Projecting the Giants’ starting pass-rush for the 2023 season

new york giants, kayvon thibodeaux
Sep 26, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) in action during the first half against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are building a young, impressive pass-rushing corps featuring top draft picks and All-Pro talent. As the team’s defensive front begins to take shape, it’s time to take a look at the Giants’ projected starting pass-rush lineup ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Giants projected pass-rushing lineup in 2023:

EDGE1: OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux

After a promising rookie season in 2022, Kayvon Thibodeaux is ready to take that next step in year two. The fifth overall pick in last year’s draft played in 14 games this season, totaling 49 combined tackles, six tackles for loss, 13 QB hits, and four sacks as a rookie. Thibodeaux finished fourth in voting for the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Even though Thibodeaux didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet, he still demonstrated his game-changing talent on a couple of occasions. Two key moments from his rookie season should establish Thibodeaux as the Giants’ leading edge rusher: his game-winning strip sack against the Ravens in Week 6 and his strip-sack touchdown vs the Commanders in Week 15.

EDGE2: OLB Azeez Ojulari

Azeez Ojulari had a disappointing, injury-plagued season in 2022. But when he was on the field, Ojulari demonstrated what a tremendous talent he can be when healthy.

After setting a Giants franchise record with eight sacks as a rookie in 2021, Ojulari posted just 5.5 sacks in seven games in 2022. Considering his limited amount of time on the field, Ojulari’s sack total and overall production levels were rather high. The key for Azeez in 2023 will be staying healthy.

Defensive Line: Dexter Lawrence & Leonard Williams

The Giants have a dominant duo on the interior of their defensive line. Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams combine to form a deadly pass-rushing group in New York’s front seven.

Lawrence Lawrence established himself as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL this season, earning a spot on the AP All-Pro Second Team. The 342-pound interior rusher set new career highs in sacks (7.5), combined tackles (68), tackles for loss (seven), and QB hits (28).

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Williams, however, took a step back in 2022 while dealing with injuries. Williams played in 12 games this past season, the lowest of his career. He totaled 45 combined tackles and 2.5 sacks. Despite this underwhelming performance, the Giants are still confident in Williams to return to form as he regains his health this upcoming season.

Rotational Pass-Rusher: 2023 Draft Pick

The Giants’ front four is set. Thibodeaux, Ojulari, Lawrence, and Williams are the team’s best pass-rushers and they will all be present on passing downs. But depth is crucial. Thibodeaux, Ojulari, and Williams all missed games due to injuries during the 2022 season.

In order to keep these players from getting fatigued or injured in 2023, the Giants need to add some additional pass-rushing talent in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft to serve as a rotational rusher and depth piece on the defense.

Some mock drafts have the Giants taking an edge rusher in the first round, like Nolan Smith out of Georgia via Pro Football Focus. Others predict that the Giants will target Azeez Ojulari’s younger brother BJ on day two of the draft.

At some point during the upcoming draft, the Giants are likely to add some pass-rushing talent to their arsenal. Wink Martindale’s defense is filling out with high-quality pass-rushers. The pass-rushing department should be a strength of the New York Giants defense in 2023.