Pro Football Focus has selected second-year defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins as the New York Giants 'Secret Superstar'. That's a lofty tag to pin on a guy who had not starts in 11 games as a rookie and played less than 200 snaps. The Giants need to hope PFF is right. More importantly, for the defense to remain stout against the run the organization needs to be proven right in putting its faith in the 2013 second-round pick.
The Giants, of course, allowed their best defensive tackle -- Linval Joseph -- to accept a free-agent contract from the Minnesota Vikings while barely making any effort to keep him. Largely, that is because of Hankins. The Giants drafted him 49th overall season ago in part as preparation for the departure of Joseph. Can the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Hankins be the solid run-stuffer and occasional pass-rushing presence Joseph was for the Giants? PFF thinks that Hankins might turn out to be even better:
Overall, Hankins' +9.5 run defense grade for the entire season led all Giants defensive tackles and was +1.5 better than Joseph in one-third the snaps. If you factor in playing time, Hankins had the third-highest grade per run defense snap of any defensive tackle in the entire league. His 10.5 Run Stop Percentage was seventh out of 77 NFL defensive tackles with at least 100 run snaps last season. His pass rush left a lot to be desired (he only had three quarterback pressures the entire season), but he only had three snaps total in 3rd-and-long obvious passing downs. Keep in mind that Joseph himself was never a dominant pass rusher outside his 2011 season.
The Giants front office always drafts with a long-term plan in mind, and certainly they were cognizant of Joseph's contract year when they selected Hankins. No team likes to lose a 25-year-old durable player in his prime, but paying a hefty price for a run-stopping defensive tackle isn't a necessity when there's a potentially better one waiting in the wings. Now that Joseph is gone, Hankins is a projected starter and will no longer have to wait for playing time. If his rookie year is any indication, the Giants will wonder why they were so patient in the first place.
The Giants have treated the defensive tackle this way for more than a decade. Cornelius Griffin was replaced by William Joseph. Joseph by Barry Cofield. Cofield by Linval Joseph. Now, Hankins steps in for Linval Joseph.
Will Hankins be the guy who breaks the mold, who plays so well over the next three seasons that he earns the big-money contract the Giants refused to dole out for his predecessors? We begin to find out this season.
-- Kudos to 'Invictus' for pointing out the PFF Secret Superstar post in the comments of an earlier post.