The New York Giants knew what they were getting when they traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for linebacker Keith Rivers last offseason. Rivers was an incredibly athletic specimen with a complete inability to stay healthy, as he had missed the entire 2011 season with a wrist injury. Although the team hoped the former first-round pick out of USC would be able to break out of his shell this year, Rivers saw limited playing time in just 11 games while making 44 tackles.
The Giants did not get what they wanted out of Rivers this season. His presence on the field was inconsistent at best, which made it hard to keep him incorporated into the defensive gameplan. When he was able to play, he seemed lost at times and inhibited the defense's ability to operate at full strength. As Rivers enters free agency, he is hoping that he can sign another short term contract that will allow him to prove his ability.
The question now for the Giants is whether they should further pursue Rivers. Obviously, he was a disappointment last year and he did not develop into the player many thought he would become. However, he has tantalizing potential that has not been harnessed by any of his coaches throughout his four-year career. Perhaps, if his athleticism hasn't translated into production by now, it never will. But is that a chance the Giants can afford to take?
The depth chart at linebacker is thin. With the potential departure of Michael Boley, it's only going to get thinner. Rivers is a young, athletic, versatile player that has all the physical tools to develop into an impact player on the defensive side of the ball. He has yet to demonstrate an ability to stay healthy, but that doesn't mean next season can't be the year he puts it together. After a year in Perry Fewell's scheme, Rivers has the potential to return in 2013 with an advanced knowledge of the defense and all the talent necessary to excel within it.
Furthermore, Rivers can play either the MIKE linebacker position of at the WILL, which would allow the Giants to continue integrating Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger into the rotation. Unless the Giants use an early round draft pick on a promising linebacker prospect, Rivers' presence would not inhibit the team's ability to develop the younger players on the roster. Even if he doesn't play well enough to merit significant playing time, Rivers would still be a valuable asset on special teams.
There should be room on Big Blue's roster next season for Keith Rivers. He is too athletic to let some other team scoop up and develop him into a productive player. The Giants' linebacker corp. is thin, which makes it worth bringing Rivers back on a cheap, short term contract. Obviously, his injury history his alarming and could preclude him from attaining his true potential. But that is a chance the Giants should be willing to take this offseason.
If Rivers is resigned, the worst case scenario is that he gets injured again and the team cuts their losses at the end of the season. However, if he plays the way his athleticism should allow him to, then the Giants will have found an impact linebacker capable of guarding some of the most dangerous tight ends in the NFL. That's a valuable commodity, but it remains to be seen if Jerry Reese still thinks Rivers can develop into that kind of player.
Photo Credit: Mike Gannon
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