New York Giants: One underrated pass rusher who could make an impact in 2022

elerson smith, new york giants

The New York Giants fell in love with fourth-round pick Elerson Smith during the 2021 Senior Bowl, expecting him to be an agile pass rusher off the edge. Smith was a Joe Judge draft pick, and while he missed the majority of the 2021 season due to injury, he still has plenty of value he can provide the Giants’ defense.

Most are focusing on names like Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari to start the 2022 campaign, but Smith is working hard to make an impact moving forward, utilizing his blazing speed and athleticism. Smith recorded a 9.87 relative athletic score, ranking 18th out of 1333 defensive ends from 1987 to 2021. There’s no question he has the capabilities to be a great pass rusher, but he lacks the functional strength to hold down the edge in run defense. It should be interesting to see how Wink Martindale gets him involved, likely on later downs that are pass-heavy.

“I’m gonna make sure I take advantage of every opportunity I have in front of me,” Elerson Smith told The New York Post this offseason. “If people remember my name or not right now, that’s not gonna help us win games. I’m going to try to take care of the opportunity I have in front of me.”

What kind of impact can Elerson Smith make on the New York Giants?

Last season, Smith made eight appearances, totaling eight tackles, two QB hits, and a forced fumble. At 6’6″ and 260 pounds, he certainly has the height to be a good defender in the NFL, but he may have to transition slightly or play a hybrid linebacker role to maximize his value.

Despite his size limitations, Martindale will find ways to utilize Elerson, primarily as a pass rusher behind some bigger defensive lineman.

“I always say there’s a good place for a small person,” Martindale said. “It’s behind a big, long person in this league, because you know, it helps everything. It helps your open-field tackling and helps separating off blocks and it helps going up to the 50/50 ball. Length does play a big part of it.”

Luckily, Smith is learning a defense that focuses heavily on speed and attacking the opposing quarterback. Everybody knows that Martindale is calling heavy blitz packages, so Smith fits right in with his speed and agility to beat offensive lineman in 1V1 battles. While he has a few players ahead of him that will likely garner more reps to open the year, he can easily carve out a nice role for himself when called upon.

Smith’s biggest limitations will be as a fun defender, and since Martindale’s system requires the defensive ends to participate heavily in that category, he has a hill to climb. However, he made a few nice plays in 2021, showcasing his football IQ. Coming from a smaller school, it will take him longer to adjust to the NFL level, especially after missing time due to injury during his rookie season.