TGH’s Giants training camp preview continues with a closer look at New York’s defensive line.
The Giants’ pass rush showed improvement in 2020 after years of being the team’s weak point. They finished with 40 sacks, their most since 2016 and twelfth-best in the league. However, a lack of playmakers along the edge kept them from elite status. No other unit on the team is more in need of a young player to stand out during camp.
Can Leonard Williams replicate last year’s success?
The defensive line’s improvement was almost solely due to the emergence of interior defender Leonard Williams. Playing on the franchise tag, Williams produced a career-best 11.5 sacks; no other Giant had more than four. In return, New York signed him to a three-year, $65 million deal this offseason.
However, it was only one year ago that Williams was seen as a first-round bust. He had just 7.5 sacks in his previous three seasons.
After the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency, Williams’ performance is more important than ever. If he truly has become a more consistent player, New York should expect further improvement from their pass rush. But if last year was a fluke, the Giants may be in deep trouble.
Can Azeez Ojulari fix New York’s edge rushing woes?
Williams’ dominance put the Giants in a strange position: nearly all of their pressure came inside. They lacked a true edge rusher, instead relying on a hodgepodge of safeties and linebackers to cause at least some disruption. In the end, New York’s three starting interior defenders accounted for nearly half of the team’s sacks.
New York drafted Azeez Ojulari in the second round to address that issue. Though he is listed as a linebacker, Ojulari is a natural pass rusher and led the SEC with 9.5 sacks last year.
No other player on the defense will be watched nearly as carefully as Ojulari during Giants training camp. He will be expected to contribute immediately, however unfair that may be. His ability to adjust to the NFL will be the difference between New York’s defense being good or truly great.
Who will replace Dalvin Tomlinson?
Tomlinson’s surprising departure in free agency was by far the Giants’ biggest loss of the offseason. Williams, Tomlinson and Dexter Lawrence were the backbone of the defense, each over 300 pounds and skilled at stopping the run.
New York signed Danny Shelton as their new nose tackle, but he had just two tackles for loss last year compared to Tomlinson’s eight. The most likely solution is finding a promising edge rusher to take some weight off Williams’ shoulders.
New addition Ifaedi Odenigbo will be one to watch in training camp. Though he had a slightly disappointing 2020 season, he recorded seven sacks in 2019 with the Vikings while only playing 34 percent of the team’s snaps.
Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines will also compete for a starting role. Neither has shown much to be excited about but both are both returning from injury and will have a chance to reset their careers.
Featured image courtesy of Jim McIsaac/Getty Images