The Giants continue to fill roster spots through free agency with the signing of defensive tackle Justin Ellis.
It’s no secret that the Giants' run defense took a significant step back when the Giants traded away B.J Hill for offensive lineman Billy Price and a conditional seventh-round pick in this year's draft that is now locked in.
That trade crippled the Giants' strength up the middle defensively and didn’t improve the offensive line. Meanwhile, Hill got a new deal from the Bengals, and Price remains unsigned by the Giants, who seem unlikely to bring him back.
One of the priorities for the Giants under the new regime has been to improve the rush defense up the middle, and that's where Ellis comes in. After spending the previous three seasons in Baltimore, he comes to New York offering veteran experience and a deep understanding of the defense likely planned by coordinator Don Martindale.
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Ellis is your prototypical two-down nose tackle. He is there to suck up blockers that allow the linebackers behind him to make plays.
It’s difficult to tell right now what the ultimate role for Ellis will be, but you have to imagine he will make his most significant impact on typical rundowns and in short-yardage situations.
At 6’2” and 350 pounds, Ellis would be considered a plugger. He has the strength to push the line of scrimmage backward or to create a massive pile of bodies at the point of attack. He uses his hands well and knows how to anchor down against double teams.
Over his last three seasons, he received approximately a third of the snaps at the nose. That is what Giants fans can likely expect in a defense predicated on platooning personnel to match the game situation.
Anything that comes near his gap is swallowed up, and if it cuts away from his gap, there should be a free defender there to clean it up, whether it's Blake Martinez or whoever shakes out as the starting middle linebacker’s best friend.
Spending the past three seasons in the Ravens’ organization should help Ellis adapt quickly with the Giants. There’s no doubt that his signing is because of his familiarity with this defense and that Martindale likely signed off on him.
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Ellis will be able to help the other defensive linemen adjust to how this defense differs from the one run by former defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, as not all 30-front defenses are made equally. It helps to have a guy who understands the scheme's nuances and the coordinator running it.
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Weakness: Pass Rushing
For as good of a run defender Ellis is, he is non-existent in the passing game. He has only recorded a half-sack in eight seasons in the NFL with two different organizations. That came back in 2017 as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
Ellis is designed to rush the passer, but most of the time, his job does not entail pass-rushing. Ellis is there to collect bodies and eat up blocks--that is why he is referred to as a two-down lineman.
He lacks the requisite explosion to get an offensive lineman on his heels immediately or to use his bull rush to force a guard or center into the quarterback's lap.
Ellis does not have the quickness to get the offensive linemen on his shoulder, and he lacks the bend to quickly change levels when necessary to shed pass blockers.
He most likely won't be on the field in obvious passing downs. This keeps him fresher to face the run blocking. He will also see his snaps decrease based on the offense they are facing that week. Ellis is best as a point-of-attack run defender, less effective against outside zone teams, and just a body out there in the pass rush.
Ellis doesn’t completely solve the problem for the Giants at nose tackle. They still need more depth and dynamic at the position. There’s a good chance that they use one of their Day 1 or Day 2 picks on an interior defensive lineman.
Ellis will undoubtedly be a mentor for whomever they bring in via the draft as they look to get acclimated to the NFL and, more specifically, to this defense. The Giants will need to address more pass-rushing speed on the interior by either drafting someone or moving pieces like Dexter Lawrence II to the nose, especially in obvious pass-rush situations.
Ellis is another signee that allows the Giants to avoid reaching for a prospect in the draft; if there is no defensive tackle with value available where they are picking, they can afford to resist the temptation to reach because it is a definitive need.
Plugging Eliis into a lineup with Leonard Williams and Lawrence flanking him should be a formidable front for offensive lines to contend with. At the very least, they will need to solve some problems to navigate themselves through that front.