The New York Giants got back to their winning ways in 2016, thanks mostly to a markedly improved defense. So it would stand to reason that when Pro Football Focus named its year-end award winners, Big Blue would be represented by two of their most important defensive cogs — safety Landon Collins and defensive tackle Damon Harrison.
PFF named Collins its 2016 Breakout Player of the Year and runner-up for Best Player and Defensive Player of the Year. He’s also been selected to his first Pro Bowl, named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and received All-NFL team honors from the Pro Football Writers of America.
After an up-and-down rookie season in 2015, Collins flourished in his second-year. Whether it was stuffing the run, pass-coverage or creating turnovers, Collins was Big Blue’s leading man and top play-maker. It will be interesting to see whether or not his name is called at the NFL Honors Awards during Super Bowl LI weekend.
For all of Collins’ accolades, “Snacks” Harrison isn’t too far behind. Besides being named PFF’s Best Run Defender, he was also named AP first-team All-Pro and All-NFL by the PFWA.
The Giants’ run defense went from 24th in 2015 (121.4 yards per game allowed) to tied for third (88.6 yards per game) with the addition of Harrison, and it’s no aberration. Harrison’s former team, the New York Jets, finished 2016 as the NFL’s 11th-ranked run defense (98.8 yards per game). With Harrison in 2015, the Jets were second against the run (83.3 yards per game) and allowed only four rushing touchdowns.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and cornerback Janoris Jenkins were excluded altogether from PFF’s awards; neither earned even runner-up consideration.
Denver Broncos CB Aqib Talib was named Best Coverage Defender, with teammate Chris Harris Jr. and New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty next in line. Jenkins had more passes defensed (18) than Talib (12), Harris (11) and McCourty (7), and matched Talib with three interceptions.
OBJ may not have deserved the award, not ahead of Jones or Antonio Brown, but he has a stronger case than Johnson. While Johnson’s skills cannot be denied, running routes out of the backfield against outmatched linebackers and safeties isn’t akin to lining up outside the hash marks against a team’s best cornerback, usually with safety help over the top.