New York Giants: Projecting the starting pass rush unit for the 2021 season

New York Giants, Lorenzo Carter, Dak Prescott
Nov 4, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants linebacker Lorenzo Carter (59) stops Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) from a TD attempt in the 3rd quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants allocated resources toward bolstering the pass rush this off-season, as injuries held back the unit in 2020. Despite the team racking up 40 total sacks, which ranked 12th in the NFL, coordinator Patrick Graham relies on a steady pass rush to help aid his secondary.

Last season, Graham transition to a zone-based scheme, despite normally utilizing man coverage as his primary strategy. He is preparing to rotate back toward his roots this upcoming year, which requires solid outside linebackers to get the job done. Adding more depth and starting quality talent was a priority, which is why the Giants went out and signed Ryan Anderson, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and drafted Azeez Ojulari and Elerson Smith.

All four come with different strengths and weaknesses, but they are superior to the options the Giants utilized last season with Carter Coughlin and Jabaal Sheard after Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter went down with season-ending injuries.

Let’s take a look at what the starting unit could look like come the regular season.

Projected starting pass rush unit for the New York Giants:

OLB: Azeez Ojulari

Considering the Giants spent the 50th overall pick on Ojulari, there’s optimism he will emerge as the starter come Week 1. Having posted the most sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (4.0) in the SEC last year, the Georgia product is a refined pass rusher that could use a bit more experience in the run game. Ojulari has a knack for finding the football and creating turnovers and should fit right into Graham’s scheme as a fast and bendy OLB.

DL: Leonard Williams

Of course, interior defender Leonard Williams will be the featured player in the trenches. Posting a career-high 11.5 sacks and 62 pressures last season, he earned a major payday this off-season as a result of his hard work. If Williams can replicate his production from 2020, the Giants will be in great shape, considering they added more talent to draw attention away from Williams and allow him to capitalize on matchups.

DL: Danny Shelton

The Giants brought over player evaluator and scout Kyle O’Brien from the Detroit Lions, who has roots with the Patriots and extensive experience evaluating players. The Giants brought in a bevy of Detroit free agents, including Reggie Ragland and Danny Shelton.

With the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson, Shelton will replace his role at nose tackle. Shelton is a massive 6’2”, 345-pound interior defender, nicknamed “Feast Mode”. Last year, over 12 games, he posted 37 tackles, two tackles for a loss, and one sack. His primary job is to soak up double teams and allow the more refined pass rushers to work their magic.

DL: Dexter Lawrence

Dexter Lawrence took one of the most extravagant developmental steps last year, despite earning 3% fewer snaps, totaling about 50. Lawrence saw his combined tackles increase from 38 to 53, sacks from 2.5 to 4.0, and missed tackle rate land at 3.6%, a vast improvement compared to his 11.6% during his rookie season.

Lawrence is a massive interior pass rusher who will assist the outside linebackers tremendously, soaking up double teams and opening up mismatches on the outside. At 23 years old, he has a bright future ahead of him, and the Giants will rely on him heavily this upcoming year.

OLB: Lorenzo Carter

Prior to suffering a torn Achilles last season against Dallas, Lorenzo Carter showcased vast improvements against the run and as a pass rusher. Over five games, he posted 1.0 sacks, 15 combined tackles, four QB hits, and a career-low 6.3% missed tackle rate. He has been working diligently this off-season to improve his hands in the trenches and speed to power moves. If he can fully return from his injury, the 6’4”, 250-pound linebacker could find himself starting once again to open the season. He will have considerable completion from Odenigbo and Ximines, though.