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Is Olivier Vernon poised to have a monster year?

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Change in defensive scheme could unlock Vernon’s first double-digit sack performance since 2013

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New York Giants v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The New York Giants had big expectations when, in 2016, they inked defensive end Olivier Vernon to a monster five-year, $85 million contract with $52.5 million guaranteed.

Although on a quick glance, Vernon’s numbers don’t seem to justify the contract he has, he’s actually been one of the more productive players the Giants picked up via free agency since 2016 if one looks at his hidden production — sacks, pressures and hits.

Per Pro Football Focus, Vernon has accumulated 134 pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) since 2016, the year he signed with the Giants.

Only Cameron Jordan, Vernon’s former teammate in Miami, has finished with more pressures among 4-3 defensive ends over that same period, posting 143.

Per Pro Football Focus, Vernon, in an injury-shortened 2017 season, pressured opposing quarterbacks on 10.1 percent of their dropbacks.

2017 season in review

The 2017 season wasn’t very kind to Vernon, who missed the first regular-season games in his career after suffering a high ankle sprain during a Week 3 road-game loss to the Eagles.

Although Vernon tried to gut out the injury, he still finished the season logging a career low 59 tackles (37 solo) in 12 games with two fewer sacks (6.5) than he recorded the year prior while recording just 38 total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries).

The problem with Vernon hasn’t been the efforts; it’s been his usage. Per Pro Football Focus snap counts, Vernon has played in 1,810 of the 1,985 defensive snaps for which he’s been active (91.1 percent). That’s an unusually high percentage of snaps for a guy whose career average is 76.4 percent.

While some might argue that the Giants are trying to get their money’s worth out of Vernon, in reality they haven’t done him any favors by putting such a heavy workload on his shoulders.

General manager Dave Gettleman alluded to this during one of his draft press conferences (without mentioning Vernon by name), noting that when a team has a lack of depth at a position, the alternative is to run the starters out there until they fall apart.

Sure enough, since coming to the Giants, Vernon, who since 2013 was only listed on the Dolphins injury report four times, mostly for minor issues, has nearly doubled his appearances on the injury report in two seasons with the Giants.

2018 outlook

Not only have the Giants added more depth to the defensive line/outside linebacker rotation which, if it plays out as hoped should reduce Vernon’s snaps to somewhere in the mid to high 70 percent range, a position switch to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s new system has many people drooling over his potential production.

While Vernon is not the same player as Chandler Jones, Vernon appears to have been asked to play that same type of role, one that he has happily embraced and one in which he’s not only looked comfortable performing, but one in which he seems to have taken to given the speed in which he’s flown around the field during the spring to make plays.

There is also optimism that Vernon could reach double-digit sacks, as Jones did in each of his two seasons with Bettcher as his defensive coordinator.

While sacks are the ultimate goal, the Giants would also probably be happy if Vernon’s total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) lands him in the top-10 among his peers at his position as has been the case for Jones.

The foundation is certainly in place for Vernon; now all he needs to do is find a way to stay out of the trainer’s room and on the field.