New York Giants: 2 breakouts players on defense for the 2021 season

dexter lawrence, new york giants
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The New York Giants are looking to re-create their identity on defense, despite having a top 10 unit in points allowed per game last season thanks to the emergence of Patrick Graham and the 2020 free-agency class. The acquisitions of James Bradberry, Blake Martinez, and Logan Ryan proved to be significant, but the defense is not done elevating their game, as they brought in former Tennessee corner Adoree Jackson and drafted a bevy of pass rushers.

We should expect a more creative defensive scheme next season, relying on man coverage and heavy blitz packages — Graham’s roots.

After minicamp last week, Graham spoke about the importance of man coverage and how it opens up the defense. There are multiple players who will benefit from this change in philosophy with added personnel that fit the scheme, in both the secondary and on the defensive line.

“I know we didn’t play a ton of man last year but we picked spots to play man. Again, like those guys last year, they did a good job of what we asked them to do. Like we mixed up more zone and then we had man in the pass. But again, I don’t know what the recipe is going to be for this year yet,” Graham said. “But I don’t want to be disrespectful of the guys that were here last year that aren’t here. I mean, Adoree’ [Jackson] brings another element, Aaron Robinson, Darnay [Holmes], they bring another element to it. Will we probably be in more man? Possibly.

Two breakout players for the New York Giants on defense:

1.) Dexter Lawrence

One impact player for the Giants on defense is third-year interior lineman Dexter Lawrence. Last season, Lawrence finished with 3.0 sacks, 6 QB hits, 21 QB hurries, and 25 tackles. He missed just 5.4% of his tackles as a dominant run stopper and oversized rusher who can get after the quarterback surprisingly well. As a 6’4″, 342-pound DL, Lawrence is mesmerizingly nimble on his feet and quick to react in the trenches.

Normally, it takes about 2-3 years for a player to realize their potential at the NFL level, and Lawrence is heading into a season where the players around him are phenomenal, and the secondary will provide him more time to put pressure on opposing QBs. In addition, having experience in Patrick Graham’s scheme will prove to be an essential factor in his success.

As an interior lineman who can feature in various alignments, including as a nose tackle, 3-4i tech, Dexter has the versatility to feature in sub-packages and as an interior rusher in a bear front (3 down lineman), and in a traditional 3-4.

However, Lawrence was utilized sparingly at times last season, playing just 60% of defensive snaps in his second year, compared to 63% in his rookie season. He enjoyed nearly 50 fewer snaps, but his production was far greater, indicating a vast improvement. He is a breakout candidate for multiple reasons, but simply based on experience and the dominance of Graham’s scheme, he will benefit the most from this strong secondary.

2.) Xavier McKinney

Another defender that could emerge as an impact player in 2021 is Xavier McKinney, who dropped to the second round in 2020 for the Giants, who managed to pluck him as the first safety off the board. The former Alabama stand-out missed half his rookie campaign due to a fractured foot he picked up during training camp, but he took massive strides forward as the season progressed. He finished with 25 combined tackles, 11 assists, one past defended, and an interception. He played just 19% of snaps, but he finished the season strong against Dallas in week 17.

In the victory, McKinney posted eight tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception, and played 89% of snaps, a career-high over six games. His ability to transition from a single high safety look into the box and play strong safety allows Graham to get extremely creative with the young defensive back. As a superior athlete with adequate ball skills, McKinney can be used in various alignments, helping disguise the Giants 3-4 coverage scheme.

However, with a reliance on man coverage next season, we should expect McKinney to play a pivotal role in the defensive backfield, covering the seams and boundaries. McKinney is also a valiant run-stopper, helping at the second level and offering aggressiveness in that category.

Based on his season finale against Dallas, I believe his potential is sky high, and with a full off-season of in-person training and leadership from Logan Ryan, his role will increase dramatically come the start of the regular season.

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