Johnathan Hankins is entering the danger zone for New York Giants defensive tackles. No, that doesn't mean anything bad is about to happen to Big Hank. It means the 2013 second-round pick is in the final year of his rookie contract and not once this century have the Giants drafted a defensive tackle and re-signed him when his rookie deal expired.
In fact, you have to go all the way back to the 1992 selection of Keith Hamilton in the fourth round to find a drafted defensive tackle who spent more than the first four years of his career with the Giants. Hamilton spent his entire 12-year career as a Giant.
Will Hankins be the first since Hamilton to be retained? Or, will he follow in the footsteps of Cornelius Griffin (2000), William Joseph (2003), Barry Cofield (2006), Jay Alford (2007), Linval Joseph (2010) and Marvin Austin (2012), among others?
What happens in 2016 is likely to have a lot to do with that. So, let's focus on Hankins as we continue our series of player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
2015 Season in Review
Hankins saw his season end after nine games, when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle while reaching to make a tackle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Any real chance the Giants had to become a quality run defense went to injured reserve with him.
Hankins was ranked No. 69 on the Pro Football Focus list of the top 101 players of 2014 after a season that saw him get seven sacks and compile a +20.2 PFF grade (+12.1 vs the run, +8.8 in pass rush).
Without Hankins, the Giants were left with no defensive tackles who could both command and defeat double teams.
2016 Season Outlook
Hankins is in for a position switch. Damon Harrison, signed to a mega-contract as a free agent, is one of the best nose tackles in football. Hankins will slide over from that "0" or "1 technique" spot depending on the front to a "3 technique" in the 4-3 Under alignment that became the Giants base defense a season ago.
What's the big deal? Hankins, at 6-foot-2, 320 pounds, doesn't fit the smaller, quicker profile of many 3 techniques. What is the role of a 3-tech? PFF says:
This player's job is to penetrate the line of scrimmage through his B-gap and disrupt plays in the backfield, whether pass or run ... the 3-technique relies far more on speed and agility than brute strength.
Chris says the 3 tech "is a bit smaller and more athletic, able to attack the gap between the guard and offensive tackle, and attack into the backfield in passing situations."
Hankins, then, doesn't fit the usual profile for what he will be asked to do. That doesn't mean he won't be able to do it, just that how he is used and how he adjusts will be interesting to watch.
The Giants are counting on Hankins, Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon to be a formidable front four that not only rushes the passer but improves a run defense that has been among the worst in the league the past two seasons.
"Looking at guys in front of you and knowing that they're going to do their job and they're going to do it very well. For us, it's like, every run play is like "let's get the scraps," because there might not be nothing for us," linebacker Keenan Robinson said recently. "JPP, OV, Hank — they might get to the ball carrier for a TFL [tackle for loss] in the backfield before we can get there, so for us it's just trying to clean up the scraps and hopefully fit where needed and try to make big plays in the backfield. That's why they brought those guys in, just to be able to make plays on that side of the ball."
If Hankins can help the Giants build the kind of solid run defense they have been missing perhaps he can break that lengthy string of defensive tackles the Giants didn't keep around any longer than they had to.