Welcome to the second installment of who the New York Giants should take with the 23rd pick in this year’s draft. In the first article offensive tackle prospects for the Giants were discussed. In this article the linebackers are handled.
Who Should the New York Giants Draft at No. 23? Reuben Foster, Zach Cunningham or Jarrad Davis?
It seems like every year the G-Men go into the draft needing a linebacker, but they never draft one. Could this year be different? There are three linebackers being discussed as potential prospects for the Giants. Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham and Florida’s Jarrad Davis. Below four categories are looked at to determine which linebacker is the best fit for the Giants. First, their basics, which includes their height, weight, athletic ability and accolades are discussed. Their ability against the run is discussed next, followed by their ability on third down. Lastly, their intangibles, overall grade and scheme fit are looked at.
Foster seems to be the most popular. He is 6’0 and weighs 229 pounds. Overall, he’s a little small. As for his athletic ability, no information can be derived from the Combine since Foster was sent home from the Combine in March. He was asked to leave the Combine after getting into an argument with the hospital staff in Indianapolis. Either way, he wouldn’t have been working out due to his right shoulder injury.
On film Foster is an excellent athlete. He has great agility, good speed, is coordinated and his explosiveness is great for a linebacker. He’s everything you’d want in a three down linebacker. Unfortunately for Foster, he’s had a bad string of injuries. He had a knee injury in December, a hand injury in January and a shoulder injury in March. Not good. What is good is his production. He won the Butkus Award this year, which is given to the nation’s “best” linebacker. He was also First Team All-American and First Team All-SEC.
Cunningham’s athletic ability is very similar to Reuben Foster’s. On film he showed the same kind of agility, explosiveness and acceleration. However, Foster was a bit better. Unlike Foster though, there are Combine numbers in addition to film for Cunningham.
Cunningham placed in the top 10 in linebackers in both the 40-yard dash and the 3-Cone drill; the two drills meant to measure speed and agility. Although Foster is a bit more athletic, Cunningham is much bigger. He is 6’3 and weighs 234 pounds. Cunningham was a Butkus Award finalist this year and was also First Team All-American and First Team All-SEC. He also added another First Team All-SEC in 2015.
Davis, like Foster, also did not participate in the Combine. Davis sat out due to an ankle injury, but he performed well at his pro day. However, pro day numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. On film Davis matched Cunningham in terms of acceleration, explosiveness and speed. Cunningham and Foster are more agile, but Davis is still pretty good in that area. Like Foster, Davis has been banged up a bit and his injuries may be more long term. Davis missed almost all of 2014 with a knee injury and he missed significant time this year with an ankle injury. He was also a Butkus Award finalist and was still Second Team All-SEC even with his injuries.
Ability vs. the Run
Starting with Foster, his ability against the run was pretty solid in college. According to ProFootballFocus’ Run Stop % statistic, he’s the best of the three.
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And ProFootballFocus was probably correct there. Foster’s ability to read plays and diagnosis them was excellent in 2016. Even when he didn’t diagnosis it at the rate he usually does, his acceleration and explosiveness allowed him to fill the hole before the ball carrier could do anything. Foster did have some trouble shedding blocks, but his athletic ability and mental ability allowed him to react to the play before the lineman could even get there. He’s also a tackling machine who can lay the wood.
ProFootballFocus is also probably correct that Cunningham is second best in this category out of these three players. However, the gap probably isn’t that close. Like Foster, Cunningham fills the hole well and he has some issues with shedding blocks. The biggest issue with him though is, that for a linebacker with 125 tackles, he’s that good of a tackler. On film it’s easy to see that Cunningham relied on gang tackling a lot because he tackled too high. He did have some clutch tackles on film, but you’d expect him to be better than what he was.
Davis, like Foster and Cunningham, was also good at filling the hole and had issues with shedding blocks. However, he was not nearly as good at filling the hole as were Cunningham and Foster. Davis’ real strength was stopping the run play going away from him. His athletic ability and his motor allowed him to be a beast on those plays.
Ability on Third Down
The same athletic ability that allowed Davis to be so good at stopping run plays going away from him, allowed him to be a real asset on third down. He’s a good blitzer but where he shines is in coverage. On film Davis was able to hang deep with tight ends, swatting passes away like he was a defensive back. In zone coverage he did a fantastic job reading the quarterbacks eyes and undercutting passes. That’s why Davis has more pass break ups last year than both Cunningham and Foster while playing less games than them.
Cunningham is not a good pass rusher and he had zero sacks in 2016. He is good in coverage. He looks fluid in his coverage drops and his awareness is pretty good overall, but he’s not as good as is Davis. He can’t hang deep with tight-ends like Davis. He’s more of a traditional coverage linebacker in that he’s fine in coverage when it comes to underneath and short passes.
Foster, in an attempt to overshadow Davis, not only hung with tight-ends but also covered receivers at times. He was phenomenal in man coverage and was disciplined in zone coverage. He could cover both running backs and tight ends with no issues, as well as receivers on short routes, but a team, including Giants shouldn’t expect him to excel at covering receivers going deep.
The Giants have a decent outside linebacker in Devon Kennard and that’s about it. For the Giants to use a first-round pick on a linebacker it’s going to have to be for an inside linebacker. Of the three linebackers in question, only Foster and Cunningham are really inside linebackers in a 4-3 scheme. Of those two, Foster is clearly the better player. However, his off the field issues are a serious problem. He failed drug test, was dismissed from the Combine and has a recent injury history.
Those things can’t be ignored, but are they enough to warrant picking Cunningham over him? No, they are not. Foster is in a league of his own when it comes to linebackers in this class. If all three are available for the Giants at 23, then Foster will have to be the pick if the Giants are going to go linebacker. However, the Giants are not known for taking players with character issues and it appears the Giants prefer Jarrad Davis.