New York Giants: Evaluating the Talent on Defense

New York Giants, Dexter Lawrence

Going into the 2019 season the New York Giants coaching staff knew the defense would be flawed. The team has young players on the field with three rookies starting on defense.

What they didn’t know is the team would look almost entirely lost on defense, allowing 9 touchdowns through three weeks of the season. Overall they’ve given up 94 points which is tied for 2nd worst in the league, only ahead of the tanking Miami Dolphins.

The team looks like they’ve taken a step back on the defensive side of the ball compared to the 2018 season when James Bettcher first arrived.

Each layer of the defense has deficiencies. The defensive line hasn’t been physically overbearing for offensive lines. Linebackers can’t cover and don’t seem to know who to cover, to begin with. The secondary not only has a hard time in coverage but looks like a confused unit with poor tackling mechanics. The Giants have an overall bad defense through three weeks.

That’s not to say things can’t get better but it’s a good time to evaluate the talent on the defensive side of the ball:

Dalvin Tomlinson

The young defensive lineman is the longest-tenured player of this unit. He was a 2nd round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. As a prospect, he was known for being technically sound. He also gave teams a headache when they tried to run the ball against Alabama. He didn’t exactly fill the void Jonathan Hankins left behind but still played well for a rookie.

In the 2018 season, he improved in certain areas. He went from 50 combined tackles as a rookie to 59 in his 2nd year. He also had 4 more tackles for a loss in his 2nd year. He’s not an elite run-stuffer but he’s a solid contributor. His lone sack should tell you he’s here to help win on 1st and 2nd down.

One of the positives with Dalvin is he hasn’t missed a game since entering the league. This is Dalvin’s 3rd season so if his price tag is a little high they can at least wait until the 2021 offseason to worry about replacing him. For now, he’s one of the team’s few significant assets on defense.

BJ Hill

BJ Hill was one of Dave Gettleman’s first draft picks as GM of the New York Giants. Hill was selected in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft, still just 24 years old. The defensive lineman was a late-riser in the draft process as teams fell in love with his speed and athleticism at 311 pounds.

In James Bettcher’s scheme, he lines up as a 3 and 5 technique defensive end. As a rookie, he collected 5.5 sacks with 8 quarterback hits overall. He also had 48 total tackles, proving to be stout against the run as well.

His start to the 2019 season has been slow with 0 pressures through two games and 0 sacks through three games, but his rookie season should keep everyone optimistic. He might not be a totally proven commodity yet but ultimately he is an adequate starting option for most teams. He looks to be a core piece with 3 more years under contract, even if he doesn’t turn out to be special.

Dexter Lawrence

Many expected Snacks 2.0 when they heard Dexter Lawrence’s name called 17th overall during the 2019 NFL Draft. Not only is Dexter much different from Snacks but he also doesn’t primarily line up as a nose tackle as Snacks did. Lawrence is versatile with the quickness that  300 lb men don’t possess, let alone players in the mid 330’s. He’s got plenty of nastiness in the trenches at that size and has drawn plenty of double-team blocks through 2 games as a rookie.

He was considered a slam dunk pick by many scouts with the only concerns regarding positional value. Whether he becomes a savvy pass rusher or not, he’s already made it apparent he can collapse the pocket with offensive guards being along for the ride. That in itself will help spark some pass rush.

He’s also expected to be a great run defender with the size he brings. The team might’ve expected him to be more disruptive earlier on but there’s a lot of legitimate optimism regarding his talent. Having another 4 seasons of his services after this year will be vital to this team’s success on defense.

Olsen Pierre

Many didn’t know who Olsen Pierre was when the team signed him during the offseason. He was a familiar face for James Bettcher who coached him in Arizona during the 2017 season. It’s easy to see why Bettcher didn’t forget him.

Pierre had 5.5 sacks in his defense as a rookie with 9 total quarterback hits. He also had 30 tackles that season, showing some disruptiveness in both phases of defense. Unfortunately, he was injured in 2018, only starting 1 game with little production.

While Bettcher is under some scrutiny for leaning on familiar players too often Pierre might be a gem if he can stay healthy. He’s already earned 1 sack this year coming against the Buffalo Bills. For now, Olsen Pierre is an adequate rotational piece for the defensive line but is not under contract after 2019.

RJ McIntosh

One of the more unfortunate draft prospects last year, RJ McIntosh fell to the 5th round of the 2018 NFL Draft due to a thyroid issue. His talent alone could’ve put him in the 3rd round but teams were concerned with his ability to maintain his weight. Luckily for Dave Gettleman, a roll of the dice paid off and McIntosh is in football shape again.

