The New York Giants drafted Wisconsin linebacker Ryan Connelly in Round 5, 143rd overall. What are they getting in the former walk-on quarterback who Dane Brugler of The Athletic said “out-worked more highly-recruited players when he arrived at Wisconsin and will out-work higher drafted players when he lands in an NFL training camp?”
The folks who have watched Connelly closely include those at SB Nation’s Wisconsin website, Bucky’s 5th Quarter. Owen Reise of B5Q shared some of what he knows about the Giants’ new linebacker in a ‘5 Questions’ segment. Let’s see what he had to say.
Ed: The Giants have had guys like Chase Blackburn and Mark Herzlich in the past, guys who were perhaps limited athletically but through smarts and special teams found ways to contribute. Is that an apt comparison for Connelly?
Owen: I think that would be a fairly appropriate parallel to draw for Connelly. Ryan has always had a penchant for making the big tackle or play, despite not relying on athleticism to make those plays. I don’t know if Connelly has the upside to be a starting linebacker capable of fighting off more talented players for the spot at the NFL level, but he was rock solid for Wisconsin for the past three seasons.
Ed: I see reports say he’s limited as an athlete, but still has “sideline-to-sideline” play-making ability. How can that be?
Owen: I think in Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense, both Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards were falsely represented as “sideline-to-sideline” defenders, because each of them could get to the sideline on the side of the field they were on. I don’t think Connelly is a bad athlete at all, but he’s certainly not a prototypical Mike linebacker with that elite range for the next level. Connelly and Edwards were incredibly cohesive together and both benefited greatly from playing next to each other.
Ed: What should we know about Connelly’s personality?
Owen: Ryan is a good dude. He’s quiet and goes about his business (probably a stereotype that most Wisconsin players are given, but it fits). It’s not often, but Connelly will show emotion on the field in big moments. Often times, he’s the type of guy to make his play, and walk back to the huddle to do it again. He’s a no-nonsense type of guy who will lead by example. He’s always been very respectful to the media both in availability, and in other avenues.
One other thing to know about Connelly, is that in 2018 he played with an abdominal injury. He told B5Q that he injured it during summer and fall camp, but played with it throughout 2018, despite the ab muscle tearing off of the pubic bone. He missed the Pinstripe Bowl in December due to finally having the injury taken care of, but played all 12 of Wisconsin’s games this season, even the Rutgers game, which was shortly after learning his mother had been diagnosed with cancer. It was very apparent by the end of the season, the Minnesota game in particular, that Connelly was severely hampered by the injury, but was able to gut it out.
Ed: Will he or won’t he eventually be a starting-caliber linebacker in the NFL.
Owen: I somewhat answered this question inadvertently earlier, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities that Connelly could work his way into a starting spot in James Bettcher’s scheme. I think especially if he’s surrounded by studs, and he’s not depended on to make a ton of plays outside of his role, he’ll be just fine. I think Connelly is a SAM linebacker in the NFL, as he’s best coming forward, towards the line of scrimmage.
Ed: Are there any particular highlights from his career at Wisconsin that stand out?
Owen: Ryan Connelly burst onto the UW scene during the LSU game at Lambeau in 2016. Connelly was the fourth inside linebacker on the roster, but after an injury to Chris Orr, Connelly came in and made a huge play to tackle Leonard Fournette short of a first down on a third down, and from then he’s been a fixture in the Badgers’ defense. He had a touchdown against Penn State in the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game as well. Against Ohio State in 2017’s Big Ten Championship Game, Connelly was all over the place attempting to contain J.T. Barrett, and against Iowa this past season Connelly made multiple plays, including a play where he avoided the fullback and submarined the runner short of the first down to force a field goal.
I’ll sincerely miss watching Ryan Connelly play for the Badgers, and I wish him the best of luck with y’all.