With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Line
2016 YEAR IN REVIEW: The New York Giants defensive line underwent a major overhaul in 2016, and the changes were perhaps THE major reason why the team’s defense improved from dead last in the NFL to 10th in terms of yardage and 2nd in terms of points allowed. The Giants went from 24th in run defense in 2015 (121.4 yards per game, 4.4 yards per carry) to 3rd in 2016 (88.6 yards per game, 3.6 yards per carry).
The key to sparking the dramatic turnaround were the high-priced, high-profile free agent additions of defensive end Olivier Vernon (5-years, $85 million) and defensive tackle Damon Harrison (5-years, $46 million). These two were a major upgrade over defensive ends Robert Ayers/George Selvie and defensive tackles Markus Kuhn/Cullen Jenkins. Harrison is arguably the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the game and earned first-team All-Pro honors after making the switch from a 3-4 nose tackle with the New York Jets to a 4-3 defensive tackle. Vernon was slowed by a serious hand/wrist injury but played virtually every snap and earned second-team All-Pro honors.
Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) rebounded nicely from a 2015 offseason catastrophic fireworks accident that left him permanently maimed. After a slow start on the pass-rushing front, the line was rounding into peak form until a groin tear/sports hernia injury sidelined JPP for the final four regular-season games and post-season contest. Unfortunately, the dropoff was noticeable. As a unit, the line finished with 24.5 sacks in the regular season (up from 16 in 2015).
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants’ biggest personnel loss in the offseason was DT Johnathan Hankins signing a 3-year, $30 million contract with the Colts. The team did re-sign DE Jason Pierre-Paul to a 4-year, $62 million deal. The Giants also re-signed exclusive rights free agent DT Robert Thomas, restricted free agent DE Kerry Wynn, and practice squader DE Jordan Williams. New additions include veteran free agents DE Devin Taylor and DT Corbin Bryant as well as rookies DT Dalvin Tomlinson (2nd round), DE Avery Moss (5th round), DE Evan Schwan (undrafted free agent), and DT Josh Banks (undrafted free agent).
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: One of the most significant story lines for the team is can the Giants adequately fill the shoes of Johnathan Hankins at defensive tackle? While Damon Harrison quickly became the headliner at defensive tackle for the Giants, Hankins was an important part of the drastically-improved New York Giants run defense. Many believe Dalvin Tomlinson will automatically assume the starting position, but Tomlinson is a rookie and will face challenges from veterans Robert Thomas, Jay Bromley, and Corbin Bryant. Depth is also a cause for concern as Harrison must now be considered one of the most indispensable players on the team. Heaven help the Giants if he gets hurt.
A secondary story line will be the quest for a third defensive end who can rush the passer and spell Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, who both played far too many snaps last year. To date, holdovers Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa have not demonstrated the ability to consistently harass opposing quarterbacks. They will be pressured by newcomers Devin Taylor and Avery Moss. Then there is the curious backstory of Odighizuwa’s situation as he missed all of the spring work due to undisclosed “personal issues.”
ON THE BUBBLE: Everyone except Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Dalvin Tomlinson.
FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Patrick Graham on the defensive line as a group: “Really the group is smart. They understand that this is their profession and they know they have to have proficiency at that. They all work hard in terms of knowing football and knowing what we want them to do.”
Patrick Graham on Dalvin Tomlinson: “I think any rookie coming into this league, they don’t know anything about this league aside from the stuff they read and see from the media and TV. I think it’s important for them to stick with what they’ve done in being a good football player up until this point. An organization in the NFL wanted them. To be humble there, listen to the players and listen to the coaches and just diligently work through the process. He’s a pretty even keel guy. He’ll be able to handle it. We will see how it plays out once the competition comes and the season comes… We wanted him for a reason. He’s a good football player and he comes from a good program.”
PREDICTIONS: Dalvin Tomlinson is one of the few defensive tackles who realistically could come in and adequately replace Johnathan Hankins as a rookie. He not only has the physical tools, but he is a super-smart guy who played on the big stage at Alabama. Nevertheless, keep an eye on Robert Thomas, who may split snaps with him. Competition for roster spots will be fierce as the Giants added a couple of former veteran starters late in free agency (Devin Taylor and Corbin Bryant). The Giants can’t keep all of these guys and linemen who can play in this league are going to be released. Another player to keep tabs on is Avery Moss. The coaches and players have said nice things about him and the Giants are still looking for that third pass rusher.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, Romeo Okwara, Avery Moss, Devin Taylor, Robert Thomas, and Corbin Bryant. (The Giants hate to part ways with draft picks so it would not be shocking to see Owa Odighizuwa and Jay Bromley make it over late FA additions Taylor and Bryant. I would also not count out Kerry Wynn).