One of the biggest decisions the New York Giants made this offseason was to let talented defensive tackle Linval Joseph leave via free agency, counting on second-year man Johnathan Hankins to fill the void. Let's look at Hankins as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp less than a month from now.
2013 Season In Review
The Giants drafted the 6-foot-2, 320-pound Hankins in the second round to help shore up a run defense that had been porous in 2012, and as a long-term successor to Joseph. Hankins did not play until Week 5 and did not earn consistent playing time until the second half of the season. When he did play, however, he played well -- especially against the run. Pro Football Focus looked back at Hankins' performance and named Hankins the Giants' 'Secret Superstar' heading into 2014. Here is PFF's rationale:
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.
Hankins played only 191 defensive snaps in 2013, or 16.9 percent of the plays for which the Giants' defense was on the field. MIke Patterson played 401 snaps (35.5 percent) and Shaun Rogers 223 snaps (19.8 percent). His performance indicates he should have been on the field more often.
2014 Season Outlook
The Giants expect Hankins to play far more than 191 snaps this season. With Joseph gone to the Minnesota Vikings Hankins is expected to start next to veteran Cullen Jenkins.
"Hankins really took off at the end of last year and has done a great job in the offseason working out, coming in in really good condition," said defensive line coach Robert Nunn.
For comparison's sake, let's look at Joseph's numbers in 2011, his first year as a starter. After playing sparingly in only six games as a rookie, Joseph had two sacks and 52 tackles in 16 games. Last season, Joseph had three sacks and 59 tackles.
Can Hankins meet, or exceed, that productivity? The Giants are counting on it.