New York Giants defensive duo of Azeez Ojulari and Leonard Williams could be special

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

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.

New York Giants: Coaching staff credited with Leonard Williams improvement

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

New York Giants defensive end Leonard Williams has had an up and down past few years. He managed only half a sack during the season he was traded to the Giants, and many expected him to fall flat, but he was able to turn thing around to have a career high in sacks. There’s some reasons why that might have happened. Change of scenery, being with the team from the start of the year instead of arriving in a trade, and all that.

However, there’s another link in this story that played a role in getting Williams back as a Giant on a huge three year deal. That link is the coaching staff, which changed entirely from the one that was in charge at the time of the original trade.

“I do well under a coach that pushes you and tries to get their best out of you. And that’s definitely what this coaching staff does,” Williams recently confirmed to reporters.

The biggest change for Williams was Patrick Graham taking over the defense, and it was Graham’s system that was able to get him open often enough to register 11.5 sacks. Considering how the offseason led to a big deal, Williams has plenty of reasons to be thankful for Graham’s coaching.

“[The coaching staff] doesn’t care if you’re a rookie just now coming in or you’re a guy that’s been in the league for a long time. They’re going to try to get the best out of you. And you know, I think I thrive well under an environment that, that pushes you,” Williams continued.

It’s not the only similar praise Joe Judge and his staff have gotten, and it seems to be true enough. At least in thee case of Williams. We can see his increase on the field since the team cleaned up its coaching staff with our own eyes, after all.

He compared it to older days and playing in high school when things weren’t all about the money and the media narratives.

However, Williams ironically did take the money to stay when he agreed on a long term deal with the Giants, which will leave everyone within the fanbase hoping that his performances this year are on par with 2020. With how things look roster wise, the Giants can’t afford to swing and miss on this big time contract.

New York Giants and Leonard Williams agree to three-year contract extension

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The New York Giants have finally agreed to terms with Leonard Williams on a contract extension, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Leonard Williams agreed to a three-year extension worth $63 million, including $45 million guaranteed. This deal has been a long time coming. There was a “standout” between Williams and the Giants, according to Ian Rapoport, but the two sides were able to come together and strike a deal in a matter of hours.

This move has given the Giants financial flexibility and the ability to get to work in free agency. Leonard Williams’s 2021 cap hit has been reportedly lowered to $11 million (Pat Leonard, NYDN). Williams was on the franchise tag, due to make $19.3 million fully guaranteed. This move cleared over $8 million in cap space for the Giants this offseason. His new average annual salary will come in at $21 million, but with the Giants tight on cap space this offseason, Leonard’s deal is likely backloaded.

After trading for Leonard Williams in 2019, the Giants placed the franchise tag on him in 2020. He played on the tag and had the best season of his career. In 2020, Leonard Williams posted an impressive, career-high 11.5 sacks with 42 pressures and 14 tackles for loss. He was a playmaker against the run and the pass. The Giants have now locked in their star defender long-term and he will not spend the 2021 season on the franchise tag. After losing Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency yesterday, retaining Leonard Williams will be considered a huge victory for the New York Giants this offseason.

New York Giants looking for long term deal for Leonard Williams

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The New York Giants have a big situation on their hands when it comes to the pass rush spot. Leonard Williams was their sack leader in 2020, and after doubts about whether or not he would return for 2021, the Giants franchise tagged him for the second straight year. This, of course, now leaves the question of whether the Giants are going to sign Williams to a long term deal or not.

According to a report from Ian Rapoport, however, the team is leaning in that direction and working on making that deal happen. The second franchise tag costs more, so the Giants will have to pay $19.3 million to Williams this season as things stand. However, they do have until July to change that by coming to an agreement on a long term deal – that hasn’t happened yet, obviously.

Williams seemingly has a lot of leverage here as a player coming off his best season, and one that will definitely draw him interest from other teams around the league. However, that’s not to say that Williams has no reasons to stay.

He’s played his entire career in New York, having been traded from the Jets when he joined the Giants, and is also playing in a system where he’s been able to flourish. Williams was considered an underperformer for the Jets and a bust in his first season with the Giants, but was able to turn it around partly due to the coaching of Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator.

With that being said, the future is unclear – there would be benefits to both sides from a long term deal, but the Giants may just end up paying up big time to have Williams play on the tag and avoid losing their top pass rusher.

