Grading the Giants’ defensive additions through two weeks

How have Olivier Vernon , Janoris Jenkins, and New York's other big offseason additions performed thus far?

| 1 week ago
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Grading the Giants’ defensive additions through two weeks


The New York Giants gambled big in free agency this offseason, and through two games of the season, at least, the reward is justifying the risk.

The team is 2-0, and the defense has been markedly better than in the recent past, surrendering 32 points across both games. Last season, the team was bottom of the league in that regard, allowing over 420 yards per game on defense and 6.1 yards per play. In 2016 they appear far better, allowing only 4.6 yards per play, good enough for sixth-fewest in the league.

With so many new faces on defense, the potential for how good or bad this unit could be was all over the map. In CBs Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple (No. 10 overall pick in the 2016 draft), DE Olivier Vernon, DT Damon Harrison, and S Darian Thompson (third-round pick), you have five new starters on defense (if we’re calling nickel corners starters, which we should at this point).

So far, not a single one of these five additions has been a letdown, and when you add in last year’s second-round pick, Landon Collins, rediscovering himself in a different role, this defense has undergone quite the transformation.

It’s also worth noting the teams the Giants have played over these first two games. Dallas may have been starting a rookie QB and RB in Week 1, but they have the best offensive line in football, and on 30 carries against New York, couldn’t manage better than 3.4 yards per rush attempt. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott managed just 2.6 yards per carry on his 20 attempts, and 42 of his 51 rushing yards came after contact.

The Saints were coming off a Week 1 game in which they racked up 507 yards and 34 points, but against the Giants’ defense, they managed just 288 net yards and 13 points. They also scored just one touchdown.

Heading into the Giants’ Week 3 NFC East matchup versus the Redskins, let’s take a look at how each new defensive addition has played through two weeks.

Giants’ nickel defense (Overall grades through Week 2 shown)

Giants nickel defense

1. DE Olivier Vernon, 73.6 overall grade this season

Olivier Vernon hasn’t been the pass-rushing force he was signed to be, but that is mitigated somewhat by Jason Pierre-Paul being back to his best in that regard. Neither edge rusher has a sack, but JPP has nine total pressures and a batted pass to his name, while Vernon has seven total pressures in 92 pass-rushing snaps. Vernon has made a significant impact in the run game, though, with four defensive stops and an impressive ability to attack the edge and squeeze the point of attack. So far his 73.6 overall grade hasn’t quite justified the lofty free-agent price tag, but he has been a notable upgrade on what the Giants had a year ago.

2. CB Janoris Jenkins, 84.0

Maybe the single biggest upgrade through two weeks, Janoris Jenkins has yet to have a significant misstep, ranking fourth among NFL CBs in overall grade. In fact, the only cornerback he trails by any significant distance is Washington’s Josh Norman. Jenkins has been thrown at 16 times, but has allowed just 66 receiving yards and has yet to be beaten for a pass of 15+ yards across two games, surrendering just 7.3 yards per reception. QBs throwing into his coverage so far this season have an NFL passer rating of 66.1, more than 20 points lower than the league average.

3. DT Damon Harrison, 51.7

The biggest physical addition to the defense hasn’t quite made the largest impact, but Harrison has done what he was signed to do, which is shore up New York’s interior D-line and perform against the run. He has five defensive stops in the run game, and given the number of snaps he has been on the field for (84), that’s the fifth-best rate in the league among defensive tackles. Harrison has done nothing as a pass-rusher (zero pressures on 46 passing snaps), but he has added a force to the middle of that line, and forms a formidable pairing with Johnathan Hankins (74.1 overall grade).

4. CB Eli Apple, 52.7

Strictly speaking, Apple doesn’t actually start for the Giants, but he is their third corner and comes on as soon as the team goes to nickel defense, which so far has been the majority of their snaps. Apple has notched 116 snaps over his first two pro games, which is 80.6 percent of the team’s total on defense. His play so far has been a work in progress, but he has yet to be significantly exposed. He has given up a catch on 72.7 percent of his targets, but none of those passes has gone for more than 23 yards, and he has a pair of pass breakups to his name.

