The New York Giants have unquestionably suffered through some defensive struggles over the last few years. Low sack totals, minimal pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and poor secondary play have led to some late losses and overall rough play. After allowing 23 points per game last season, it’s fair to be skeptical about exactly what this defense can achieve in the upcoming season. Under the second year of coordinator James Bettcher, and with an influx of youthful, skilled players, this defense will be out to prove the doubters wrong and get back to the glory days of Giants football.
After the departure of Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon, the Giants certainly lack in household names. However, their defense looks to boast a talented and deep group of players with something to prove. The defense may be young with the potential of a rookie starting at every level, but they look to be stocked with players that not only fit Bettcher’s system but can play multiple roles. Combined with veteran leadership and Bettcher’s aggressive schemes, this defense has the potential to turn heads.
Jabrill Peppers, Safety, Trade
A jack of all trades defender, Peppers truly fits the new-look NFL hybrid safety position. He has the ability to line-up at various defensive positions: both traditional safety spots, the slot, and as a pass rushing or coverage linebacker.
During his rookie season, Peppers graded out as one of the least successful safeties in the NFL in coverage. Those struggles, however, could be attributed to his limited experience playing the safety position in college. Peppers was utilized as a multiple position defender during his playing days with the Wolverines.
After his second season, Peppers made large improvements to his overall game. He graded out in the top 25 safeties in coverage, while continuing to take on multiple roles within the defense. He was especially productive when blitzing the opposing quarterback, collecting 12 pressures, good for the third highest among all safeties.
Peppers brings a high level of adaptability to Bettcher’s defense and will continue to be deployed in a variety of roles.
Markus Golden, Outside Linebacker, Free Agent Signing
Golden saw his most productive year while playing for current Giants defensive coordinator Bettcher while they were both with the Arizona Cardinals. Golden has the ability to line-up as both an outside linebacker and pass rushing defensive end. He brings versatility and ability to the Giants pass rush.
Golden will enter this season two years removed from an ACL injury that saw his production take a hit, and has said he is 100% healthy. He will look to return to the level of play he showed during the 2016 season when he had 51 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. He should be one of the Giants main pass rushers from day one of the upcoming season.
Antoine Bethea, Safety, Free Agent Signing
Bethea, a three-time Pro-Bowler, brings a true veteran presence to the Giants secondary having played in 13 NFL seasons. He has experience playing under Bettcher while the two were at Arizona and will provide leadership and know-how to a young defense. Still productive, Bethea had the most tackles from the safety position during the last NFL season.
Dexter Lawrence, Defensive Lineman, Draft
The first thing that jumps out about Lawrence is his dominating size. At 6’4 and over 340 pounds, he provides a massive and imposing anchor for an already talented defensive line. Easily typecast as a pure nose tackle, Lawrence displayed the ability to play the 3-tech, nose, and 5-tech during his days at Clemson. He provides a lethal combination of power and technique.
When you put on his college film, you can easily see just how powerful a defender he is. Lawrence was rarely if ever moved off his spot, and often times made blockers look like rag dolls–tossing them aside with ease. With excellent hand placement, he would often overwhelm blockers and shut down runs before they ever got started.
Another surprising ability he brings is athleticism and lateral quickness, which allow him to diagnose and shut down outside runs. Lawrence also possesses a powerful and impressive bull rush and the ability to pressure the quarterback, collecting 33 QB pressures during 2018. He has a none stop motor and will command constant double teams, opening up lanes for pass rushers.
Throughout training camp, it has already been reported that none of the Giants centers can handle him in one on one situations without the help of a guard. Lawrence has also already been credited with blowing up double team’s during the teams training camp and has shown the ability to generate pressure on passing plays.
Take a look at these numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus comparing Lawrence’s college production with Danny Shelton and Vita Vea:
|Player||Total Snaps||Pass Rush Grade||Run Defense Grade||Overall Grade|
Deandre Baker, Cornerback, Draft
The 2018 Jim Thorpe award winner brings competitiveness and skill to a defensive backfield sorely lacking play-makers. Widely considered one of the top corners in the 2019 NFL draft, Baker is primarily a press corner and man to man ace.
Baker displayed an unparalleled level of production and consistency during his college years. Through the 2018 college season, Baker held opposing quarterbacks to a 40.2 passer rating. During the 2017 college season, Baker was even better. He held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 32.7 while allowing only 23 receptions for 295 yards. Over his past two seasons, Baker did not allow a single touchdown in 870 snaps. Over his four years of playing for the Georgia Bulldogs, Baker allowed just one touchdown in 1,019 snaps.