New York Giants slap DL Leonard Williams with Franchise Tag, what does this mean?

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

It was no secret that the New York Giants were looking to retain star defensive lineman Leonard Williams, whether or not they would use the franchise tag on him was yet to be seen.

With Tuesday, March 9 being the deadline to utilize the tag, the Giants didn’t waste any time amid rumors that it could be pushed back with the salary cap not yet established.

Williams is arguably their best defender, picking up 11.5 sacks and 62 pressures in 2020. Last season, he played on the franchise tag as well, earning $16.1 million without a long-term deal in place.

However, Ian Rappaport of NFL Network has stated that the Giants will likely franchise tag Williams, which is a good move for the organization as they try to work out a long-term extension.

Essentially, this indicates that other teams won’t be able to pursue him in FA, as he will be contractually bound to the Giants by means of the tag. While it hurts Williams’ leverage, the Giants expect him to pay him a fair amount, given his production and the simple fact that he’s never missed a game to the injury.

With free agency starting on March 17 at 4 PM, the Giants now have an additional week to iron out a deal, but it could carry on into FA months. If I were to imagine, though, they would want to get this deal done as soon as possible.

If Leonard were to play on the franchise tag for the 2021 season, he would earn $19.3 million, a 120% increase. That entire number would count against the salary cap, something the Giants simply can’t afford this off-season.

New York Giants: NFLPA grievance could cost Giants $3.8M on Williams tag

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

It’s looking like the New York Giants could franchise tag pass rusher Leonard Williams this offseason to prevent him from leaving in free agency. However, if they decide to do that, they might have to pay more than they initially expected.

According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Williams has an open grievance with the NFLPA to be designated as a defensive end instead of a defensive tackle. This would impact how much money Williams receives if the Giants do go ahead and give him the franchise tag.

The Giants may have to pay Williams more retroactively after franchise tagging him as a defensive tackle and playing him more as a defensive end, a higher paid position. The main concern, however, is that his tag price for a second time around would rise to $21.4M. The Giants will be in a tough cap spot this season and the front office definitely won’t be happy to hear about Williams costing $3.8M more to bring back.

It seems like the team wants to sign Williams to a longer deal but that may not happen with other teams being in a position to offer more money. Furthermore, the Giants may prioritize bringing back Williams’ fellow lineman Dalvin Tomlinson instead.

With other teams circling and sitting in a position to sign Williams this offseason, many have predicted the Giants going in another direction to address the pass rush, which Williams led in 2020. That might include drafting Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau, or trying to address the position through free agency. Either way, a potentially costlier tag is just one new thing on a list of reasons a Williams return in 2021 is looking more unlikely.

New York Giants could franchise tag Leonard Williams for a second time, but why?

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

As the New York Giants and Leonard Williams saga unfolds this off-season, replacing his production becomes a more eerie problem. If Williams decides to walk in free agency and take his talents elsewhere, the Giants will have to replace their best defender, arguably.

With that being said, Williams is Dave Gettleman’s Golden Goose, having traded a third and fifth-round pick for him less than two years ago. If the Giants do, in fact, let him walk, it will leave a massive stain on Gettleman’s tenure in New York, as he essentially gave away draft picks for two losing seasons.

However, the expectation is that both sides will come to an agreement, which could likely keep Williams in New York for the next three years at minimum. While the negotiation process has begun, a fresh deal isn’t close.

The Athletic’s Dan Duggan states that the Giants and Williams aren’t close on a new contract as of yet:

The Giants will use the next two weeks to try to sign Williams to a long-term contract. A source said that the sides aren’t close to an agreement. But it’s still early, and things can move fast in negotiations.

Williams finished the 2020 season with 11.5 sacks, 57 combine tackles, 30 QB hits, and 14 tackles for loss. Three of those categories were career highs for Leo, which should be enough to convince the Giants that he is worth a long-term investment. Considering he has never missed a game in his career due to injury, not only is he a constant, but analysts hold him in high regard, with quite spectacular company.

There is another option for the Giants, which could give them a bit more time to find a solution on a long-term contract. With minimal money to spend this off-season, shedding dead weight and lowering cap hits for specific players is likely in the near future. The Giants have until March 9 to utilize the franchise tag on Williams if they’d like to go that route.