He played sparingly in 2018 but already has 3 tackles this year as a rotational piece. Expected to be a pass rusher, his quickness is noticeable and really stood out in the preseason games.

Maybe McIntosh’s bump in the road will stop him from reaching his full potential but most teams would be comfortable with him as a rotational defensive lineman. With 2 more seasons on his rookie contract, he’s a significant piece moving forward even if he’s mostly depth.

Lorenzo Carter

Evaluating the defensive line was surprisingly pleasant considering the 0-2 start. That’s because it’s mostly the linebackers and secondary who have struggled heavily so far. Lorenzo Carter might’ve gotten a sack last week but his pressure-rate isn’t anywhere near adequate.

When practice opened he was on fire but went back to getting stone-walled by offensive tackles once pads came on. During his time as a Georgia BullDog, he was up and down with sack production as an unrefined athlete. He didn’t learn the nuances of pass-rushing in his 4 years of college and still hasn’t in the NFL. The worst-case scenario for Lorenzo Carter is being a pass-rushing specialist or a possible change in his role.

Lorenzo is the team’s best coverage linebacker even though his the main job is to get after the quarterback. There’s some risk that comes with Carter but he did collect 4 sacks as a rookie. Even with slight improvement, Carter could enter the 6 sack range on an annual basis. If not, the team has another potential avenue with him as an off-ball linebacker. Carter is far from proven and still needs to show more before he can be considered a significant asset. If he doesn’t improve greatly in 2019 he shouldn’t be considered anything more than a reserve pass rusher.

Markus Golden

One of James Bettcher’s guys, Golden was signed during the offseason as a potential solution for the pass rush. He had one really good reason where he racked up 12.5 sacks with Bettcher in Arizona. As a 2nd round pick this upside was always there.

Unfortunately, Golden tore his ACL in 2017 and spent the 2018 season getting reacclimated to the game. He’s been healthy for a while now but has struggled to make much of an impact.

Golden was a band-aid type of signing, only coming to New York on a one-year deal. Being 28 years old, Golden isn’t any sort of long-term answer and hasn’t lived up to the hype, to begin withop, For now, the team can only hope he taps into the potential he had before getting injured. Lorenzo Carter and Markus Golden make for an underwhelming duo at outside linebacker.

Oshane Ximines

The final piece to the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, Oshane Ximines was drafted by the New York Giants with the 3rd round pick they received from Cleveland. Ximines was one of the more dominant pass rushers in college but the problem was he played schools lacking world-class talent.

Oshane was the first player to be drafted out of his former college, Old Dominion. So far, he looks like he’s a bit shocked by the physicality of offensive lineman in the NFL but has the technique to potentially overcome that aspect of the game. He’s only in the mid 250’s so winning with speed and technique will be crucial for the rookie’s career.

No one knows yet whether he’s a significant asset moving forward but there’s a combination of upside at a position of need for this team. X-Man has already recorded a sack (against Tampa Bay) this season. That makes him a hold going into 2020 regardless of what the team gets out of him in 2019. Even then, expecting anything more than a reserve pass rusher is asking for too much at this time.

Tuzar Skipper

When everyone read the news of the New York Giants claiming Tuzar Skipper off the Steelers Practice Squad, most people said “who?” Skipper was a somewhat obscure draft prospect for the average fan. He wasn’t selected in the draft but was quickly signed by the Steelers.

There was some buzz about Skipper making the 53-man roster in Pittsburgh but he said he got caught up in “the numbers game”, a situation where teams are forced to part with value due to needs elsewhere on the roster. The 6’3” 247 lb edge rusher racked up 5 sacks in the preseason, flashing the upside scouts were looking for. Obviously as an undrafted free agent, carving out a consistent role on any team is an uphill battle. Even as a guy with some upside, high expectations for Skipper aren’t reasonable.

We would all love a feel-good story but it’s unlikely with UDFA pass rushers. If he sticks around for the 2020 season its most likely a result of Skipper becoming a special teams ace. Skipper will most likely never make much of an impact on a defense in the NFL.

David Mayo

There are a few players on every team who are there for the sole purpose of special teams play. With just 61 total tackles in 4 seasons, Mayo is one of those players. Originally drafted in the 5th round, many analysts projected him as a reserve linebacker/special teams asset. He’s turned out to be exactly that.

