What Giants' 2016 defense now looks like
The New York Giants have been one of the most active teams this free-agency period, investing big money on the defensive side of the ball. It seems that immediate results are expected of the man who has led the Giants’ personnel department since 2007, General Manager Jerry Reese. The Giants added the top defensive end and one of the best corners on the market—Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins—as well as the top run-stopper in the league, Damon Harrison. Those additions will play alongside Jason Pierre-Paul, who the team re-signed on a one-year contract.
The Giants’ should have one of the best defensive lines in football because of their investment this offseason. If Jason Pierre-Paul’s hand recovers to the point the club becomes obsolete—or he gains more experience playing with it—New York’s pass rush will be even more fearsome. Even if tackling remains an issue, JPP finished with the 11th-highest pass-rushing grade in 2015, despite rushing the passer just 314 times. He amassed 41 combined pressures (one sack, six hits, and 34 hurries) in those limited reps. Partnering him with Vernon—assuming the former Dolphin’s 2015 was no fluke—gives the Giants one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league. Vernon racked up 81 combined pressures of his own last season, finishing second amongst edge defenders with a 90.7 rushing grade. Robert Ayers will prove better value for money, but Vernon can be a difference-maker off the edge.
On the interior, the Giants brought in the league’s top pure run-stuffing defensive lineman. Damon Harrison is immovable in the ground game; he excels at occupying double-teams and makes plays when single-blocked. No interior defensive lineman (DT, NT or 3-4 DE) aside from J.J. Watt has recorded a better run-stop percentage than 12.9 percent. (In 2012, Watt recorded a whopping 17.1 run-stop percentage.) Still, that figure lags some way behind Damon Harrison’s 2015 figure of 18.1 percent. Harrison recorded 49 stops from just 271 snaps (missing just two tackles), finishing the year atop our rankings with a 97.3 grade in that facet of play.
He doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher (70.4 grade), but there are no better run-stuffers on the planet right now. The addition of Harrison will allow Jonathan Hankins to kick out to three-technique, where he may make more of an impact as a pass-rusher with more one-on-one opportunities. The Giants could use more depth on the interior, where Cullen Jenkins (71.7 overall grade) is declining, and Jay Bromley (66.3) and Markus Kuhn (47.7) have failed to develop.
Reese also places significant value on the cornerback position. The five-year, $62 million, $30 million guaranteed contract handed to Janoris Jenkins is evidence of that. Jenkins’ contract follows the one he gave to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a couple of seasons back, worth $35 million over five years, with close to $15 million guaranteed. Reese has also significant draft resources in corners. Since becoming GM, he’s spent four high draft picks on the position, including a pair of firsts, a second, and a third. Corner is clearly another priority of this Giants’ front office.
Janoris Jenkins was overpaid, that much is obvious, but partnering him with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gives the Giants a pair of playmaking corners. In theory, the boosted pass-rush should lead to turnovers by the back end. Rodgers-Cromartie is incredibly inconsistent, but had one of his better years in 2015. Overall, he allowed a completion percentage of 59.5 percent for 533 yards, just one touchdown, picked off four passes, and made seven pass deflections. Rodgers-Cromartie finished the year with an 83.6 grade in coverage, good for 10th-best at the position.
Jenkins, meanwhile, is even more of a gambler than Rodgers-Cromartie. His numbers are less impressive, because those gambles don’t always pay off. Overall, he allowed a completion percentage of 67.7 for 738 yards, five scores, three picks, and 10 pass deflections. While Jenkins is far from a great player, he’s still an above-average starter, ending the year with a 79.8 grade in coverage. With Trevin Wade (71.0 overall grade) proving adequate in the slot, the Giants have a more-than-solid trio of corners for 2016.
In many ways, describing linebacker as an afterthought for the Giants is an exaggeration, seeing as Reese barely seems to consider the position at all. The Giants have invested a high draft pick in a linebacker once during the GM’s tenure—a second-round pick used on Clint Sintim in 2009—preferring instead to spend late-round draft picks and veteran-minimum contracts on the position. The Giants haven’t added a high-level free agent LB since Michael Boley was added that same year.
Five linebackers played more than 400 snaps for the Giants in 2015. Jasper Brinkley (66.5 overall grade) was the most effective, but still wasn’t a good starter. While he was dominant against the run (94.7 grade), he really struggled in coverage (41.7). Brinkley has just hit the market, so isn’t guaranteed to be back.
2014 fifth-round selection Devon Kennard flashed potential (62.6), but couldn’t stay healthy. Veteran linebacker and former Saint Jonathan Casillas failed to provide a solution to the Giants’ long-standing issues at the position (38.7). Uani’ Unga (38.7) and J.T. Thomas (60.9) also struggled. Short of an unforeseen investment in April, the Giants will hope to succeed without quality linebacker play.
The Giants have invested slightly more resources in the safety position than at linebacker. Landon Collins was taken in the second round last year, and Reese invested a first and third in 2008 and 2010 respectively. The likes of Stevie Brown took significant snaps for too many years as part of the Giants’ secondary, however. Last year, Brandon Meriweather (60.2) somehow received another opportunity to start and proceeded to struggle. Even Craig Dahl (51.5) took over 400 snaps, despite never proving to be a capable NFL player. The Giants will likely rely on journeymen again to man the free safety spot in 2016.