If he is tagged, Williams will count $19.3 million in 2021, but it does offer the Giants an opportunity to extend him on a long-term deal, rescinding the tag. They could also use the transition tag, which would allow them to match any alternative offers from other teams. Either way, they have leverage in the process, but it might be more cost-efficient to extend him on a long-term deal and keep him for one more season at $19.3 million. The big question is, can they expect him to replicate his 11.5 sack season longing forward, especially with inconsistent production since entering the NFL.

New York Giants: The Underrated Benefit of Drafting a Cornerback

New York Giants, Patrick Surtain

As the 2021 NFL Draft swiftly approaches, the New York Giants are doing their best to make sure they get the No. 11 overall pick correct. Following a 2020 season that saw the team make strides towards competitiveness for the first time in years, it’s vital Big Blue makes the correct choice. Most mock drafts have suggested the team take an offensive-playmaker, a pass rusher, or an offensive lineman. While all of those options would greatly benefit the Giants, there’s one position that would kill two birds with one stone – cornerback.

The Underrated Benefit of Drafting a Cornerback at No. 11 Overall

The Role a Strong Secondary Plays in the Pass Rushing Game

On paper, a cornerback’s main duty is to defend against the opponent’s passing game. Whether that be via soft-zone, press-man, or any other scheme that Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham draws up, that is their job. A strong secondary-unit does more than just wreak havoc on opposing receivers and quarterbacks though. It allows the pass rush to get after the QB and forces the opponent to adjust their style of play. The Giants would reap the major benefits of this style of play by taking a defensive-back in round one this spring.

Following the 2019 season, the Giants knew they needed to improve their secondary. They allowed the fifth-most passing yards per game in the NFL and consistently failed to get off the field in crunch-time. To fix this issue they went out and signed James Bradberry. Bradberry outperformed all expectations in his first year with Big Blue in 2020, earning the first pro-bowl nod of his career. But it wasn’t only Bradberry who enjoyed a successful season – the entire Giants secondary improved significantly. The team allowed 26.2 less yards per game through the air and finished as the 17th-ranked unit in the league. Along with the improved pass defense came an uptick in pressure on the QB.

The Giants finished 2020 tied for the 11th-most sacks in the NFL with 40, 11 spots higher than their ranking in 2019. Despite not signing a dominant pass rusher in free agency last offseason, their pass rush improved. How? Strong play from the secondary. It’s not a coincidence both sections of the defense improved either. Almost all of the best passing defenses rushed the passer effectively in 2020.

The Correlation Between a Strong Passing Defense/Sacks

Of the six-best defenses against the pass in 2020, three of them finished in the top-six for sacks. On the other end of the rankings the correlation is relevant as well. Of the 10-worst pass defenses, five of them were in the bottom-10 for total sacks. A strong secondary allows the defensive line to produce something called a “coverage sack.” That is when a team forces the QB to hold onto the ball for an extended period of time, allowing the pass rushers to blow the play up.

The biggest example of a player benefitting from strong secondary play, and converting on “coverage sacks” is the Giants own Leonard Williams. In eight games with the team in 2019 Williams posted a measly 0.5 sacks. He did, however, register 11 hits on the QB. It was clear in 2019 that Williams needed only one more second to turn those hits into sacks. And when he received that extra second this past season, he made it count.

In 16 games with Big Blue in 2020 Williams was simply dominant. His 11.5 sacks led the team and were the 7th-most in the NFL. Nothing much about the former No. 6 overall pick changed heading into 2020. He was the same player but this time around had a group of high-football-IQ players behind him. He pounced on his secondary’s success and showed everyone why he was taken so high back in 2015.

Who Would be in Play at No. 11

If the Giants were to go the CB route in round one, which I strongly endorse, there are two players on the table: Patrick Surtain from Alabama and Caleb Farley out of Virginia Tech. Both are projected to be lockdown corners at the next level, and with good reason. Each played against top-tier competition while in college, possess nearly identical long, rangy frames, as well as a wealth of skill to play in almost any type of defense. They’re each projected to go in the top-15 of the draft this April.

Let’s say the Giants like Surtain a bit more because of coach Judge’s connection to Alabama, and take him at No. 11. He would immediately slide into CB2 opposite Bradberry. It’s fair to say the Giants would have one of, if not the best CB duo in the NFL with that pairing. It would be extremely difficult for an opposing to QB to find an open receiver each play, thus giving the d-line time to do their job.

