Starting Inside Linebacker
Projected winner: Ryan Connelly
Ryan Connelly was well on his way to being a fifth-round steal in the 2019 NFL Draft until his knee crumbled against Washington. Connelly is smart, instinctive and has a nose for the football. He is expected to recover and be 100 percent for training camp. In four games last season (three starts), Connelly produced 20 tackles, two interceptions and one sack. He exhibited a nice sense in choosing the right moments to shoot the gaps and create havoc for opposing running backs.
David Mayo stepped in when Connelly was lost for the season and played well. Mayo finished first per PFF for Giants linebackers in stopping the run. However, Mayo is a not a three down inside ‘backer as he struggles in coverage. While Mayo is an admirable role player, Connelly should emerge from this battle if healthy.
Projected winner: Julian Love
Challenger(s): Grant Haley, Darnay Holmes
Yes, Julian Love’s name appears again. That’s because TGI believes (well, one half of TGI – me) that Sam Beal will be the corner opposite of James Bradberry, moving Love to the slot position. Love was mainly an outside corner at Notre Dame but also received many snaps at the slot position, giving the second-year Love the edge. Joe Judge should realize rather quickly that Love needs to be on the field, as his versatility will be an attractive trait to the new head coach as well as defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. Expect to see Love lined up everywhere, with his main position just off the line of scrimmage.
Grant Haley is a tough, physical player for his size. Haley plays the run well, taking on running backs much bigger than him. The problem with Haley is that he struggles in coverage. Haley surrendered a 70 percent completion rate in pass attempts last season, which resulted in him being benched for Corey Ballentine.
Fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes will challenge Love for the right to take on opposing teams’ third receivers and tight ends. Holmes is a confident young man. His size and strength are ideal for the slot position. Holmes started 33 games for the UCLA Bruins, finishing with over 120 tackles. Holmes is smart, even learning the game of chess to help keep him one step ahead of his opponent.