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Positional review: Defensive tackle — middle became a no-run zone

Giants play at this spot was a key to success of defense

NFL: Preseason-New York Giants at Buffalo Bills
Johnathan Hankins
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Today we turn our attention to the defensive line as we continue to meander through position-by-position profiles of the New York Giants heading into the 2017 offseason. We will focus specifically here on the defensive tackle spot, leaving defensive end for another day.

2016 season

Talk about an upgrade! A year after watching far too much of Cullen Jenkins, Jay Bromley and Markus Kuhn fail to hold up physically at the point of attack, the Giants added All-Pro run stuffer Damon Harrison, got a full, healthy season from Johnathan Hankins and became the second-most difficult team in the league to run against, giving up only 3.5 yards per carry.

The amazing play of the 350-pound Harrison, signed from the New York Jets as a free agent, was a big part of the reason. Per Pro Football Focus, no defensive tackle came close to “Snacks” in run stops.

The Giants didn’t get a lot from Jay Bromley in his third season, and opportunities were limited for Robert Thomas, who played only 68 snaps. The Giants often moved a defensive end, and sometimes even linebacker Devon Kennard, to defensive tackle in passing situations.

2017 free agents

Johnathan Hankins (Unrestricted)
Robert Thomas (Exclusive rights)

Offseason decisions to make

The biggest one, obviously, is going to be whether or not to re-sign Hankins. The Giants, historically, have not signed defensive tackles they have drafted to second contracts. Think about Barry Cofield and Linval Joseph. In fact, the last drafted defensive tackle to get a second contract from the Giants was Keith Hamilton, a fourth-round selection way back in 1992.

Will Hankins break the mold? That will depend largely on whether the Giants feel they can afford both Hankins and Jason Pierre-Paul and, if they can only sign one, which player they prioritize.

Draft/FA priority level

Medium. How big a priority this spot is depends entirely upon what happens with Hankins. If Big Hank is back, do the Giants think they have enough depth with Bromley and Thomas? Can they find a veteran backup to push Thomas or Bromley, or perhaps a developmental player in the middle to late rounds of the draft?

If they lose Hankins via free agency, can they find a less expensive veteran stop-gap in free agency or a promising youngster in the early rounds of the draft?