It hasn’t even taken a full season and linebacker Blake Martinez is already proving to be one of the best NY Giants linebackers in a long, long time.
NY Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has been rightly criticized for a laundry list of bad roster moves since his tenure began, but signing Blake Martinez this past off-season is definitely not one of them.
Through the first nine games of the season, Martinez leads the entire NFL with 92 total tackles. He’s registered double-digit tackles in four of those nine games to go along with 6 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits, and 2 sacks. Pro Football Focus has Martinez ranked No. 1 in the NFL in STOPS with 38 and had him as the fifth-highest graded linebacker in the league heading into last week.
There is no denying that the addition of Martinez has been one of the biggest reasons for the Giants’ defensive resurgence in 2020, particularly in recent weeks. Though the team record might not show it, the defense has given this team a chance to win in almost every week, ranking 13th in points/game, 6th in rush yards/game, and 8th in total sacks.
Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham and the emergence of fellow free agent signing James Bradberry have also played a huge role, but Martinez stands out by playing at an elite level for a position that the Giants have not seen in a very long time.
Coming into the 2020 season, the G-Men and their faithful were hoping to see the emergence of last year’s fifth-round NFL Draft pick Ryan Connelly. In the first four games of 2019 before suffering a torn ACL, Connelly recorded 20 total tackles, a sack, and 2 interceptions. He showed a lot of upside, especially in the pass game, and was a surprise cut in September as the final 53-man roster was announced.
With Connelly gone, the interior linebacker unit seemed relatively thin outside of Martinez, who had a lot of pressure and eyes on him after signing a 3-year, $30 million contract in the off-season.
Just a few years removed from Gettleman’s failed Alec Ogletree experiment, would Blake Martinez perform the way he did in Green Bay and live up to his ‘tackling machine’ moniker?
Uh, yes. Yes he would.
From the first game of the season, where he notched 12 tackles vs the Super Bowl contending Steelers, through last weekend, Martinez has showed up as not just a playmaker, but as the leader and quarterback of this defense.
It is this combination of leadership, high football IQ, and knack to find the football that makes Martinez the best NY Giants linebacker since the Antonio Pierce era of 2005-2009.
Pierce is an all-time fan favorite and served as the anchor of the NY Giants defense for five seasons, including the 2007 Super Bowl team. He tallied 100+ tackles in his first three seasons with the franchise, including a career-high 139 in 2006.
His resume with the Giants includes 491 total tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 4 interceptions, 6 forced fumbles, 1 Pro-Bowl, and 1 Super Bowl ring.
Since the Antonio Pierce era ended in 2009:
- No Giants linebacker has made a Pro-Bowl since Pierce in 2006
- Only 1 Giants linebacker has surpassed 100 tackles in a season – Jameel McClain in 2014 (117).
- No linebacker has led the team in tackles in consecutive seasons since Pierce did it in 2006-2007.
It was the consistency and leadership that Pierce brought to the MLB position that elevated the play of everyone around him, which is exactly what we are now seeing with Blake Martinez.
After next week’s game, Martinez will surpass 100 tackles for the fourth straight season and will likely end the season with the most tackles by a NY Giant since Pierce’s 139 from 14 seasons ago. On top of that, he should not only be selected to his first career Pro-Bowl, but has a great chance of landing an All-Pro selection as well.
And just in case you haven’t grasped how well Martinez has played thus far, if Martinez finished the season as the league’s top tackler, while it would be the second time in his career he would earn the honor, it would also be the first time ever (at least ever recorded) that a Giant led the league in tackles.
While the tackles and plays he’s been making are impressive enough by themselves, it is the consistency and ability to quarterback the defense that makes him extremely valuable. It’s refreshing to know that each series of each game, we have a competent linebacker that is going to get guys in position and give this defense the best chance to do their jobs.
Being only 26, Martinez is in a perfect position to solidify a possible long-term contract extension after next season. With such a strong start to his Big Blue career, a repeat performance next year leading what should be an improved defense would make it hard for the front office to not begin extension talks before his last contract year.
Although the NY Giants are 2-7 (and amazingly not yet out of the division race), there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the future, and watching Blake Martinez anchor the defense instead of David Mayo, Alec Ogletree, or Calvin Munson is one of them.