Was there any question that in signing former Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez, the Giants vastly upgraded the middle of the defense over what they had the year prior?
Martinez started all 16 games, and called the defense. In addition to his tackle total, he tacked on three sacks, 1 INT, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery, as well as five passes defensed.
Unlike in Green Bay, where a good chunk of his tackles came downfield, Martinez's tackles in his first Giants season came at or near the line of scrimmage as he showed no hesitation in attacking his gaps.
According to data from NFL Savant, 104 of Martinez's 151 total tackles (68.8%) were made within five yards of the line of scrimmage. And according to Pro Football Focus, Martinez recorded 58 stops for zero or negative yardage (38.4%), tying his personal best first set in 2017.
That's about as solid linebacker play as there was in last year's NFL and was a big reason why the Giants run defense finished 11th in the league (111.4 yards per game).
What He Brings
Martinez’s strengths are his quick run reads and the ability to attack the proper gaps with the discipline and technique to finish off those reads.
Martinez does a very good job keying and diagnosing blocking schemes and reacting well when coming downhill towards the line of scrimmage.
He has active hands, plays with good leverage when taking on blocks, and can generate solid jolt with good power.
While one of his "negatives" is average foot speed, he does make up for that by quickly processing what's in front of him, which allows him to play faster and react quicker to what's unfolding so that there's little to no time wasted in his deciding what to do.
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It's also fair to say that because he wasn't asked to guard tight ends in man coverage very often, there may have been some concerns with his athleticism.
That being said, his intellect makes him a great fit for the cerebral machinations of defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. Martinez did everything at the second level of the defense and did so at a high and reliably consistent level.
His 151 total tackles were third in the league (oddly enough, the top four tacklers in the league were linebackers who played on losing teams).
He is a solid communicator and delivered on his intention to be a rock for his defensive teammates. And if you need another reason to like him as a football player, consider he's a solid Blitzer and a fundamentally sound tackler as well.
Martinez originally signed a three-year contract worth up to $30.75 million. Ahead of Year 2 of his deal, Martinez agreed to a contract restructure, which converted $7 million in salary to a signing bonus (which freed up $3.5 million in cap room).
While Martinez's 2021 cap number dropped to $6.725 million in 2021, his 2022 number will jump up to $14 million.
Martinez turned out to be a staple in the Giants defense last year, playing in nearly every snap. There is no reason to believe that he won't continue in his role this coming season.
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