The simple fact that the New York Giants finished the 2020 season with 40 sacks is mesmerizing. After losing starters Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, the Giants were forced to utilize options like Carter Coughlin, a seventh-round pick last year, and Jabaal Sheard, who was plucked off the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham had very little to work with, but the Giants made it a priority to give him another weapon on defense in Georgia stand-out edge rusher Azeez Ojulari.
Ojulari was drafted 50th overall, as the Giants moved back to acquire an additional third-round pack and also managed to land arguably the best pass rusher in this year’s draft class. Last season, he finished with 9.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for a loss, and four forced fumbles. At just 20 years old, he has incredible potential, ranking first in the SEC in sacks and fumbles forced.
What does Azeez Ojulari bring to the New York Giants?
Ojulari has sufficient bend around the edge and great speed off the line of scrimmage, making him the Giants’ best outside pass rusher instantly. While Lorenzo Carter did show signs of progression last season before tearing his Achilles, returning from an injury like that can be problematic, especially for a player who was never considered above average.
The dynamic duo the Giants can create with interior pass rusher Leonard Williams and Ojulari could be special. As we know, Williams was the Giants’ best defender in 2020, finishing the season with 11.5 sacks, 57 combined tackles, 30 quarterback hits, and 14 tackles for a loss. He was incredible in nearly every facet of the game, dominating the trenches and earning a massive payday because of it.
The Giants dished out a three-year, $63 million deal for one of the league’s best interior defenders, and applying a great outside presence next to him will only increase the efficiency of the defense. Having ranked 12th in total sacks last season, the Giants are looking to take a step forward, but how will the duo of Williams and Ojulari work?
While Williams dominates the interior and draws double teams, he will give Azeez the ability to attack tackles 1V1. Considering the NFL has a massive lack of talent at OT, the Giants can get creative with how they utilize their blitzers. For example, if they line up Leonard Williams in the 3-tech on the right side of the line of scrimmage and Azeez at outside linebacker, they can utilize additional pass rushers like Jabrill Peppers or Logan Ryan off the edge to pressure quarterbacks into making premature decisions.
I expect Graham to get extremely creative and progressive with his play-calling this upcoming season, especially with the addition of cornerback Adoree Jackson, who should allow Graham to return to his man coverage roots. This will allow him to send more blitzers and attack the quarterback more efficiently.
Expect to see a healthy dosage of 3-4 and 3-3-5 five formations in 2021, as the Giants have a strong combination of speed, power, and coverage abilities to help stop passing attacks. Since the NFL is becoming a passing league, defenses must prioritize skilled players in the secondary with big interior lineman up front. This 3-3-5 coverage indicates three down lineman and five defensive backs, providing three linebackers — sam, will, mic. While the Giants don’t have a plethora of linebackers for this specific formation, settling into the 3-4 with OLBs primarily makes the most sense.
Since the Giants have strong secondary players, they can utilize their OLB is to rush the passer frequently. That is where I see Ojulari making his impact, and standing him up alongside Leonard Williams should be devastating for opposing offenses.