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Palladino: It's High Time For Giants To Draft A Linebacker In First Round

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

This could be the year.

This should be the year.

If ever the Giants needed a great draft, it is now.

And it should start with a linebacker.

Coming off consecutive 6-10 seasons, with a new head coach in Ben McAdoo, and a juiced-up defense thanks to a $204 million spending spree that brought free agent pass-rusher Olivier Vernon, run-stopper Damon Harrison, and cover cornerback Janoris Jenkins, general manager Jerry Reese needs to make one more splash before this team gets down to the physical business of the season.

He needs a fantastic draft. And that draft should start with the Giants running the name of a linebacker up to commissioner Roger Goodell at No. 10.

MORE: Giants' Mara Looking For Big Draft After Productive Free Agency

If that happens, many who crowd Chicago's Auditorium Theater will utter, "Well, it's about time."

And it will be. The last time the Giants drafted a first-round linebacker came in 1984, when George Young plucked a fellow named Carl Banks out of Michigan State with the third pick overall.

That one worked out pretty well. Banks wound up teaming with a No. 2 pick from 1981 named Lawrence Taylor to win two Super Bowls while forming a legendary linebacking corps that also included folks like Pepper Johnson and Gary Reasons.

Since then, a couple of lower picks have made impacts. Johnson, a second-rounder, was a good one. Jessie Armstead, an eighth-round pick in 1993 who would go undrafted in the current format, hunted quarterbacks with Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan on the 2000 Super Bowl team.

But for the most part, the Giants haven't had much luck drafting that position. Think Clint Sintim. Think Jaquain Williams.

It's time for that to change.

It's time to stop fooling around and get themselves an impact, three-down linebacker who will not only stabilize that still-shaky group, but lead it into the future.

It's not like they won't have choices. The first-round linebacker crop is deep enough that at least a couple or three of the class' best will fall to the Giants. It all depends on what happens before their pick. But after the Rams shipped off nearly two years of their future to go from 15 to the Titans' top pick, presumably to select either North Dakota quarterback Carson Wentz or Cal thrower Jared Goff, the first round appears wide open.

Since three quarterbacks could go in the top seven -- San Francisco could be looking QB at No. 7 depending on how their tenuous situation with Colin Kaepernick resolves itself -- a guy like UCLA's Myles Jack could wind up going later than expected. Jack is regarded as the second-best prospect in this class, a notch behind Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith, whose 2016 season might be lost to the left knee reconstruction he had after blowing out his ACL and MCL in the Fiesta Bowl.

Jack has his own knee problem to consider. But he, unlike Smith, could be a Day 1 starter this season. And considering all the attention Reese paid to the front four, they could certainly use his dream blend of speed, power, and athleticism to add another pass-rush option to the weak side. And he can cover tight ends and running backs, for years a weak spot in the Giants' defense.

The list doesn't stop with Jack.

Alabama's Reggie Ragland is by trade an inside guy, but he showed ability as an outside blitzer during the Senior Bowl practices. Either way, he was regarded as a leader and producer with sideline-to-sideline ability, and would look awfully good on the strong side or, eventually, the middle.

Ohio State's Darron Lee terrorized Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. If they put a little more mass on his 6-foot-1, 232-pound frame, the Giants could have themselves their weak side linebacker of the future.

Then there is the most intriguing of the bunch. Georgia's Leonard Floyd is long and lean at 6-6, 245, not the typical build for a linebacker. But the young man can rush the passer.

On top of that, his versatility is almost beyond comprehension. The Bulldogs played him all over the place -- weak side, strong side, middle, up front with his hand on the ground, and even wide covering the slot receiver.

The combination could be too enticing to pass up. And that would be OK, because even with the free agent additions of inside linebackers Keenan Robinson and, in a lower-level signing, Kelvin Sheppard, the only player standing between the unit's moderate success and abject failure is Devon Kennard. And his own injury history has led to just as much watching as playing.

The Giants need one more impact move this offseason. As much as for the team, Reese needs it for the sake of his own job security.

Taking an offensive lineman like Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley doesn't get that done. Nor does grabbing Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell to serve as second banana to Odell Beckham, Jr.

Get one of those linebackers, though, and it's a different story.

It's time to stop fooling around.

After a lot of later-round mediocrity since Banks in 1984, it's high time to go high-impact linebacker in the first round.

The situation cries for it.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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