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Welcome back for year 29 of the Eyes of the Guru column. Last summer, I started a new tradition with the EOTG, posting team-by-team rather than a division at a time. The goal here is to give our customers a more steady diet of information in smaller doses.
These teams have been covered so far:
Arizona | Atlanta | Baltimore | Buffalo | Carolina | Chicago | Cincinnati | Cleveland | Dallas | Denver | Detroit | Green Bay | Houston | Indianapolis | Jacksonville | Kansas City | Las Vegas | LA Chargers | LA Rams | Miami | Minnesota | New England | New Orleans | NY Giants | NY Jets | Pittsburgh | San Francisco | Seattle | Tampa Bay | Tennessee
There is another step in the evolution of the column this year as well. I have talked about the need for positional realignment among edge defenders and interior defensive linemen for several years now, and the True Position format has finally arrived. Not every league host site has come to see the light, but many have. The rest are eventually sure to follow.
Going forward, I will be treating and labeling all edge defenders as defensive ends. This will include 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, and anyone else in the new hybrid schemes of today's NFL that makes a living by chasing quarterbacks off the edge. Likewise, the defensive tackle position will include all interior defensive linemen in 4-3 schemes and all down linemen in 3-4 alignments. As a result of this approach, we have eliminated the constant arguments and flip-flopping of positions among these players.
For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is the basic stuff:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
When tackle numbers are mentioned, solo stops and assists are generally not lumped together. Unless there is a reference one way or the other, tackles refer to solo stops. When talking about the total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries, and fumbles forced since all of these are scored very similarly in most leagues. Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
From time to time, the rookie corner rule will be referenced. For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is the basic fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie on the corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses. Thus, these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon), and their numbers will begin to drop steadily after their rookie seasons.
The Giants played mediocre defense in 2022. While that is not a glowing endorsement, it was a significant improvement over their struggles in 2021. The pass defense was top ten in completion percentage and passing scores allowed but was middle of the pack in passing yards and yards per attempt. Their 41 sacks were respectable, but no team intercepted fewer passes, and their 19 takeaways ranked 25th. New York's biggest struggle was versus the run, where they allowed the second most yards per carry, the fifth most yards, and 16 rushing scores.
The team had issues on both sides of the ball, so they were not able to make an all-out effort to improve the defense, but there are some significant additions. The signing of Bobby Okereke gives the Giants possibly their best inside linebacker since at least Antonio Pierce in 2015, and A'Shawn Robinson should be a starter at one of the outside tackle spots. The organization used one draft pick in the first five rounds on defense, but it was a big one in corner Deonte Banks at 24th overall.
The team used a lot of draft capital on the defense last year and will be counting on some of those players to step up in their second season. There may still be some holes, or at the least, there are thin spots, but this group seems headed in the right direction.
NFL people will tell you that a great defense is built from front to back. The Giants are doing just that and have assembled a strong and fairly deep group up front. It starts with Dexter Lawrence at nose tackle. The 2019 first-round pick has been a mainstay in the lineup since his rookie season. At six foot four and 342 pounds, he is big even for a nose tackle. Lawrence is a rock when it comes to plugging the middle, but he is much more than just a big strong body. He is remarkably quick and athletic for his size. So much so that he worked at the five-technique before Don Martindale took over as defensive coordinator.
Lawrence has always put up respectable tackle numbers, with 50+ in 2020 and 2021. In his first year under Martindale, Lawrence was 36-32-7.5 with 2 forced fumbles and 3 swatted passes, all career-best numbers that added up to a top-ten ranking among interior linemen. That production has a lot of managers high on him this summer. With the shortage of highly productive players in those positions, it is hard not to be.
Leonard Williams went to the Jets with the sixth overall pick in 2015. He lived up to the draft status for most of his four-plus years there and put up decent numbers during that time. Williams was shipped across town to the Giants in the middle of the 2019 campaign, where he went on to have the two best statistical years of his career in 2020 and 2021. In his first full season with the Giants, Williams set a career mark with eleven and a half sacks. His sack total dropped to six and a half the following year, but Williams shattered his previous best of 63 combined tackles by racking up 34 solos and 48 assists, along with a new career mark of three takeaways.
He was off to a good start last year, posting four tackles and an assist against the Titans in week one, but Williams' season went off track when he suffered a knee sprain in week two. He would go on to officially miss five games on the year but was less than 100% for much of the season. The result was a modest stat line of 26-19-2.5, but he still managed to force 3 turnovers. Williams just turned 29 and is healthy entering training camp. It is reasonable to expect a bounceback and the kind of production that should make him a quality starter in tackle-required leagues.
The addition of A'Shawn Robinson gives the Giants a trio of athletic big men that are all north of 300 pounds. Most projected depth charts have him as one of the starting outside tackles, but at six foot three and 320 pounds, Robinson could see snaps over the center as well. It would not be a shock to see Robinson play nose tackle regularly, allowing Lawrence to play the five-technique where he would provide a mismatch on most weeks.
Robinson is a roadblock versus the run and is usually good for more than forty combined tackles, but he rarely contributes as a pass rusher. With six sacks over seven seasons, he is not going to be an IDP factor in any but the deepest drafted leagues.
New York is young but talented on the edge where last year's first-round pick, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and 2021 second-round selection Azeez Ojulari are set to start. Ojulari showed a lot of promise as a rookie. He didn't make a ton of tackles (49 combined), but his eight sacks led the team. Expectations were high entering year two, but the season was a virtual wash due to a string of injuries. Ojulari missed the first two games with a sore hamstring and two more at the end of the year with an ankle. In between, he was out seven games with a strained calf. Fortunately, none of the injuries were serious, and he is healthy entering camp.
At 33-16-4, Thibodeaux was a little less statistically successful as a rookie, but he gave the organization a lot to be excited about going into his second year. He missed the first two games and was bothered early on by a knee sprain suffered in a preseason contest. Once he was healthy, the young man showed signs of big things to come. Over a five-game stretch starting in week thirteen, Thibodeaux was 19-9-3 with a pair of batted passes and the trifecta of a fumble forced and recovered for a score. Ojulari turned 23 in June, and Thibodeaux turns 23 in December. NFC East opponents are going to be dealing with this set of bookends for a long time to come.
Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines give the Giants dependable veteran depth, but the team would lose a lot of pass rush if either starter misses time. Elerson Smith is a third-year, former fourth-round pick that could evolve into a quality third option once he is fully recovered from an Achilles injury.
- Edge Azeez Ojulari - Breakout candidate in year three
- Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux - Second-year pro with the potential to be elite
- Edge Oshane Ximines - Injury sleeper with limited upside
- Edge Jihad Ward - Injury sleeper with marginal value at best
- Edge Elerson Smith - No immediate impact
- DT Dexter Lawrence - Priority DT2
- DT Leonard Williams - Solid DT2 with a little upside
- DT A'Shawn Robinson - Marginal IDP value
- DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches - Injury sleeper with limited upside
- DT Vernon Butler - No impact
- DT D.J. Davidson - No impact
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