Baker also achieved the second-highest Pro Football Focus coverage grade over the past three years of 93.5, only trailing Byron Murphy:
|Player||Three Year Coverage Grade|
He displays impressive route knowledge to go along with his abilities to read receivers and jump attempts for interceptions. Baker should be a day one starter for the Giants and bring some confidence and swagger to the secondary.
Oshane Ximines, Edge/Pass Rusher, Draft
At this point in his development, Ximines is a pure pass rusher and edge presence. He should see immediate playing time being deployed early and often in passing situations.
While playing for Old Dominion, Ximines displayed the ability to consistently get into opposing teams backfields and apply pressure on the quarterback. Throughout his college career, the X-Man collected 51 tackles for a loss, 32.5 sacks, and 11 forced fumbles. He was unquestionably a beneficiary of playing against competition that was below his pay grade while in college, yet he still displayed a massive upside.
Ximines’ game encompasses a well-developed pass rush repertoire, highlighted by a nasty spin move and powerful hands. He may encounter some growing pains when going against powerful blockers but has already started running with the ones.
Julian Love, Cornerback, Draft
A highly productive college cornerback, Love was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award with fellow Giants draft pick Deandre Baker. During his three seasons at Notre Dame, Love collected an impressive 39 pass breakups and five interceptions. Love also achieved the third highest coverage grade over the past three seasons of all corners with a grade of 93.2.
Love is a pure coverage corner who can thrive in both man to man and zone schemes. He checks all the boxes in regards to the physical and mental attributes that NFL teams look for in a pass defender. Highly intelligent and competitive, Love is more finesse than fellow draftee Baker. He should compete for playing time at the outside corner, slot, and even safety positions with the potential to see playing time early in scoring situations.
Ryan Connelly, Linebacker, Draft
Connelly is a hybrid type linebacker who lacks in ideal size, but makes up for it in football IQ and relentlessness.
Connelly projects best as a situational inside linebacker who could be used on passing downs playing in zone coverage schemes. He might be relegated to special teams and a reserve role to start his NFL career, but he could also surprise people by fighting his way into a rotation spot for more regular playing time.
Corey Ballentine, Cornerback, Draft
A football standout and decorated track runner, Ballentine possesses a great combination of athleticism, speed, and tackling ability. His recovery speed and conditioning allow him to run with most of the receivers he is tasked with covering. He has several gears, displaying the ability to rely on his speed to jump routes and collect interceptions.
Ballentine is a somewhat raw football prospect after splitting his time between two sports but showed up quite well in the Senior Ball. He will have an opportunity to contribute immediately on special teams and could see his use expand on defense as the season goes on.
Sam Beal, Cornerback, 2018 Supplemental Draft (Injured Reserve for the 2018 Season)
Beal has the size, ball skills, and athleticism that teams covet in outside corners. A successful college defender, he was widely projected to be a first-round selection in the 2019 NFL draft. Due to falling behind in academic credit hours and with the potential of missing out on the collegiate preseason while the NCAA decided his eligibility, Beal entered the 2018 NFL supplemental draft.
Beal can play in man, press, and zone coverage, and is a natural runner. During his Pro Day, Beal put on a show with a 4.47 40, a 37 inch vertical jump, and a 10’6 broad jump. His performance would have placed him near the very top of cornerbacks who competed in the 2018 NFL combine. He possesses enough strength to compete with receivers at the line of scrimmage, excellent feet, and smooth hips in and out of breaks. Beal is a high motor player who also flashed as a run defender in college.
Beal has already been making noise for the Giants during organized team activities and should immediately compete with Baker for playing time at the outside corner position.
B.J. Hill, Defensive Line, Second Year
Hill proved to be an extremely talented and impactful player during his rookie season with the Giants.
He started his first season playing out of position at the 5-tech end position, somewhere he never lined up during his college days. After the Giants traded away Damon Harison and slid Devin Tomlinson to the nose, Hill inherited his natural position at the 3-tech and his play drastically improved.
Hill’s five and a half sacks as a rookie was good for the third-most sacks of all rookie defenders last season, and the most by a rookie in Giants history. This is an impressive feat for any rookie defender, especially one who played out of position a majority of the season. Hill’s 48 tackles also ranked second among all rookie defensive linemen in 2018 when he was named to the All-Rookie team.
