Devon Kennard's health is the key to Giants' linebacker jumble

Quick: Name the New York Giants' projected three starting linebackers for 2016.

Yeah, neither can I.

Middle linebacker could be Jasper Brinkley, Keenan Robinson or even rookie B.J. Goodson. The starter on the weak side could be J.T. Thomas, Jonathan Casillas or Kelvin Sheppard, the last of whom also could be a candidate to start in the middle.

On the strong side, the picture seems clearer, with third-year linebacker Devon Kennard the clear projected starter ... as long as he stays healthy. But that last part is critical and uncertain enough to throw even that part of the Giants' linebacker plan into question.

Kennard has missed 11 games over his first two NFL seasons due to a variety of foot and leg injuries. There is legitimate concern in the Giants' braintrust about Kennard's ability to stay healthy, and some concern that the injuries he's already had may have deprived him of the explosive ability he showed in his 2014 rookie season. And if that's the case, they have a problem, because Kennard at his best offers something the Giants don't have anywhere else in their linebacker corps.

When healthy, Kennard represents an additional pass-rusher who can get after the quarterback from the defense's second level and can move up to the line on obvious passing downs. This is an important position in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defense. It is the position they had in mind for Georgia's Leonard Floyd when they were considering using their first-round pick on him last month. And one of the reasons they had their eye on Floyd, who went to the Bears one pick before their first-round selection, was their concern about Kennard and his ability to stay on the field.

"I'm really not worried about the past," Kennard said in April. "Everybody wants to put that statement on me. There were some unfortunate deals, some hamstrings, but that's all behind me now and I'm not worried about any of that."

Until Kennard gets on the field and shows he can play the way he did in 12 games in his rookie season, the Giants have one more puzzle to solve at linebacker.

They signed Robinson, who also has an injury history, in the hope that he could start in the middle. But they drafted Goodson in the fourth round because they believe he has the ability to develop into the on-field leader Spagnuolo needs his middle linebacker to be. Goodson might need some time before he's ready to be an NFL starter, but the Giants started Uani Unga there in Week 1 last season because they didn't have any other options. If Robinson isn't healthy, it's not out of the question that Goodson could overtake incumbent Brinkley for the starting role.

Thomas and Casillas both played for the Giants last year, and while Thomas had injury issues himself, he's earned respect in the locker room and could be an on-field leader from his spot if he's out there.

But the best player in the jumbled group of Giants linebackers is Kennard, who has shown the ability to be a difference-maker at a position where the Giants haven't had many in recent years. As much as any player in camp this spring and summer, Kennard is one whose health is worth watching.