New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman angered and disappointed some fans when he traded run-stopping defensive lineman (and fan favorite) Damon “Snacks” Harrison midway through last season. Harrison is one of the NFL’s most underrated and underappreciated players. The Giants struggled mightily against the run even with Harrison in the lineup. It was more apparent after his departure.
In 2019, the Giants are betting on their front three being able to fill gaps, close running lanes, and get their linebackers and secondary off to fast starts on each snap. Gettleman wants to accomplish this with players that offer versatility and can be used interchangeably along the line. He also has an eye towards the youth movement as none of the three projected starters on the d-line are older than 25.
Third-year Dalvin Tomlinson was moved from defensive end to nose tackle following the trade of Harrison. This is good news because Tomlinson hasn’t shown much pass rushing ability but is a monster at stopping the run. In 32 career games, he has amassed 53 run stops with just one missed tackle. Tomlinson’s run-stop percentage was 8.3, which places him among the top-third in the NFL. Tomlinson had at least 50 tackles in first two seasons, improving his 2018 total by nine (59). He also improved his tackles-for-loss total to five in ’18 after having one in his rookie season.
Last season B.J. Hill set the Giants rookie sack record with 5.5, which was second on the team after the traded Olivier Vernon. He also had 48 combined tackles (32 solo), eight quarterback hits, and six tackles for a loss in 16 games with 12 starts. He showed the versatility coveted by Gettleman as he is capable of both run-stopping and pass catching duties but was inconsistent throughout the season. The Giants expect Hill, who had a grand total of eight sacks in four seasons at North Carolina State, to continue in his development. If he can help in stopping the run, his pass rushing abilities become much more valuable.
Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence is the Giants’ “other” 2019 first-round (17th overall) selection. He has pretty much flown underneath the radar even though he is more important to the Giants’ immediate success than Daniel Jones. Some believed Lawrence, a Giant in the literal sense of the word at 6-feet-4, 342 pounds, was brought in to supplant Tomlinson. Lawrence’s reputation as a run-stuffer precedes him so much that implies a lack of pass rushing ability, a perception that bothers him but one he wants to change. Lawrence didn’t record many sacks with the Tigers (10 in three seasons) but he was a part of two national championship teams and played with a slew of NFL talent. Lawrence will be closely watched, in part, because he was selected with one of the draft picks sent over from the Cleveland Browns when Odell Beckham Jr. was dealt.
The Giants brought in Olsen Pierre, who is familiar to defensive coordinator James Bettcher from his time with the Arizona Cardinals, to compete for a spot in the rotation. Pierre had his greatest success under Bettcher in 2017, a season in which the Cardinals finished with the NFL’s sixth-best defense. R.J. McIntosh, a 2018 fifth-round pick (139th overall), missed all of the offseason workouts and appeared in only six games due to an undisclosed illness. McIntosh participated in all of the Giants’ offseason workouts and is more familiar with the defense after spending the majority of ’18 in the classroom.
Akinmoladun was invited to rookie minicamp and impressed the coaching staff enough to be brought in for training camp. The 6-foot-3, 284-pound former Nebraska Cornhusker faces an uphill battle to make the team. For Ceresna, this is a second chance to make it onto an NFL roster. He signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and spent the past two seasons in the Canadian Football League. Ceresna is considered a long-shot as well.
Alex Jenkins spent the past two seasons on the New Orleans Saints practice squad. A native of Bath, England, Alex Jenkins played his college ball at the University of the Incarnate Word. He may be destined for the Giants practice squad. John Jenkins signed with the Giants before the start of the regular season. He took just 57 defensive snaps in ’18 and could be on the clock due to the arrivals of Lawrence and Slayton.
Speaking of Slayton, the four-year starter at Syracuse fits the archetype of a Giants interior defensive lineman from a physical standpoint. He doesn’t bring anything to the table that Tomlinson, Hill, and Lawrence don’t already possess. He can be a huge problem for blockers in one-on-one situations and has the ability to penetrate in one-gap schemes. However, Slayton is not particularly explosive or agile, struggles to get off blocks, and his hand usage has been described as crude. Nonetheless, Slayton could earn a spot on the 53-man roster with a strong training camp and preseason.
It may sound cliché, but the Giants’ defensive success begins up front. The pieces assembled are more versatile but it remains to be seen which players will separate themselves from the pack. First and foremost, Getlleman’s defensive hog mollies need to be able to stop the run. In 2018, the Giants surrendered an average of 118.6 yards per game (20th in the NFL). The Giants’ defensive linemen are a relatively young bunch and have tremendous upside. In 2019, they need to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with.