Mayo is a solid tackler and runs an impressive 40-yard dash in the 4.7’s. It was most likely his impressive speed that made him more appealing to the Giants than BJ Goodson. He will be a fixture on punt and kickoff coverage but the team is in trouble if he takes defensive snaps. Mayo isn’t a significant asset to the team but could possibly be back for a special teams role in 2020.

Alec Ogletree

Many fans were excited when Dave Gettleman traded a 4th and 7th round pick for Alex Ogletree in 2018. This trade being a let-down is an understatement. Outside of some splash plays, Ogletree has struggled against both rushing and passing offenses.

The team pays him like he’s a top asset at the inside linebacker position, making over $8M per season, but he’s not in that class. There are teams in the league where Ogletree would be nothing more than depth but the New York Giants lack adequate talent at this position. Given the crisis at this position, Ogletree could be back in 2020. This is possible out of pure desperation since he’s not an adequate option on the field.

Ryan Connelly

The inside linebacker with the most optimism surrounding him on this team is Ryan Connelly. To make this even better, he will be with the team for 3 more seasons after 2019. Already being a starter in the lineup may speak to the talent-level of the unit more so than Connelly’s performance level. Even then it’s nice to see him beat out older players on the team.

Connelly was known to be a thumper in college, someone who had the instincts to sniff out run plays with the physicality to finish the job. While Connelly had the tools to translate into a decent run defender in the NFL he was atrocious in coverage at the college level. He gave up a 70% completion rate in his coverage. As a 5th round pick, the team wasn’t banking on anything more than a special teams contributor and situational linebacker.

He looks up to the task so far with possibly more upside than they anticipated but it would be unfair to expect an adequate starter from a 5th round pick. Especially after his interceptions against the Buccaneers in week three. Moving forward he should be considered quality depth but the team should be looking for 2 new starters at inside linebacker going into the 2020 season.

Tae Davis

Once thought of as a potential savior for this 2019 inside linebacker unit, Tae Davis was quickly replaced by Ryan Connelly in the starting lineup. Davis went from playing nearly all of the snaps against Dallas to playing none against the Bills. A former safety in college, Davis doesn’t have any issues with mobility playing linebacker.

Overall, Davis was originally an UDFA with little chance to carve out a significant role in the league. Based on how extreme his loss of snaps was he isn’t in line to impact this team in any way. He might not even be an adequate reserve piece. If he’s on the team in 2020 the team probably didn’t do a good enough job upgrading the inside linebackers.

Jabrill Peppers

Known as the 2nd main asset from the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, Jabrill Peppers is a ”swiss army knife” who plays safety but has other abilities. He can return kicks and punts and even carry the ball in a pinch. He did all of these things as a Michigan Wolverine on his way to becoming a 1st round pick for the Browns.

Peppers is not a pure strong or free safety. He’s matchup-based and does his best work in man coverage. His start as a New York Giant has been rocky but this defense is still figuring itself out in general. Overall, he’s a top-shelf athlete who has a ton of potential.

It’s more fair to consider him backup-caliber than a proven player at this point. If he taps into his potential he could be way more than that but at this time a team shouldn’t be comfortable relying on him. The team will only have him for 1 more season after 2019 if they don’t exercise his 5th year option. At this time Peppers should be considered more of a borderline starter than a significant asset.

Antoine Bethea

This was one of the more surprising signings of the offseason. Antoine Bethea has had a very successful career but he’s been playing for 14 years now. 1,200 tackles and 24 interceptions speaks for itself but what does a 35-year-old have to offer in a rebuild?

He hasn’t exactly been sharp this year and hasn’t been where he needs to be often enough for a guy who’s played for well over a decade. Even if Bethea is still an adequate starter he isn’t nearly a valuable asset for a team that’s in a rebuild. Going into 2020 it would be surprising if he sticks around.

Michael Thomas

One of the feel-good stories for this team is Michael Thomas who went from being a reserve in Miami to seeing playing time in New York. He even intercepted a couple passes last year showing some ability in shallow coverage and made a clutch tackle in week three to help the Giants beat the Buccaneers.

While Thomas is a decent backup and a slightly below-average starter being 30 years old really limits what he can offer a rebuilding team. Thomas offers some value at this time but isn’t a significant asset, especially when looking ahead to 2020.

Sean Chandler

The young safety was signed as an UDFA out of Temple in 2018. His most impactful play with the Giants was recovering a fumble against the Bears last year, which might go down as Eli Manning’s last win against a great team.

Barring an unusual outcome, Chandlers time with the Giants will be short-lived and he probably won’t make the team in 2020 if they overhaul this unit the way they should. Sure, there’s a chance he blossoms, but we can’t expect that from an UDFA until we see it.

