This was 10 p.m. on a Thursday in Indianapolis three weeks ago when Devin White walked into the makeshift NFL Combine war room of the New York Giants inside the downtown Crowne Plaza hotel.
Shortly thereafter, following a handful of hellos and brief introductions, White’s 15-minute opportunity to convince the Giants he was worthy of their attention and further evaluation in the near future got serious.
“It was the last formal [meeting] of the night,” White recalled during his Combine interview session. “And we watched straight film. They didn’t tell me nothing, we watched straight film. ‘What were you doing right here? Oh, this was a good play. What was this? Tell me what was going on. Draw this up.’ It was straight football, strictly business and I know they were picking my brain, trying to see was I the linebacker that can go out there and control everything. Did I know what I was doing at LSU? And I think I put on a show for ’em.’’That show of which White remains one of the headliners continues Friday on campus in Baton Rouge for the LSU Pro Day. One of the most impressive prospects on and off the field is projected to be a Top 10 selection, and White has all the intangibles for which the Giants are looking to build around.
Strong leadership qualities. Speed. Physicality.
The hunger to win. A hatred of losing.
Of all the options facing the Giants with the No. 6 pick in next month’s NFL Draft, the one that represents some of the most intrigue revolves around this question:
Can White be to the Giants’ defense what Saquon Barkley was (and is) to the offense?
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman must weigh the answer to that question against the possibility of finding a franchise quarterback (Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins or Drew Lock, among others), fortifying the offensive line (Jonah Williams, Jawaan Taylor) or choosing from a group of defensive linemen and edge players regarded as one of the best in quite some time (Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams and Josh Allen, among others).
The Giants have not taken a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks with the second overall pick in 1984. The difference is, with White, he’s more of an inside linebacker who can play in space and not an edge rusher.
It’s not that he can’t get after the quarterback, but that’s not necessarily the part of his skill set that gets the most praise.In today’s NFL, the presence of quality players such as Luke Kuechly in Carolina — Gettleman still raves about Kuechly from his time there — and the Cowboys’ ascending tandem of Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith help solve matchup problems opposing offenses seek out and aim to exploit.
“You can’t be a guy that shies away from leadership. You can’t be a guy that doesn’t study and knows what he is doing on the field,” White said. “You’re the quarterback of that defense. You have to be a playmaker and an absolute stud. I am not shy. I have to be able to go into the league, win guys over and start leading those guys.”
White had the presence and production in college to warrant that respect, finishing with more than 120 tackles in each of his two seasons leading the Tigers as a captain whose voice carried the necessary weight to have an impact.
He dominated with his sideline to sideline speed and pursuit, earning recognition as a consensus All-American and the 2018 Butkus Award recipient, awarded to the nation’s best linebacker. White lived up to the hype with an impressive on-field performance at the Combine that included a 40-yard dash of 4.42 seconds, the best mark for his position group.
“It is tough to hide out there when you have a linebacker who can’t cover. So to me you start right there,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of the 6-foot, 237-pound White. “He’s going to be able to run and cover and help match up against some of the better tight ends and even some of these backs how they’re using the passing game. That’s a huge asset.”The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the fifth pick, and they have been viewed as the biggest suitors for White since Kwon Alexander departed in free agency for a four-year, $54 million with the San Francisco 49ers.
The draft doesn’t always go as expected, and if the Arizona Cardinals’ interest in quarterback Kyler Murray proves to be a well-orchestrated smokescreen, suddenly the Jets at No. 3 could become a willing trade partner for teams looking to move up.
There’s also the possibility that teams like the Denver Broncos (10), the Miami Dolphins (13) and the Washington Redskins (15) could seek out Tampa Bay for a swap if they believe the Giants’ interest in Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins is serious.
That, of course, could leave White sitting there for the Giants instead of, say, making a play for Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat.
Gettleman has talked repeatedly about the significance of why he traded for Alec Ogletree last season, how putting a player with a commanding presence in the middle of a defense is incredibly valuable.
Considering White will be a 21-year-old rookie, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can be part of a franchise’s foundation for seasons to come.
“It’s very important for me to be in the top inside linebacker in this draft,” White said. “I feel like I put the work in, I showed it throughout my career, I progressed every year, I did everything right on and off the field as far as being a great guy, having that attitude, going to work everyday and leading my team. That was the biggest thing. I was the leader of my team.”hat’s exactly who Barkley was for the Giants last season.
White would seem to have everything it takes to be next if given the chance.