Where will quarterback sacks come from for New York Giants?
By Curt Macysyn
No one quite knows what to expect from New York Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher.
That’s not a knock on Bettcher, however. It’s more of an acknowledgement that the defensive unit may be a work-in-progress all season. In fact, we have heard the term “aggressive” thrown around a lot when describing Bettcher’s style. What remains to be seen is if the lack of pass rushing talent requires Bettcher to be even more aggressive with the New York Giants than he was with the Arizona Cardinals.
Right now, the two most glaring holes on this defense are the pass rush and cornerback. A persistent and steady pass rush could help mitigate the lack of talent at cornerback. But not visa versa.
A quick look at a depth chart won’t create a sigh of relief either.
New York Giants
The G-Men still have Olivier Vernon, and he could be penciled in for 10 or more sacks in 2018. That’s not a given. Understand that’s actually better production than Vernon has given either the New York Giants or Miami Dolphins historically. According to Pro Football Reference, Vernon averaged eight sacks per season over the past five years. He did have one season (2013) with 11.5 sacks, but that was also five years ago.
Estimating 10 sacks for Vernon seems on the generous side of fair.
In the spring, the Giants traded away Jason Pierre-Paul, their second best pass rusher. With 22 sacks in 2017, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the NFL bottom feeders. Now you can understand why they are excited to have JPP.
Without Pierre-Paul, it seems that the G-Men will be scratching and clawing for quarterback sacks. JPP had 8.5 sacks in 2017, and he would have continued to be a steady pass rushing complement to Vernon.
Defensive tackle Damon Harrison remains a rush-stuffing nightmare for opponents. Conversely, Harrison averages two sacks per season with the G-Men, per Pro Football Reference. Sacks are not why the Giants signed Harrison away from the New York Jets. As such, expectations should be tempered accordingly.
According to ESPN, the New York Giants finished tied for 29th in the NFL with 27 quarterback sacks in 2017. That means, last season, the Giants pass rush was in the bottom one-third of the league.
How bad was it? Well, NFL teams averaged 37 sacks in 2017, and the G-Men were a full 10 sacks less than the average.
Maybe this statistic explains why Steve Spagnuolo is no longer around in East Rutherford. Under Bettcher, we predict the New York Giants two best defensive linemen will account for 13 quarterback sacks.
That means we need 24 more sacks just to be average. Where will the rest of the sacks come from?
Even if you love Dalvin Tomlinson as a player, he’s never going to be a sack monster. And even in an expanded role, how many sacks can we easily expect from Tomlinson? Two, maybe three. That doesn’t move the needle very much.
Some folks are depending upon free agent Kareem Martin to significantly augment the team’s sack total. Never say never, but that just isn’t his history either. Per Pro Football Reference, Martin has 3.5 sacks in a four-year NFL career.
When defensive end Josh Mauro returns from suspension, can he net 3.5 quarterback sacks? I think he can. But that’s still a far cry from JPP’s 8.5 sacks.
Let’s take a quick look at the presumed starters (Note: totals from 5 positions):
- SAM: Olivier Vernon – 10 sacks
- WIL: Kareem Martin – 3 sacks
- RDE: Dalvin Tomlinson – 3.5 sacks
- LDE: Josh Mauro – 3.5 sacks
- NT: Damon Harrison: 2 sacks
If these five players combined produce 21 sacks on the season for the New York Giants, perhaps the defensive backfield (Landon Collins, Eli Apple, Janoris Jenkins, William Gay) can give us another five sacks?
That gets us to 26 quarterback sacks total – still less than last season!
Each year, there’s always a player or two who are predicted to take a big leap. I’m guessing that a lot of folks will be promoting Avery Moss as the magic sack elixir. Zero sacks in 2017, so slow your roll.
Some folks are feeling that rookies Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill will get several sacks a piece. If they do, and I’m not saying they won’t, it will be likely be at the expense of one of the aforementioned starters. Hill may ultimately be the reason the New York Giants cut Damon Harrison. That’s a discussion for next season though. And it won’t help the sack total.
How many 319 lbs. speed rushers are there in the NFL?
Naturally, folks are going to look at Carter to provide quarterback pressure. He did have 15 sacks in his college career, so he can pitch in rushing the QB. The question with Carter becomes utilization. In other words, can Carter become a valuable three-down linebacker set in the 3-4 scheme? Or do we look at him as simply a pass rushing specialist?
A look at his draft profile on NFL.com seems to point to the former.
Among Carter’s strengths are:
- Uses long-arm stab to access blocker’s frame and set the edge
- Build-up speed creates downfield angles to the sideline to challenge ball carriers and receivers after catch
- Active as tackler to search for and yank at the football
The Giants have not had many bonafide three-down linebackers in their recent history. This kid could be more valuable being groomed for that role rather than him to patch a leaky pass rush.
Two seasons ago, Romeo Okwara showed promise as a rookie. He was slowed by injuries in 2017, so everyone should have an open mind coming into 2018. There is a chance that he can be the starter in Josh Mauro’s absence.
Of all the players mentioned here, he’s the one who could prove to be the mover and shaker of the sack total. He’ll need to stay healthy, obviously, and open some eyes at training camp.
The other guy is the tried and true Kerry Wynn. Every team should have a guy like Wynn on the roster. It isn’t Wynn’s fault that the G-Men don’t have a pass rush. He’s played in 49 games with the New York Giants. Last season, he actually had three starts.
I love Wynn as a rotational player. Making him a starter and asking him to get sacks becomes a fool’s errand. Anything we get from Wynn gets put into the gift category. In Mauro’s absence, it would not be surprising to see Wynn as the starter.
As you see, Bettcher has his work cut out for him just to replicate last year’s sack total.
And predicting the quarterback sack total to grow by leaps and bounds, doesn’t seem possible right now. Moving forward, we’ll keep our eye on this area of the defense, especially during the preseason games.
Next: New York Giants: Which draft was worse, 2011 or 2012?
In conclusion, I have to admit when I look at these numbers, I get the feeling that Bradley Chubb may have been the way to go in the NFL Draft. Let’s not open up that can of worms though.