Julian Love

The rookie out of Notre Dame was considered a cornerback on draft day but not to the Giants. He’s played some nickel here and there but his main position now is safety. Love played both positions at Notre Dame and was proficient in both man and zone coverages. Through 2 weeks he has not played on defense yet.

While many are ready to hit the panic button, not all rookies are instantly ready to play. We don’t know much about his worth in the NFL yet but we do know most analysts didn’t expect him to be available in the 4th round. According to Gettleman he “stuck out on our board” when the team was on the clock in the 4th round. For a rookie that appeared to have a rough preseason we can’t consider the ”draft-steal” a significant asset at this time.

Janoris Jenkins

The current number 1 cornerback of the New York Giants is a proven player but a frustrating player. His play ranges from very good to very poor. Against the Buccaneers in week three, Janoris was as bad as he’s ever been, allowing Mike Evans to total 190 yards, 3 touchdowns, and multiple clutch receptions.

Overall, he’s a number one corner in the league. But how much value does he offer to the Giants as a player who’s 30 years old? In a rebuilding season, Jenkins is technically a significant asset but one that will expire before this team is any good again. He holds no value in this teams future unless they can get a draft pick in exchange for Jenkins.

Known to be a little rough around the edges, he doesn’t possess the politically correct attitude this staff wants in its players. It’s fair to say Jenkins will probably be gone sooner than later. Even if the team doesn’t find a trade partner they probably won’t be interested in paying a $10M base salary to the declining veteran in 2020.

DeAndre Baker

It’s been a brutal start for the rookie cornerback. While this can be discouraging it wasn’t always normal to field first-year players in September, if at all. Don’t give up on the kid yet, most draft analysts thought he was the top cornerback in this class with very sticky coverage.

Most considered him a mid-1st round pick so getting him at 30 might be quite fortunate in terms of value. His lack of elite speed was apparent when he lined up against Amari Cooper but he was always expected to struggle against receivers with elite speed. Baker also looked improved against the Buccaneers. He will be a significant asset for this defense as long as he improves, which is more than likely considering his draft pedigree.

Corey Ballentine

Another small school product, Ballentine was a big fish in a small pond. He dominated his competition but went up against lesser talent, much like Oshane Ximines. His measurable’s stack up well at 6’0” with a 40 yard dash in the mid 4.4’s. He also has a knack for getting his head around while in coverage to either deflect a pass or force a turnover.

Ballentine displayed these skills intercepting a Davis Webb long ball during the preseason. Corey had a healthy dose of 1st team reps during training camp, showing he’s not far off from playing time. While he hasn’t been playing yet in 2019 the team sees him as a potential starter in 2020. Ballentine has great upside but can’t be considered a significant asset until we see him succeed in the regular season.

Sam Beal

The New York Giants selected Sam Beal in the 2018 Supplemental Draft. This is a rare occurrence for any team but Beal wasn’t your typical prospect in a Supplemental Draft. At Western Michigan, Sam Beal was a pest for opposing passing offenses. He stands at 6’1” but only weighs about 180 lbs. While he’s a little light his 4.4 speed made him a handful to deal with for college receivers.

Talent was never expected to be an issue with Beal, it was always his health. In his very first practice as a Giant he injured his shoulder and his season was over. This year the team could’ve put him on season-ending IR again but he will be eligible to return once he’s healthy. The team could’ve made better use of a 3rd round draft pick but Sam Beal still has great upside. Overall, we haven’t seen him on the field enough to consider him a significant asset.

Grant Haley

Another feel-good story for this team. Grant Haley was an UDFA in 2018 after playing for Penn State. He was originally on the practice squad but was signed onto the active roster to join his former college teammate Saquon Barkley. Throughout much of the summer the team tried to make Haley play outside corner which wasn’t a fit considering his 5’10” frame.

Since being signed to the active roster Haley has been proficient in the nickel position. The team doesn’t have a longterm deal worked out with him but he’s a significant asset for this defense as an adequate defensive back. If he continues his strong play in 2019 he could earn himself a long-term deal with the New York Giants.

Antonio Hamilton

While the 4th year UDFA had a respectable training camp he completely unwraveled against Dallas in week 1. As a 4th year player there isn’t the development excuse for Hamilton, the large majority of players are what they are in their 4th season. He hasn’t covered well or tackled well and lost most of his playing time in week 2. Originally thought of as strong cornerback depth, Hamilton has looked completely replaceable on defense thus far. Fortunately, Hanilton’s excellence as a gunner on special teams should keep him on the team through 2019 and maybe even 2020.

