NY Giants: 5 breakout candidates for defense in 2021
The strength of the NY Giants’ 2020 season lied with its defense. These five players will help make it even stronger in 2021.
Like many of the more exciting and dominant teams of their past, the NY Giants in 2020 had a dominant defense.
The defense, led by the brilliant Patrick Graham and put together through a great offseason by Dave Gettleman, drastically improved itself from the year before. And in their first season together, the defense laid a foundation on which future success will now be built.
Though there is still plenty of room for improvement, this team is moving in the right direction.
The Giants’ defense went from 25th overall in 2019 to 12th overall in 2020. The defense as a unit proved it could create opportunities to win the game, while individual defenders showcased talents that resulted in new contracts, weekly awards, as well as trips to the Pro Bowl.
New additions to the team like Blake Martinez, Logan Ryan, and James Bradberry became dominant players. And their veteran experience will continue to play an important role in the development of younger playmakers.
Previous question marks like Jabrill Peppers and Leonard Williams also broke out. The former is finally winning over doubters of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade while the latter is gaining support from fans and analysts to be signed long term.
And while signing key players like Williams and fellow defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson should be priorities, the realistic expectation tells us that not everyone who wore Big Blue in 2019 will be back in 2020.
But that will only allow the younger players on this impressive defense to show how much they learned in 2019 and how much they improved this offseason.
From the D-line to the secondary, these five young players have a bright future on an up-and-coming defense, and are big-time candidates for a big breakout season.
No. 5 – Dexter Lawrence – DT
In just his second season on the NY Giants’ defensive line, Dexter Lawrence is beginning to show he could be a dominant force.
Lawrence was second on the defensive line in tackles and sacks, behind only Williams. His 53 tackles (four less than Williams) was eighth overall on the Giants, and his four sacks were tied for second.
Lawrence was a disruptive playmaker, often getting into the backfield and blowing up plays before they begin. He had seven tackles for loss, 16 quarterback pressures, six quarterback hurries, and six quarterback knockdowns. He only missed two tackles all season.
The most promising aspect of Dexter Lawrence’s progression is that he improved in every category while seeing about 100 fewer snaps.
Lawrence only had 38 tackles, missing five of them, in 2019. He added 2.5 sacks on 15 pressures that season, and also finished with five quarterback hurries and five quarterback knockdowns.
He saw plenty of time as a rookie. He played all 16 games, and he was on the field for 702 defensive snaps, or 63%. In 2020, he also played in all 16 games, but was on the field for 603 defensive snaps, or 60%.
While it would be most ideal to keep the line the way it is, it’s highly unlikely that the Giants can retain both Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson.
The best case scenario would be to keep Williams and Lawrence together. Lawrence led Tomlinson in all categories outside tackles for loss (Lawrence had 7 vs. Tomlinson’s 9.5) and pass deflections (2 vs. 4).
But here, too, Lawrence improved from his rookie season. Lawrence only had 4.5 tackles for loss in 2019, and one pass deflection.
Lawrence is a bigger body lineman than Tomlinson, but is far more agile as a pass rusher. He has a bright future in the NFL, and his star will only rise in 2021.