There’s no need to draft an edge rusher at No. 11 overall or overpay for one in free agency this offseason. Continue to build up the secondary and the sack production will increase as a result. When there’s a chance to fill two positions of need with one player, you must take it.

New York Giants have had preliminary talks with Leonard Williams

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The New York Giants have had preliminary talks about a contract extension with Leonard Williams’ camp, per source.

As the source also noted, Williams is weighing all of his options, which includes listening to other teams once the free-agent period begins in March, but there is definitely a possibility that an extension could get done with the Giants before he hits the open market.

While the Giants have expressed that they want him back, they first need to figure out their tight salary cap situation with Williams and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, both pending free agency. The team is hoping to retain both players and could potentially use the franchise tag on Tomlinson as they did with Williams a season ago.

As ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported, the Giants will put forth their best effort to re-sign Williams this offseason, and if it doesn’t work out, Williams will have plenty of suitors.

After an underwhelming 2019 campaign, Williams is coming off the best season of his career, where he recorded 11.5 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, and 14 tackles for a loss in 16 games playing on the one-year franchise tag worth $16.126 million.

Following his productive season where he thrived in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s system, the 26-year-old is set up for a significant payday, whether it be with the Giants or elsewhere.

However, as Williams stated in his exit interview, it’s never been about the money, but more so earning respect, which he did last season.

An exciting defensive line prospect for the New York Giants to target if they lose Dalvin Tomlinson

The strength of the New York Giants is their defense. Undeniably the strongest positional group on New York’s defense is their defensive line. The trio of Dalvin Tomlinson, Leonard Williams, and Dexter Lawrence dominated in 2020. This group cost numerous assets to put together, but the Giants saw plenty of returns on their investments this past season.

Leonard Williams had a career-year with 11.5 sacks. Dalvin Tomlinson also continued to stand out, racking up 3.5 sacks and 49 combined tackles. Dexter Lawrence was phenomenal in his second year, posting 4 sacks and 53 combined tackles. It will be a major point of emphasis for the Giants to keep this trio together and build the defense around this unit.

However, the Giants are entering a crucial free agency period where they could lose one or two of these defensive linemen. Both Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson are free agents. It will be a top priority for the Giants to sign these players to contract extensions. But if one of them walks, it would be a huge blow to the defense and would force them to turn their attentions towards the interior defensive line prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Fortunately, there are some really intriguing defensive line prospects in the middle rounds of this year’s draft class. One exciting prospect to keep an eye on is Alim McNeill out of NC State. McNeill is a sleeper prospect that has begun rising up draft boards in recent weeks. If the Giants lose Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency, Alim McNeill would be the perfect nose tackle replacement to target in the draft.

Alim McNeill stats and highlights

Describe a unicorn. How about a 315-pound nose tackle that can hit 18 miles per hour on a treadmill and rush the passer with great efficiency? That sounds like a unicorn. That also sounds like Alim McNeill. Alim McNeill is a freakishly athletic interior defensive lineman that might somehow fall into the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

McNeill was initially projected as a third or fourth-round draft pick. However, in recent weeks, talent evaluators like Pro Football Focus have begun to hype up McNeill and tout him as a second-round prospect. It is not difficult to see what PFF sees when they praise Alim McNeill.

Nose tackles that can defend the run are common. But nose tackles that can pass-rush are rare. Alim McNeill was proficient at doing both in college. McNeill lined up as a 0-tech in college but was still able to find production as a pass-rusher, which is highly uncommon from that defensive alignment. McNeill’s athleticism comes from his history playing running back in high school. It is shocking how frequently that athleticism shows up on his game tape playing defensive line in college.

Alim McNeill might not be the most technically refined or advanced pass-rusher. But he has elite explosiveness and the ability to barrel through offensive linemen en route to the quarterback. McNeill posted 10 sacks through 32 career games and, according to Pro Football Focus, had a 9.3% pass-rush win rate, far above the draft class average from his position.

McNeill’s run-defense grade via PFF was 92.1 with a 77.5 pass-rushing grade. He has the ability to make plays in both facets of the game. The hope is for the New York Giants to re-sign Dalvin Tomlinson this offseason. But if they are unable to make that happen, drafting Alim McNeill would be quite the backup plan.