Giants Unit Review: The D-line Steps Up
There’s little debate that the Giants 2019 defense as a whole wasn’t very good.
But if you had to identify one unit that came close to matching if not exceeding expectations in a good way, the defensive line would be it.
General manager Dave Gettleman, who loves his hog mollies, added another to the defensive front in the form of Dexter Lawrence II, a big man-mountain who by year’s end proved that he had what it took to be more than just a two-down run stopper.
The 6-foot 4, 345-pound Lawrence, in clogging up the inside running lanes, demonstrated a rare combination of power, balance, and mobility that isn’t often shown by men of his size.
But what was also surprisingly impressive is that Lawrence, the No. 17th pick int eh draft that the Giants obtained from Cleveland for Odell Beckham Jr showed a quick-twitch ability to get off at the snap and attack his man.
People might look at the numbers--2.5 sacks and 38 tackles—and scoff. Considering Lawrence often dealt with multiple blockers and tried to play the role as a plugger, these are pretty good numbers as is the fact that he barely came off the field all season long, a remarkable achievement for a rookie given that most first-year NFL players end up being gassed by around Thanksgiving.
People are still not sold on the Giants decision to trade away assets for Leonard Williams. Still, there is little denying that once Williams arrived, Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson played much better. But the problem with Williams—and why there is some trepidation about backing up the money truck for him—is in his numbers, which are “highlighted” by 0.5 sack and 26 tackles.
On paper, that kind of production doesn’t deserve a king’s ransom, but if the Giants pay Williams like he is—a support player—then it makes sense.
And that’s a big part of what Williams brought to the table, that support in which he not only played all three downs, he showed enough athleticism and coordination getting upfield and bending the corner to help impact the pass rush in the eight games he played. Where Williams made a difference, in particular, was on stunts when he was able to loop around and exploit the B gaps to generate pressure.
Tomlinson was the biggest benefactor of Williams’ arrival as it took away some of the attention he was getting and freed him up to start attacking the line of scrimmage. Once Tomlinson began doing this, his game took a significant leap in production and effectiveness.
Tomlinson began to to to get untracked in Week 6 before Williams arrived. Still, when Williams was next to him, that’s when suddenly the Giants had the makings of a dynamic duo on the field that can become a disrupting force.
On the flip side, B.J. Hill saw his playing time decrease once Williams arrived. Perhaps in retrospect, one needs to go back to his rookie season in which he recorded 5.5 sacks, most of those coming in one game and with most of them coming with him not having to do much movement.
That doesn’t mean that Hill can’t be a part of the rotation—he’ll likely still be a part of the depth as a team can never have enough defensive linemen—but it will be interesting to see if Hill rebounds from a relatively quiet second season and earns more snaps.
Where Do They Go From Here?
The most significant thing the Giants have to do is re-sign Williams, else the decision to trade a third-round pick will have looked foolish. (Yes, there is a chance that if the Giants do lose Williams in free agency, they can get a comp pick in 2021, but that’s not a given since the current CBA ends this year and there is no guarantee the comp pick system will continue.)
Williams’ production doesn’t warrant Aaron Donald money, as Williams is more of a supporting piece to the puzzle than the main piece. The Giants have far too many other needs that will warrant premium dollars, so it will be interesting to see what kind of contract Williams draws.
According to Spotrac, Williams should be in line for a deal averaging $8.2 million per year. Still, it is unclear if that estimate is based on him playing defensive tackle in a 3-4 or a 4-3, as the primary system does make a difference.
The Giants will probably look to add to this group a well. They didn’t get as much out of R.J. McIntosh as he showed during the summer. And draft pick Chris Slayton, who was added to the roster late in the year after sitting on the practice squad, is a bit of an unknown. So it would not be a stunning development if another defensive lineman is added in this year’s draft.
The Bottom Line
Having a solid rotation is essential to keep these guys fresh, especially for those times when the offense can’t stay on the field. The Giants have some good young talent on this unit, but they’ll need to add more to remain competitive.
Lastly, if Williams isn’t re-signed, that will go down as one of the most stunning upsets in recent team history.