Hill is incredibly strong at the point of attack and mixes in the ability to generate a pass rush. Playing next to Tomlinson and the newly acquired Lawrence will only further boost Hill’s productivity.
Lorenzo Carter, Outside Linebacker, Second Year
Carter looks to be one of a handful of young defenders ready to ascend to a higher level of play in his second season. During his rookie season, Carter was in a timeshare with the now-departed Connor Barwin. Even while splitting time, Carter was recognized as one of the top five rookies at his position by Pro Football Focus in 2018.
Carter has been the recipient of glowing reviews from his coaches and has been a consistent player of note during the current off-season and training camp. During his rookie year, Carter sometimes struggled with setting and maintaining an edge and at times overran plays. He looks to have improved markedly in both categories.
During day two of training camp, he reportedly set a strong edge and forced Saquon Barkley back inside for Tomlinson to make a tackle for a loss. Even more impressive was his interception returned for a touchdown when he shed a block attempt by Barkley and snatched a screen pass out of the air.
After adding 12 pounds this off-season, Carter will look to make an impact as a pass rusher, run stopper, and coverage linebacker in his second season. His playing attributes line up perfectly with what coordinator Bettcher likes to do, and will create confusion for opposing offenses.
Alec Ogletree, Inside Linebacker, Seventh Year
Ogletree had a somewhat up and down first season with the Giants after being acquired via trade with the Rams. He amassed a team-high 93 combined tackles, one sack, and five interceptions while manning the center of the Giants’ defense for 13 games. His five interceptions led all NFL linebackers, yet he was sometimes taken advantage of in the passing game.
With a season of experience playing for Bettcher under his belt, Ogletree will look to continue to make the defensive calls and provide leadership for a young unit. With Carter and the acquisition of so many young and talented defenders, Ogletree might go back to his role as primarily being used to attack the line of scrimmage and rush the passer.
Dalvin Tomlinson, Defensive Line, Third Year
After the Harrison trade, Tomlinson slid into his natural position of nose tackle and responded to the move with a high level of play in 2018. Tomlinson was credited with the most run stops among defensive linemen in the NFCE with 26 solo stops. He also graded out as the second highest-rated defensive linemen in the division (behind Fletcher Cox) according to Pro Football Focus.
During his first two seasons in the NFL, Tomlinson has missed just one tackle. He boasts a run-stop percentage of 8.4%, good for 21 out of 67 ranked tackles. After taking over the nose tackle position, Tomlinson collected 17 of his 26 run stops and 35 of his 59 tackles. He is penciled in to remain the Giants starting nose tackle flanked by Hill and Lawrence but may come off the field in passing situations.
With the talent around him and the success he has achieved in his young career, Tomlinson should expect career highs entering the upcoming NFL season.
Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, Eighth Year
Jenkins has displayed the skill and ability to be a shutdown and game-altering defender. He was a Pro Bowl selection during the 2016 season and has totaled 18 interceptions, six forced fumbles, and 405 tackles in 100 career games. After dealing with an injury at the start of last season, Jenkins’ play improved as the year went on.
Jenkins will enter the upcoming season as the Giants number one corner and will have the added task of being the mentor to a young secondary. Earlier this off-season, Jenkins said “I’m embracing it, as far as being the leader of the room.” Jenkins and Bethea will be the two veteran leaders of the Giants secondary.
Defensive coordinator Bettcher is known for his aggressive and complex play calling that confuses opposing offenses by creating mismatches. During his first season with the Giants, Bettcher altered his play-calling to match the strengths of the players he had. During his second season, with a full off-season of bringing on players that match his scheme, I expect to see a much more aggressive style of defense played by the New York Giants.
The defense has competed from day one of training camp and has supplied the offense with consistent pressure. Carter, Lawrence, and Ximines have all been regular visitors into the offensive backfield. There has been a handful of what would have been coverage generated sacks in live game scenarios, and the play-calling has looked to have taken a step forward.
I would anticipate some early growing pains with the number of young players being relied upon to man their respective positions, but things are certainly looking bright for big blue. Bettcher has said “I am hoping it can be an aggressive, attacking defense that dictates,” and he has created competition at almost every level of the defense.
The Giants defense might not be worth picking up during your fantasy draft, but it is one I would keep an eye on as the season progresses. Bettcher has a track record of success and now has hand-picked players to run the schemes he is known for. The Giants are also tied for the 27 least difficult schedule for the upcoming season and have the potential to surprise a lot of people.
(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)