusher. At 6-foot-6, 244 pounds, the hope would be that he could add bulk and possibly build himself into a full-time defensive lineman.
The knock on Floyd is that he's too thin and that his strength in certain areas suffers as a result. But again, if you project him to gain weight, you take him for his speed and array of pass-rush moves and you work on the rest. It's the draft. It's about long-term answers, not short-term fixes.
I'm not saying Floyd will be the pick at No. 10. But I do know, based on conversations I had at the combine and have had since, that he's a player the Giants like a lot. He tested great at the combine, with a 4.60 40-yard dash, a 10'7'' broad jump and a 39.5-inch vertical. The Giants love players who flash top-of-their-position physical traits at the combine. (Remember them lauding Ereck Flowers’ 37 bench press reps after drafting him last year.) Given the kind of player he is and the way they draft, it's not a stretch to imagine someone like Floyd as their first-round pick. Yes, even though he's a linebacker.
See, if the Giants are going to break this 31-year streak and finally take a first-round linebacker, it's not going to because they've decided they need a 4-3 linebacker. It's going to be because the guy they take is a ready-made pass-rusher who projects, in their minds, based on his raw athletic ability, to be much more.