New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Defensive Line

The Giants defensive line was a hands-down strength of the team for a second year in a row. But can general manager Dave Gettleman find a way to keep that unit together?
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The Giants defensive line was a hands-down strength of the team for the second year in a row. But can general manager Dave Gettleman find a way to keep that unit together?

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The Giants defensive line was the biggest strength on the team, not just in terms of overall production but also their impact on the defense.

Individually, Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson both had the best year of their respective careers.

Williams posted new career highs in quarterback hits with 30 and sacks with 11.5, the latter stat the first double-digit sack season of his career and a significant increase from the half-sack he recorded in 2019. Williams also recorded a career-high 14 run stops for zero or negative yards

Tomlinson recorded career-highs in tackles for a loss with 21 and quarterback hits with 20 and matched his career-high in sacks with 3.5, first set in 2019.

But where Tomlinson’s impact was felt was in an area where there are no stats, namely as the line’s nose tackle, he was able to draw multiple blockers on every play, which opened opportunities for others on the defense to take advantage of the statistical windfall.

All this success might have been a good thing for the Giants, but with both Williams and Tomlinson set to be free agents, the Giants, who like the rest of the NFL, are facing an upcoming league year in which the salary cap could drop to as low as $175 million, might have to make a hard choice between which guy to keep.

For his part, Williams has said that “it’s never been about money” for him.

"I was kind of drafted high, made a lot of money already in my career," he said at the end of the season.

"I feel like I was smart enough and I could retire now and still have enough money for the rest of my life, but it’s never been about the money. I think I just more wanted the respect and to show guys the reason why I’m in this league. Like I said, it’s just more about the respect to me than the contract."

Would Williams accept anything less than a fair-market deal, which per Spotrac, would equate to a three-year, $24,175,686 contract averaging $8,058,562 per year?

That would put Williams, who finished second behind Aaron Donald in sacks among interior defensive linemen, well behind the average $22.5 million per year Donald earns and the $20 million per year earned by Chris Jones of the Chiefs, the latter whose statistical production is on par with Williams'.

Tomlinson, on the other hand, said that he hasn't focused on his upcoming contract negotiations, though he did tell reporters on at least a couple of occasions that he's loyal and he loves being a part of the Giants organization. Still, he wouldn't be the first player to have his loyalty tested if he were to receive an offer that blows him away from another team.

It's been said that teams can find ways to keep the players they want, and certainly, it would behoove the Giants to keep their defensive line band together given the chemistry it's built over two seasons. But with an uncertain salary cap picture ahead, the feasibility of doing so remains to be seen. 


Leonard Williams (PFF Grade: 79.8)
2020 Stats: 57 Tackles, 11.5 sacks, 30 QBH, 14 TFL

The type of production Williams delivered in 2020 is precisely what the Giants thought he could produce when they made that controversial trade for the Jets first-round pick.

Williams, who changed up his off-season workout regimen to get stronger and improve his stamina, was a whirlwind out there, as he seemed like the only defensive lineman capable of getting any pressure on the quarterback as well as being a solid run defender.

Williams fully justified the franchise tag and is likely headed for his second tag in as many seasons, as two-way defenders who can handle the run and pass rush don't come along every day.

Williams is only 26 years old, so a three-year deal on par with what Chris Jones of the Chiefs received is likely a good starting point for negotiations, though figure Williams will draw more since he had better production.

Dexter Lawrence II (PFF Grade: 79.7)
2020 Stats: 53 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 6 TFL, 10 QBH

Second-year man Lawrence is still on a mission to prove that he's more than just a run stopper. He took strides toward making that case by increasing his sack total from 2.5 to 4.0, his tackle total from 38 to 53, and his TFL’s from 3 to 6.

The best thing about Lawrence was his versatility. He played just about everywhere on that defensive line, and no one position was too much for him. He successfully took on multiple blockers and stayed on his feet, creating congestion inside that forced opposing runners to bounce things outside where the Giants were often able to meet quickness with quickness.

If Lawrence is to become an every-down player, he'll have to work on finishing his pass rushes, which, more often than not, failed to get home. He's still a work in progress, but that progress is headed in the right direction and continues to look promising.

Dalvin Tomlinson (PFF Grade: 75.2)
2020 Stats: 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 8 TFL, 10 QBH

Tomlinson's numbers don't begin to underscore the impact he had on the defense. In anchoring the middle, he too mucked up space as a power run defender and created opportunities from the guys net to him, most notably Leonard Williams, to wreak havoc.

Tomlinson, who, like Williams, is scheduled to be a UFA, has never missed a start, a valuable commodity as any. He's also been especially valuable in the red zone, where he doesn't give up any ground.

But if it comes down to choosing between him or Williams, the Giants will likely go with Williams, the pass rusher, as run stoppers are a little easier to find in the draft.

Of course, let's hope that the Giant find a way to keep him and Williams, as it would be a shame to break up what's otherwise been a very successful defensive front.

B.J. Hill (PFF Grade: 73.4)
2020 Stats: 32 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2 TFL, 3 QBH

Hill was a key part of the defensive line rotation, lining up at defensive end in a 3-4 front, but it's worth wondering if a move inside to nose tackle might be in his future if the Giants aren't able to re-sign Tomlinson.

Hill's best career year to date, his rookie season when he recorded 5.5 sacks, came when he was able to work inside, so perhaps this might be in his future

Austin Johnson (PFF Grade: 66.9)
2020 Stats: 18 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QBH

A rotational defensive tackle who took most of his snaps at nose tackle, Johnson is a run-first nose tackle plugger with sufficient mobility to get to the edges.

Johnson signed a one-year deal as a UFA, but he played well enough to warrant a second contract, one that he should get, especially if Dalvin Tomlinson moves on to another team.

R.J. McIntosh (No grade)
2020 Stats: None

McIntosh was a consistent healthy scratch. He has one year remaining on his rookie contract and will presumably be back to compete for a spot as a defensive end in a 3-4 alignment. 


2020 Offseason Outlook

General manager Dave Gettleman probably won't admit it, but he's likely sweating nervously over the thought of potentially losing Dalvin Tomlinson if Williams receives the franchise tag. 

"The toughest thing for us right now frankly is we don’t know what the cap number is going to look like. That’s a problem. We’re not going to know for a while. That’s going to dictate obviously how you operate," Gettleman said when asked if it was possible to keep the band together. 

"We’ve got cap space, we’ve got room. You never have as much room as you want to have. We’ve got cap space, we’ve got room to do the things we feel like we need to do initially. A lot of it is going to be about the drop it’s going to take. How far of a plunge is it going to take? We don’t know. They’re talking $175 (million)--who knows. We’ll plan and then once we know the number, we’ll get moving." 

Indeed not knowing the cap number makes it hard to plan, but you can't help but wonder if Austin Johnson, who played for Giants defensive line coach Sean Spencer at Penn State, might be the backup plan if Tomlinson walks.


Other 2020 New York Giants Position Unit Reviews


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