- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Giants will be picking in the heart of the draft at 15th overall on Thursday. And their biggest need is to replace the heart and soul of their defense -- Antonio Pierce.
With Pierce's departure, middle linebacker has become the team's most pressing need. Giants general manager Jerry Reese will be on the prowl for linebackers in the 2010 draft. Reese insists the Giants may go for the best talent, which means they could draft a talented running back like Clemson's C.J. Spiller if he starts to slip, a solid offensive line prospect like Idaho guard Mike Iupati or yet another defensive end since the Giants can never have enough pass-rushers.
No matter what the Giants do in the first round, they almost certainly will come out of this draft with a linebacker. Reese expects big things out of last year's second-round pick, linebacker Clint Sintim. And while the Giants also have Jonathan Goff, Chase Blackburn, Bryan Kehl and Gerris Wilkinson to go with Michael Boley at linebacker, Tom Coughlin needs someone to step up and help fill the void left by Pierce in the middle.
Many experts believe the best candidate to do that in the draft is Alabama middle linebacker Rolando McClain. The 2009 Butkus Award winner is the consensus top linebacker in the draft.
Starting today, ESPNNewYork.com will take a look at three linebackers the Giants may look to in the 2010 draft -- starting with McClain. Since Reese says the Giants will not shy away from a linebacker who played in a 3-4 scheme, we took that into consideration.
Pos: Inside linebacker
STRENGTHS: McClain, who declared for the draft as a junior, has started since his freshman year. He knows how to win big games, leading Alabama to the national championship. And he also has been tutored by one of the best defensive minds in the game in Nick Saban.
McClain sounds a bit like Pierce on the field. He was the quarterback of the Crimson Tide's defense and did it as a freshman, constantly getting Saban's defense aligned and in position. He's been described as a film junkie and a powerful tackler. According to Scouts Inc., McClain locates the ball quickly, has sound gap discipline and has good recognition, specifically when it comes to screens. He has "above-average" lateral mobility, is a sound form tackler and reads quarterbacks' eyes and routes well. He's been praised for his instincts.
"I love Ray Lewis," McClain said at the NFL combine. "I like the way he plays the game. Not just his play but the way he's able to get the guys up. He's inspirational and he's a real leader. That's why I pride myself after him."
WEAKNESSES: McClain has good speed but not elite speed. He ran a 4.6 at Alabama's pro day. Some wonder about McClain's transition from Saban's aggressive 3-4 defensive scheme to, say, the Giants' 4-3 defense.
His coverage skills have been described as "stiff" and "limited."
At Alabama's Pro Day, McClain also revealed that he suffered from Crohn's disease. The linebacker said that the gastrointestinal disorder, and not a hamstring injury that kept him from working out at the combine, bothered him during his workout.
But on Saturday, McClain told Alabama reporters that doctors have recently decided that he does not suffer from Crohn's. McClain didn't miss a single practice in three years at Alabama.
"In all my talks with my doctors in the past two weeks, with all the tests we've done, they don't even feel I have Crohn's disease," McClain told The Birmingham News. "There's no way to really tell. The tests came out good and positive. Every team knows it's not going to affect me at all."
KIPER'S TAKE: "McClain is the top inside linebacker in the draft, and the Giants should be happy to grab him at No. 15. A fiery leader, instinctive and a great tackler, McClain's diagnostic skills point to great coaching." -- Mel Kiper, ESPN draft analyst
Next up: Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham.
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
13hEric D. Williams