by Spiro Kasabian @nyspawtsguy_spi
The New York Giants are undergoing the second year of a defensive transition (some say it’s been much longer). Many experts and analysts expect this defense to struggle mightily again for a second straight year. With a new Defensive Coordinator and the lack of a legit pass-rusher (again), you can’t blame people around the NFL for being bearish on the Giants return to glory on the defensive side of the ball.
However, if you bothered to look under the hood, you would see that there are several improvements to last year’s defense that could go a long way to turning this defense around. All levels of the defense will have added personnel to it that should boost each level significantly.
Leonard Williams: The Giants will have Williams for a full season compared to only 8 games last year. Yes, I know we are all angry for what was given up for him, but there is no denying that Williams is still a very good player and could see a boost in sack numbers with a better secondary and Markus Golden back in the fold.
Blake Martinez: Those who were calling the Ogeltree to Martinez upgrade minimal haven’t been watching Ogeltree on Sundays. It’s that simple. Martinez, if nothing else, is a tackling-machine that will be a force in the run game. He had his best season under Patrick Graham and Graham will know how to use him best. This is a huge improvement in the middle of the New York Giant defense.
Kyle Fackrell: Fackrell had 10.5 sacks just 2 seasons ago. His defensive coordinator during that time? Patrick Graham. Any pass rushers added to this Edge group is a welcomed sight, and Graham is hoping to get Fackrell back to his 2018 numbers. Fackrell will be in a camp battle for playing time with two young players in Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines
Ryan Connelly: We got a small glimpse of what the 2019 fifth-round pick could do last year, and he had Giant fans salivating. Connelly played in only four games last year (starting three) and flashed some serious potential in being a solid option in the middle of this defense for years to come. Getting a full season out of Connelly will be a big boon for this defense.
James Bradberry: One of the two big offseason moves for Dave Gettleman was bringing over Bradberry, whom he drafted in Carolina. Bradberry is 26 and is used to going up against the likes of Michael Thomas, Mike Evans/Chris Godwin, and Julio Jones in the NFC South. He will have to deal with less talent in the NFC East and should be an improvement over Janoris Jenkins from a consistency standpoint.
The Nickleback Position: I name the position here and not a player, because I think there are several candidates on this team already that will be an improvement over the Haley/Ballentine combo from 2019. The Giants drafted two potential Nickle/Slot corners in Darnay Holmes (4th Round) and Chris Williamson (7th Round) that they hope will take hold of the position and run with it. Holmes is an exciting prospect that is very talented and seems tailor-made to excel in the slot. Let us not forget that Julian Love is also an option here, as he could be splitting time between 3rd Safety and Slot Corner.
The Safety Position: I again name the position here because I think the improvement will be two-fold. The Giants added Jabrill Peppers to the safety position last year, and we saw flashes of what made Peppers a 1st Round pick. He is a playmaker that can play all over the field. Peppers was on his way to setting career highs in tackles, forced fumbles and interceptions before his season was cut short after 11 games. He still managed to record 76 tackles, 1 INT (returned for a TD) and 3 Forced Fumbles.
Peppers will now have the benefit of having a viable partner aside him in Xavier McKinney. McKinney, a second-round draft pick out of Alabama in 2020, will be a marked improvement over the aging and slow Antoine Bethea, whose best days were behind him last year. McKinney is a Swiss-Army knife that will be able to play all over the field like Peppers. The two interchangeable safeties will help this defense stay versatile and change looks with the same players on the field. That is a huge boost in today’s NFL. The Giants haven’t had a pair of safeties with this much talent in a very long time.
I didn’t even mention the hopeful improvement of young players such as Dexter Lawrence, Oshane Ximines, Lorenzo Carter, Corey Ballentine, and Julian Love. All who have flashed above-average potential at one point or another. Ballentine or Love (along with Holmes) will be battling for that 2nd and 3rd Cornerback position and will be crucial to this defense. Ximines and Carter will be counted on to provide the pass-rush this team has been sorely lacking for years. Their improvement will also be vital to this defenses ultimate success (or demise).
As you can see, while the upgrades do not jump off the page for analysts and outsiders, the improvements over last year’s defense should be massive. The Giants were the 25th ranked defense last year in terms of Yards Allowed and only trailed the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins in Points Allowed in the NFL last year. There is reason to believe their defense can significantly improve those numbers in 2020