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Giants could address linebacker need in early rounds of NFL draft

INDIANAPOLIS — When Joe Schoen lists priority areas he wants to improve and knows he needs to improve as he enters his second offseason at the Giants’ general manager, stopping the run on defense and finding at least a couple of starting-caliber inside linebackers is always near the top of the list.

It is not normally a position that is highlighted in the first round of the NFL draft.

At this point, the Giants, who own the No. 25-overall pick this year, can go a variety of different ways to pair value and need with that selection.

Wide receiver. Cornerback. Defensive tackle.

Add inside linebacker into the mix.

That has to intrigue the Giants, considering in 2022 they cycled through the likes of Tae Crowder, Austin Calitro, Micah McFadden, Jaylon Smith and Jarrad Davis.

Schoen pointed out that he picked up Davis in Week 16 of the season “and he starts two playoff games.”

That was a compliment directed at Davis and an indictment of what the Giants were working with.

Arkansas All-American linebacker Drew Sanders possibly could be a fit for the Giants and general manager Joe Schoen late in the first round of the NFL draft.

They released incumbent starter Blake Martinez in the summer and were dismayed when rookie Darrian Beavers, a sixth-round pick with a chance to play right away, tore up his knee in the preseason and spent his first year on injured reserve.

After that, it was a struggle to find competence at inside linebacker.

Is No. 25 too early for Drew Sanders, who started his college career at Alabama and blossomed at Arkansas?

Will Trenton Simpson of Clemson be there in the second round, at No. 57? Is Jack Campbell of Iowa worth a third-round pick — the Giants have two, No. 89 and No. 100 overall?

Sanders, at 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds, looks as if he could use a good meal or two. His draft stock rose significantly after he had 103 tackles and 9.5 sacks this past season at Arkansas, leading scouts to wonder if he will be a better inside linebacker or pass rusher in the NFL.

“That’s one of the first questions whenever I go in the room, where do I see myself in this league?” Sanders said of his meetings with NFL teams at the combine. “I always tell ’em it’s in the middle of the field.”

That is what Sanders told the Giants when they met with him Tuesday night.

Giants general manager Joe Schoen
Giants general manager Joe Schoen

“They kind of just took me through some film and some of their defense a little bit,” Sanders said. “It was just a good interview, it was kind of relaxed.”

Simpson, at 6-3 and 240 pounds, is one of those athletic players that some teams will salivate over and other teams will not see as a scheme fit.

Scouts call him a “position-less” defender and he is very much in a hybrid mold.

He also graduated from college in three years and proudly recites his father’s military résumé: “Twenty-six years, 17 deployments.”

Simpson had 165 tackles and 13 sacks during his time at Clemson and he knows what he brings to the field.

“I feel I’ll be the fastest linebacker here,” he said, predicting he will run in the 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash this week at the combine.

That speed could make Simpson attractive to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale as a spy-on-defense option — remember, the Giants must face Jalen Hurts of the Eagles twice a season.

Campbell is a bigger body at 6-5 and 246 pounds, a true middle linebacker who wants to make the defensive calls and stop the run.

He sees himself more than that, though, saying, “A linebacker has got to be amphibious.”


 Trenton Simpson #22 of the Clemson Tigers holds the trophy
Trenton Simpson could be a good fit for the Giants — if he’s still available.
Getty Images

“When I think of amphibious I think of a frog,” Campbell said. “You can go in the water and you can go in the land. At linebacker you got to play the run, you got to take on blocks and you got to be able to use your hands, you got to be violent back there but you also got to drop back into coverage.

“I’m going to have to be able to take on 330-pound guys, defeat them and then go tackle, let’s think of a back, I’ve got to go tackle Nick Chubb. And then the next play I’m going to have to go cover Tyreek Hill in the slot.”

One of these players could be the right fit for the Giants as they look to solve a major problem in the center of their defense.