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NFL Draft: How big a need is defensive end for Giants?

They have two terrific players, but maybe not enough depth

NFL: New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
Olivier Vernon making a tackle.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have a boatload of money tied up in a pair of star defensive ends who figure to be around for several more seasons. Olivier Vernon is entering the second year of a five-year, $85 million contract that is paying him a guaranteed $52.5 million. Jason Pierre-Paul is the proud, and rich, owner of a brand new four-year, $62 million contract with $40 million guaranteed.

Both of those players are not only going to be around for a while, but both are in their 20s and should remain productive throughout most of their remaining years with the Giants.

In reserve, the Giants have Kerry Wynn, Romeo Okwara and Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Wynn is a steady if unspectacular veteran, Okwara a young player who showed promise in limited duty last season, and Odighizuwa a former third-round pick who has yet to justify his draft position.

Current roster: Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul, Kerry Wynn, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Romeo Okwara, Stansly Maponga, Ishaq Williams, Jordan Williams

So, as the 2017 NFL Draft approaches should we consider defensive end as a need for the Giants? Let’s examine the question.

Draft priority

Medium, edging toward high. At least, higher than you might think with Vernon and Pierre-Paul entrenched.

First and foremost, the Giants need to get Vernon and Pierre-Paul some help. Per Sporting Charts, Vernon played 1,040 of 1,110 possible defensive snaps last season. At 93.7 percent of potential snaps played, that is more than defensive lineman in the league. In the 12 games he played before suffering a season-ending injury, Pierre-Paul was on a similar pace. He played 791 of a potential 893 snaps, 91.04 percent.

The only other linemen to play more than 90 percent of their team’s snaps were Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints and Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders.

Maybe the answer is that the Giants need to trust Wynn, Okwara and Odighizuwa more. Maybe, though, the reality is that they need an upgrade from that trio.

There is something else to consider, and it is a point that our own Chris Pflum has made numerous times in the buildup to the draft. The Giants really could use another edge rusher.

Both Vernon and Pierre-Paul are tremendous all-around players who can and do rush the passer effectively. Neither, though, is a pure blow your doors off pass rusher. Neither is Michael Strahan, or even Osi Umenyiora when it comes to straight-up pass-rush ability.

Vernon had a team-high 8.5 sacks and was second in the league with 37 hurries last season, but those numbers are perhaps less impressive when you factor in how many snaps he played to compile them. Only once in his five seasons has he reached double digits in sacks (11.5 with the Miami Dolphins in 2013). Pierre-Paul had seven sacks in 12 games. Since his 16.5-sack 2011 season, he has had only one dominant pass rushing season, with 12.5 sacks in 2014.

Damon Harrison is a great player, but not a great pass rusher. We don’t know who is going to be playing next to “Snacks.” The Giants don’t, as of now, have a linebacker who is a dynamic edge rusher.

Early, middle or late?

So, would the Giants be most likely to add a defensive end on Day 1, Day 2 or Day 3? That depends.

There are a number of defensive ends who could be available in the latter part of Round 1, but if the Giants go for a defensive player at that point signs are that their play will be for a linebacker.

Whether that guy is a middle linebacker type or an edge rusher type might impact how they look at defensive end in the rest of the draft. At some point, though, you have to think they will look to add an edge rusher — either at defensive end or outside linebacker.

NOTE: A little bit later today Chris will be along with a “needs and fits” post on defensive ends. That dovetails nicely with this, so be sure not to miss it.