Overview:

After reviewing this defensive unit and their play through three games, the New York Giants are incredibly thin on defense.

The defensive line has significant assets but it’s the other positions that are lacking. With that said, the unit could still improve.

The team doesn’t have a single significant or proven asset at inside linebacker OR outside linebacker, in a 3-4 scheme. Below-average players and raw potential is the best this unit has to offer.

The secondary only has 2 significant assets heading into 2020 if you consider Janoris Jenkins and Antoine Bethea goners. This unit could look much better if guys like Corey Ballentine, Julian Love and Sam Beal develop the way the team expects them to. Until then they’re unproven prospects with upside.

The New York Giants will need to rebuild their defense after the 2019 season. Assuming DeAndre Baker progresses the way most 1st rounders do, he can be on a short list of significant and proven assets including Dexter Lawrence, BJ Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, RJ McIntosh and Grant Haley.

New York Giants News, 9/12 – Here’s a big reason the Giants were smoked by the Cowboys

New York Giants, Janoris Jenkins

Good Morning, New York Giants Fans!

When Amari Cooper secured his single touchdown catch of the night, it was odd to see New York Giants rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker in coverage. The immediate thought that ran through my mind was, “why isn’t Janoris Jenkins blanketing him?”

Were the coaches looking to throw Baker into the fire and give him some film to study? A bit late for that experiment during the first regular-season game of the year against a division rival, don’t you think?

In fact, Jenkins, who shadowed Cooper on 64.5% of his routes, allowed just one catch on three targets for 13 yards. Cooper’s stat-line for the night was  — 6 catches, 106 yards, one touchdown. So, how exactly did Cooper manage to thread the Giants’ defense when Jenkins shut him down for a majority of his routes?

Well, we can see that on 35.5% of his offensive snaps he was covered by Baker or Antonio Hamilton, both of which were torched in the process. A substantial opportunity to record film on both players, but it undoubtedly cost the Giants any chance at fighting back and making the game close.

However, Cooper is also capable of playing out of the slot, which Jenkins struggles in. That’s how the Cowboys managed to scheme around Jenkins and match up their best pass-catchers against the Giants’ weakest links. Also, Dallas’ No. 2 wideout, Michael Gallup, finished the afternoon with seven receptions for 158 yards. This puts the Giants’ secondary strength on display, and while they have a ton of youth and inadequate chemistry hurting them, allowing 405 yards through the air is unacceptable.

Nonetheless–

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The New York Giants might have a serious issue at cornerback

New York Giants, Corey Ballentine

While New York Giants rookie cornerback Corey Ballentine showed out in the first preseason game of the season with an interception and two assisted tackles, he cannot be relied on to be a regular starter.

With DeAndre Baker evading a severe knee injury, he is the expected starter for the regular season, but he might miss the rest of the preseason and his chance to continue adapting to the physicality and speed of the NFL. That essential time will be lost, and the Giants need to have faith in their rookie first-round pick as they journey forward towards what seems to be a more optimistic season.

The New York Giants could be in trouble:

The issue is, the Giants have little depth at the cornerback position, especially with third-round supplemental draft pick Sam Beal missing consistent time due to injury. Beal has yet to play a single game for the Giants since his inception in 2018.

He missed all of his rookie season last year due to a shoulder injury that was predisposed before his drafting. After starting minicamp with an impressive showing, he has missed several weeks of essential growth and development time.

It is possible that had Coach Pat Shurmur elects to cut Beal if he does not return and show any progression. Wasting a roster spot on a player that simply can’t get on the field when there are other influential veterans available on the free-agent market, might be a difficult decision that Shurmur has to make.

“We’re just going to have to see where he is physically. We drafted him for a reason. We would like to see him be on our team. We’ll just see where he’s at, and then we’ll make a decision at the 53 (man roster),” Shurmur told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s something we’re going to have to evaluate as we go forward. He’s getting healthier by the day. It’s just unfortunate that we haven’t been able to see him do much. But unfortunately, that’s the way it is sometimes.”

It was anticipated Beal would compete directly with Baker for the number two corner position opposite Janoris Jenkins. Now, Baker will be the first team option while Antonio Hamilton and Ballentine compete for the third corner spot. If the injuries continue for Beal, his time on the Giants could be cut short.

The outlook on Beal’s injury does not look good. He has now fallen behind, and it is difficult to envision him playing a factor at the beginning of the regular season. This is Ballentine’s opportunity to prove he can play with the first-stringers. He could see more playing time than expected due to the thinness at the position.