Ryan Connelly’s rookie season with the New York Giants was prematurely cut short due to a torn ACL which limited his 2019 campaign to just four games. However, many feel that the linebacker put enough good play on film to cement himself in Big Blue’s starting-11 moving forward.
With Connelly on-track to be a full-go come training camp, most project him to slide in next to free-agent signee Blake Martinez as the team’s two starting inside backers. Yet, Giants.com’s John Schmeelk doesn’t see things playing out that way.
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David Mayo Projected to Start at LB for Giants
In a recent Giants Mailbag column, Schmeelk was presented with the question of what he believed New York’s starting front-seven would look like this coming season. Schmeelk’s answer saw your typical names such as Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence and Blake Martinez. However, it was the name penciled in next to Martinez which drew eyes, projecting under-the-radar linebacker David Mayo to beat out rookie standout Ryan Connelly.
Assuming you are asking about base defense personnel, if I had to guess right now, the starting linemen and linebackers on opening day will be:
Defensive Line: Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, Dexter Lawrence
Linebackers: Lorenzo Carter (edge), Blake Martinez, David Mayo, Kyler Fackrell (edge)
Mayo Broke Out in 2019
Mayo, who the Giants inked to a new three-year extension this offseason following a breakout 2019 campaign, is no stranger to roaming sideline-to-sideline for Big Blue’s defense.
In his first season with the Giants, Mayo appeared in all 16 games, starting 13, while finishing with career-highs in tackles (82), tackles for loss (5) and sacks (2). Mayo’s production was a shocking, yet welcomed surprise for the linebacker-needy defense. Prior to 2019, Mayo spent four underwhelming seasons as a member of the Carolina Panthers, in which he recorded no more than 19 tackles in any year.
Mayo proved to be one of New York’s most consistent performers a season ago, as well as one of the NFL’s most dominant run defenders.
As shown in the tweet below, Mayo was elite defending the run, posting a 90.7 run defense grade by Christmas Eve. According to Pro Football Focus, Mayo’s numbers at the time were the second-best grade given to any qualifying linebacker.
Coverage Ability the Main Question for Both LBs
Connelly’s draft status will likely play into New York’s decision. Connelly was handpicked by current general manager Dave Gettleman in the 5th-round last season in hopes he would develop into the answer at linebacker for the Giants.
Connelly looked to be well on his way there, beginning to show glimpses of brilliance prior to his injury. In Connelly’s final game of 2019, the same game in which he suffered a torn ACL, the linebacker accumulated five combined tackles, one sack and one interception.
Yet, it’s also worth noting that Mayo’s ties to Gettleman go back to one another’s Carolina days when the GM pulled the trigger on Mayo in the 5th-round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
In reality, the decision for which player mans the linebacker spot next to Martinez likely boils down to who can show improved play in the passing game.
New York has been desperate for a coverage linebacker for years. Mayo struggled mightily in that role in 2019, leading to him assuming a two-down role towards the latter end of the season. However, Connelly didn’t show much better in coverage, albeit in a limited sample size.
Connelly likely has a slight lead at the moment, mainly due to his upside. However, expect both players to see the field plenty in 2020. Yet, if neither show improvement in coverage, don’t be surprised if a player such as 6th-round pick Cam Brown eats into their snaps.
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