Did One Offseason Solve The New York Giants Defensive Line Woes?


The New York Giants defensive line woes could be over after a huge offseason, but is there still work to be done?

No other offseason in professional sports is quite like the NFL’s. Every team thinks they have a shot at the playoffs and the Super Bowl, the NFL Draft is regularly viewed by more people than the NBA and MLB playoffs, and offseason storylines are often scrutinized and analyzed as much as any during the regular season.

Like every other team, the 2016 Giants are brimming with optimism and encouraged by an offseason of upheaval and a few non-contact practices. Pro Football Focus gave the Giants’ offseason a ‘B’ grade, but also cited the signing of Janoris Jenkins as one of the worst offseason moves. There are stand out players and impressive players, dynamic rookies and a specially made glove for Jason Pierre-Paul. Ben McAdoo blares music at OTAs, Eli Manning delves into a second language, and Victor Cruz is again right on track and excited for a full recovery.

But, behind the reserved optimism and new-found energy is a truly bad team and a historically bad defense that not only lost no less than 3 games last season, but also gave up an exorbitant amount of yards, near the brink of record-breaking. As has become customary with bad teams looking for a quick fix, the Giants turned to free agency in a way unlike any in their team history.

Historic Free Agency

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The team dished out over $200 million in contracts, over $100 million of that guaranteed to a crop of young, talented defensive players. Two of the signings, as well as the re-signing of JPP were directed at the embarrassment that was the 2015 Giants defensive line. This unit was historically bad, accumulating numbers that the team hasn’t seen since the ’90s, and generating less turmoil and violence than a Drumpf rally.

As a result, an offense with no continuity or assertiveness, aside from chucking deep to Odell Beckham, was often asked to get crucial first downs or risk letting their horrendous defense back on the field. The only game where this tactic actually worked was the Miami game, where a few deep passes to Odell helped give the Giants a lead, but only after a late first down conversion against a mediocre team could the Giants secure victory without having to depend on their Swiss cheese defense.

Money Needs to Pay Off

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But now the narrative for the defense has changed. Dan Graziano wrote for ESPN about what he believes is a sure-fire thing in 2016: a dependable, nay, an imposing unit that will become a strength for the Giants this upcoming season.

Olivier Vernon, a young, three-down player with tremendous pass rush ability and above average run support and Damon Harrison, a boulder of a defensive tackle, still only 27, who might be the best run stuffer in the league as 3-4 nose tackle, but could be tasked with more as a three-down player; both of these acquisitions, each easily the top in their respective positions during free agency were brought in not for any one purpose, but to make an abysmal unit better, and make the defense better as a whole.

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2023 NFL Mock Draft: Full 1st round with trades
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With the First Pick

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  • The common refrain for the $85 million Vernon is if he doesn’t generate double-digit sacks for the duration of his contract, the Giants will have wasted their money in an investment that never really panned out.  JJ Watt-type money needs to generate JJ Watt type stats. Besides the fact JJ Watt is a pretentious showman on a bad team with no quarterback, even a fraction of his productiveness for Vernon would be an upgrade over what the Giants had a year ago.

    Big Blue let Robert Ayers go after a career year with 9.5 sacks, but a younger, more athletic defensive end that will not have to wait for the return of JPP to make plays is immediately an upgrade and end of the year statistics will have nothing to do with it.

    The same holds true for Damon Harrison. The mere inclusion of his name on the roster is a tremendous upgrade over any defensive tackle on the roster not named Hankins. These starters are hopefully a unit that can impose its will on an offensive line and dictate the line of scrimmage. Beyond that, the depth of the defensive line must have an immediate impact for their to be any sustained success for the defense and the team.

    Owa Odighizuwa, the third round pick from the 2015 draft must progress from an unpolished pass rusher to an interchangeable piece on the defensive line. Like Justin Tuck, Odighizuwa will need to play every position on the line as a means to create mismatches and allow the playmakers around him to generate pressure.

    Jay Bromley, a d-tackle who played around 500 snaps and in all 16 games last season adds depth and another big body to the interior of the line.  Two Notre Dame products are also looking to make an impression on coaches during the offseason.

    Related Story: This Is the Most Improved Giants Position Group In 2016

    Revert to Old Ways

    Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara, both undrafted and both over 6’4, could provide much-needed depth behind the starters, and as has been customary with the Giants, an injury could see one of them thrust into a much more prominent role. Of the two, Williams, who signed a contract last month after only one day in camp, is a more likely prospect. After being thrown out of Notre Dame for an academic scandal and taking a year off from the sport, Williams lost close to 50 pounds and showed enough that the Giants gave him a contract. His future with the team is still uncertain, but he has shown versatility in lining up at both linebacker and defensive end, and like the winning Giants teams of past, the 2016 team will look to a dominant and disruptive defensive unit to be the difference.