The New York Giants defense is in for a much-welcomed boost. Projected starting linebacker and 2019’s returning leading tackler, David Mayo, made his much-awaited return to the practice field on Thursday.
Mayo has missed the season’s first four games after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in late August. Mayo’s return to the practice field starts a 21-day clock for the Giants to re-add the linebacker to their active roster. However, it may take New York far less time to come to that decision. Mayo is eligible to be activated as early as this Sunday, in time for Big Blue’s divisional bout against the Dallas Cowboys, a scenario that The Athletic’s Dan Duggan sees as plausible.
Yet, while Mayo’s return to New York’s active roster may be inevitable, his return to the team’s starting lineup is anything but that.
Should the Giants Play Rookie Tae Crowder Over Mayo?
Zack Rosenblatt of North Jersey Advanced Media certainly thinks so, as evident by this tweet following the news of Mayo’s return:
Tae Crowder should remain the #Giants starter at LB over David Mayo.
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) October 8, 2020
Crowder, the NFL’s reigning Mr. Irrelevant, got his first real taste of NFL game action a week ago and flashed enough promise to get Rosenblatt, Giants fans and even head coach Joe Judge excited about his prospects moving forward.
“I’m pleased with the progress Tae is making,” Judge said of the former Georgia standout on Monday. “I think we have a lot of young guys right now on the roster who are at least starting to come around. You can kind of see a difference in their eyes, which is kind of natural for them to have after some experience on the field. They’re acclimating a little bit to not only the speed of the game on the field, but the speed of the game in the classroom, the speed of the game how you have to carry it from the classroom to practice, and it’s kind of slowing down for them a little bit.”
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What is Big Blue’s Taste?
In reality, Crowder and Mayo are simply two different animals. Mayo is a stout 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pound bruiser that shines in run defense, namely operating between the tackles. In his first season with the Giants a season ago, he appeared in all 16 games (13 starts) finishing with career-highs in tackles (82), tackles for loss (5) and sacks (2). Pro Football Focus graded Mayo as the NFL’s second-best run defender at his position in 2019. With that said, Mayo was constantly picked on for his limitations in pass coverage.
Crowder, on the other hand, is a nimble 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound converted running back out of Georgia. The rookie didn’t start in Week 4, but that will likely change this Sunday, after logging a career-high 33 snaps against the Rams. Crowder made the most of those snaps, flashing big-time explosiveness and atypical athleticism when compared to Giants linebackers in recent memory.
As a blitzer, Crowder forced numerous errant throws by quarterback Jared Goff. While in coverage, he snagged an interception which was later overturned by official review.
More than likely the answer as to who plays alongside Blake Martinez for the Giants defense is likely both. Don’t be surprised to see Mayo etched in as the team’s starter, play predominantly on early downs and running situations. However, also don’t be surprised if Crowder out snaps Mayo on a week to week basis, as Crowder’s skillset is far more conducive in defending modern-day NFL offenses.
While we have to wait and see if any of these linebackers can stake claim to starting job, one thing has become evidently clear. That is that Devante Downs is no longer in the running. Starting each of the first four games of the season, Downs has the worst tackling grade among linebackers, per Pro Football Focus. He also logged just four snaps this past Sunday before being pushed aside for Crowder for the remainder of the evening.
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