The New York Giants doled out $105.3 million in guaranteed contracts last off-season to land Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon and Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Today, anchored by that revamped defense, Big Blue is 9-4 and on the verge of their first postseason appearance since 2011. Pro Football Focus ranked Jenkins (4), Vernon (8) and Harrison (9) among their top 10 free-agent acquisitions across the NFL. The Giants are the only team in the league to have three players on that list.
Harrison was a can’t-miss pickup, he filled a run-stuffing void in the middle of the defensive line next to Johnathan Hankins. Jenkins and Vernon on the other hand were viewed as high-risk signings. The Giants were giving elite contracts to good players who weren’t quite that. Here’s what PFF had to say about Jenkins and Vernon before the start of the season.
On Jenkins ...
“This is a boom-or-bust move for the Giants. From a financial perspective, this is a big gamble on a cornerback who has not proven himself to be among the top tier of corners. Jenkins has consistently been a corner equally adept at creating impact plays for both his team and the opposition. ... only Buster Skrine (25) and Patrick Peterson (23) have surrendered more than Jenkins’ 22 touchdowns, while only four corners (Antonio Cromartie, Brandon Carr, Cary Williams and Tramon Williams) have allowed more plays of 20-plus yards than Jenkins (39).”
On Vernon ...
“The question mark over this move is twofold for the Giants. First, the cost is astronomical; they have given Vernon more guaranteed money on a shorter contract than J.J. Watt received from the Texans. Secondly, Vernon’s explosion in production and performance came in an eight-week spell right at the end of his rookie deal. ... the Giants have taken a big gamble that this was the start of Olivier Vernon’s emergence as an elite defensive player, and not an eight-week streak for a team that was coasting to the end of the season after firing their head coach.”
Through Week 14, PFF is singing a different tune. The Giants’ defense has gone from giving up 420.3 yards per game (298.9 passing, 121.4 rushing) and 27.6 points in 2015 to 349.3 (256.6, 92.7) and 18.8 this year.
Jenkins is a top-10 rated CB and Vernon’s 72 QB pressures are second among ends. In two games against the Dallas Cowboys, Jenkins held Dez Bryant to two receptions, on 14 targets, for 18 yards and forced a fumble. Vernon’s impact wasn’t reflected in his sack total early in the season, but he’s recorded seven sacks in his last six games. Harrison is a big reason the Giants boast the league’s eighth-ranked run defense. His 16.5 run-stop percentage, as measured by PFF, is the highest of any tackle in the NFL by far.
It’s worth noting that each man is less than a full season into contracts which run until 2021. Each have produced at or near elite levels and remained relatively healthy, but there’s much more football to be played. Early returns, however, have yielded big results for Big Blue. With Hankins banged up and Jason Pierre-Paul out the rest of the way, the Giants will be counting on their top off-season signings to lock up either NFC wild-card spot. They’ve yet to disappoint.