Heading into the offseason, it was clear to many, including team officials, that the New York Giants had to get better on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The once-vaunted defensive line has clearly declined. While the Giants actually finished fourth in the NFL in sacks (47), that statistic was misleading as the team went long stretches without being able to consistently pressure the passer. Worse, the Giants were 30th against the run in terms of yards per game (135.1) and dead-last in the NFL in terms of yards per rush (4.9).
To help rectify that problem, the New York Giants signed 27-year old unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis from the New York Jets on March 18. The contract was reported to be a 1-year, $1.65 million deal that included $500,000 in guaranteed money.
Barring injury, the up-and-coming Johnathan Hankins will start at one defensive tackle position. But the second spot appears up for grabs between 34-year old Cullen Jenkins, who is coming off a down season where he was bothered by a troublesome calf injury; 2012 7th-rounder Markus Kuhn, who did little to excite in 2014; 2014 3rd-round Jay Bromley, who mostly rode the bench his rookie season; and journeyman Dominique Hamilton, who spent the year on the team’s practice squad. The Giants could also add another defensive tackle in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The Jamaican-born Ellis is a huge (6’4”, 346 pound) run-stuffing defensive tackle who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Jets out of Hampton University. Ellis transferred to Hampton after he was dismissed from the South Carolina Gamecocks in May 2008 for repeated violations of team and university drug policies. Ellis also ran into legal problems at Hampton. In April 2010, he was arrested by university police and served jail time after a felony assault charge on another student.
With the Jets, Ellis’ numbers were as follows:
- 2011: 5 games, 2 starts, 7 tackles
- 2012: 12 games, 2 starts, 18 tackles (missed four games with a knee injury)
- 2013: 16 games, 1 start, 16 tackles
- 2014: 14 games, 0 starts, 12 tackles, 1 sack
So overall, in four seasons with the Jets, Ellis played in 47 games with five starts. He only accrued 53 tackles and one sack during that time. Those are hardly superlative numbers. However, it is important to keep in mind that (1) Ellis was valuable reserve on a very talented Jets defensive line, and (2) his role on the team was not to make plays but to tie up blockers, allowing others to make the tackle.
Ellis was expected to start in 2013, but he was injured in training camp and beaten out by Damon Harrison, an undrafted free agent. In 2014, Ellis only played 158 snaps behind Harrison.
“I am a run-stopper and I like doing it,” said Ellis. “That is the strength of my game. I look forward to helping the Giants get back to their glory.
“I’m a journeyman. I come in and do my job. You don’t get much recognition for it, but you get the job done and it helps out the team. I’ll take on the double-teams and take on the work no one else wants to do. It’s just who I am. I take pride in what I do, which is being a big man in the middle and try to make sure no one runs the ball.”
Despite his low production and his own claims to being a journeyman, Ellis may be more than that. And he has legitimate chance to start for the Giants in 2014. Ellis has the tools. Not only is he naturally strong and huge with long arms, he’s pretty darn athletic for his size. He is also competitive and plays with a bit of a mean streak. Ellis can take on double-team blocks and he is extremely difficult to move off the line of scrimmage. And despite having only one career sack, Ellis does flash explosiveness. The knocks on him coming out of college were his off-field issues, inconsistency, and instincts.
“Ellis is a big human,” said Coughlin. “The young man on our practice squad, Hamilton, is a big human, so I am looking forward to seeing what they can do, too… We realized that big dominating guy in the middle is a good starting point for the D-Line.”
“(The Jets) took a lot of pride in (stopping the run) while I was there, and I want to take the same pride here and start something special,” Ellis said.