2019 Season Rewind
As a former walk-on at Wisconsin, it took linebacker Ryan Connelly two years to earn his first start for the Badgers. But as a professional, Connelly was inserted into the Giants' starting lineup one week into his NFL career.
The 2019 fifth-round draft pick was more than up for the task. Showing tremendous play recognition, anticipation and a compact movement that enabled him to play much faster than his combine measurables suggested, Connelly recorded two tackles, one for loss, in his first NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1.
The very next week, Connelly replaced Tae Davis on the depth chart as the Giants' starting inside linebacker against the Buffalo Bills and continued to show a propensity for finding the ball and making plays.
In Week 3 in Tampa Bay, Connelly emerged as one of the biggest defensive playmakers on the field. He became a difference-maker, making seven tackles and snagging his first career interception in the fourth quarter. The interception was also a timely one, as the Buccaneers had the ball in Giants' territory with a 28-25 lead.
It wouldn't be the last timely play Connelly had to make, though, as the Bucs got the ball back and drove to the Giants' seven-yard line. With the game on the line on 3rd-and-2, Connelly made a first-down and possibly touchdown-saving tackle on Peyton Barber for no gain.
With Connelly having quickly secured a spot in the starting lineup, it all came crashing down the following week. In his third career start at home against Washington, things started well as he snagged another interception, recorded his first career sack, and racked up five total tackles. But then he tore his right ACL in the fourth quarter on an attempted tackle of quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
A promising rookie campaign was rudely ended, but the good news is that he will be almost a year out of his surgery and should be good to go for 2020.
If Connelly makes a strong recovery from the ACL tear, he could emerge as a top option to start again in 2020 alongside veteran Blake Martinez at inside linebacker.
Connelly's awareness and mental processing ability to diagnose a play pre-snap is one of his greatest strengths as a linebacker and could make him a central cerebral figure in Patrick Graham's defense.
The linebacker's combination of size, length, and short-area burst made for contributions to the run defense last year, making Connelly more of a two-down linebacker. He and Martinez can combine to be one of the NFC East's best run-stopping inside linebacker tandem if Connelly can retain that burst coming off the injury.
Connelly did flash ball skills last year, but has more to prove as a coverage linebacker as his heavy feet in his backpedal could prove to be a mismatch against faster tight ends and receivers on man coverage.
The biggest question regarding Connelly is if he can stay healthy. Before last season's ACL injury, Connelly was forced to undergo surgery on nagging core muscle injury that prematurely ended his career at Wisconsin.
Now with two major surgeries in as many years, can he hold up to the pounding of the NFL?