5. S Darian Thompson, 60.0

Darian Thompson’s biggest impact this season might be that he has freed Landon Collins up to become more of a roving box safety by manning the deep middle. 70 of Thompson’s 88 snaps have come as free safety, allowing Collins to vacate that role and become a far bigger impact-player with alignment closer to the line of scrimmage. That’s not to say Thompson has been poor, but as a single-high free safety, he simply hasn’t been involved in that much action yet across two games.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Paul

    PG-13

    Hey, PFF. Go eat a bag of *apples*.

    https://www.profootballfocus.c

    DE Olivier Vernon (NYG): Five years, $85 million with $52.5 million guaranteed

    In three years time, when people are re-grading this free-agent period, Vernon won’t sit here in the middle of the pack. No, he’ll either be right at the top because he delivered, or right near the bottom because he failed to. If he can play close to the way he did in the second half of the 2015 season, then he’ll be considered a success. He was as good as any edge rusher in the league during that stretch, and he did it against top tackles like Dallas’ Tyron Smith. But if he reverts closer to how he played earlier in his career — when he was a solid player, not an elite one — he won’t come close to justifying this contract.

    DT Damon Harrison (NYG): Five years, $46.25 million with $24 million guaranteed

    We love the play of “Snacks,” who has developed into a one-man wrecking crew in the run game, regularly leading the league in defensive stops against the run. There is no doubt that he makes the Giants better on early downs, but we can’t go higher with our grade because of the money involved. It’s simply too much for a guy who doesn’t get after the passer.

    Janoris Jenkins (NYG): Five years, $62.5 million with $29 million guaranteed

    This is just an awful lot of money for a good corner who still gambles way too much. Big plays win games, and while Jenkins can make them, he’s been on the wrong end of more than his fair share. The Giants paid top-10 cornerback money for a guy who barely cracked the top 20 in our 2015 cornerback grades.

    They’ll keep hanging onto the whole “price doesn’t justify play” spiel the entire season in the hopes of saving face. Fact is, Giants had the money to spend, and HAD TO SPEND IT. Between this and their trashing of Eli Manning, PFF can go choke on that bag of apples. There’s nothing worse than a bunch of Brits sitting on their rumps pretending to know football.

    • Troy J Orourke

      these are not as big contracts as you think.. they are 3 and 4 yr deals that can be terminated with little dead money. factor in there is an “over pay” every yr, because the cap keeps going up, the money means little. they still have 25-30 mill next yr to spend. have we seen JJ “gamble too much” this yr? i have not. so kinda hard to speak in recent terms when you seem to be going off the past.

  • Steve Rudemyer

    Harrison and Hankins have identical stat lines, and have played almost the same amount of snaps, yet, according to PFF Grading, Hankins is almost 50% better. Watching the previous 2 games, I’m not sure how they came to such a conclusion. PFF, can you shed some light on this?

    • a57se

      PFF makes lots of mistakes…

      • crosseyedlemon

        Like using 3 periods to end a sentence.

        • a57se

          It is called an E-L-L-I-P-S-I-S.

    • rodrigo pedro

      They said Harrison has 0 pressures.
      The statline you are looking at has pressures and hits ? Maybe there is the diference.

    • Mike

      Lol maybe they’re giving him a 50% bump due to the blocked field goal that lead to a TD?! Doubt it but u never know with these guys

    • Steve Rudemyer

      I would argue that if they are giving him a 50% bump due to his blocked FG, then they are not grading correctly for defense. That was a ST play and should not affect his grade on the DL.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Giants organization never should have let the defense degrade to such a degree that such sweeping changes needed to be made during the off season but they have caught a break in that their aggressive free agent strategy has so far paid dividends. Sometimes you roll the dice and get lucky but it’s best to avoid situations where you have to rely on doing that.

    • Troy J Orourke

      lol “got lucky”. or just let injury prone players leave while signing young, healthy, scheme fits to replace them.. this thought process has worked pretty well for the Broncos and Pats the past 3 yrs.

      • crosseyedlemon

        What your overlooking is that the Giants are in the process of making a transition necessitated by the end of the Coughlin era. You can be sure that when the Broncos have to replace Elway and the Patriots Belicheck, that those franchises will have to scramble a bit too to make adjustments.