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Position review: Giants have decisions to make with EDGE rushers

Giants pass rush needs a major talent infusion in 2019

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Having gone through the offensive side of the ball as part of our year-end position-by-position reviews for the New York Giants, it’s time to flip to the defensive side of the ball starting with the edge rushers, a unit we’ll separate from the defensive line and linebackers.

2018 review

2018 roster: Olivier Vernon, Lorenzo Carter, Connor Barwin, Kareem Martin

This position is the clear runaway winner of the “Looks are Deceiving” honors because what the media saw in the spring and summer didn’t come close to being what the rest of the world saw during the season.

A big part of the problem was the high ankle sprain suffered by Vernon, a player whom the Giants paid like a premier pass rusher.

During the spring and summer, defensive coordinator James Bettcher had the 28-year-old Vernon standing up as a true outside linebacker, a position that was supposed to help Vernon avoid getting tangled up with those bigger offensive tackles that in the past have made his life difficult.

Once Vernon suffered the injury which cost him five games, he not only wasn’t the same explosive player, Bettcher ended up using him more with his hand in the dirt than one thought would be the case.

According to Pro Football Focus, here is a partial breakdown of Vernon’s snaps by position last year:

  • 4-3 Defensive End (both sides) … 410
  • 3-4 Defensive End (both Sides) … 22
  • Outside Linebacker (both sides) … 209
  • Box Defender(all spots) … 9

With all that said, Vernon still finished as Pro Football Focus’ second-highest graded Giants player (and highest graded defender).

Which leads to the big question:

First, Vernon is paid like an elite pass rusher but doesn’t quite deliver the numbers to back it up.

Per Over the Cap, Vernon’s average salary comes to $17 million, which puts him behind Khalil Mack of the Bears ($23.5 million) and Von Miller of the Broncos ($19.03 million).

If you look at the measurable production, it’s probably safe to say that Vernon, who in 2018 played 11 games, doesn’t belong in the same neighborhood as Mack and Miller.

Here’s a look at the data, which includes key stats from the pass rush and from the run defense:

Yes, a case can be made that Vernon’s numbers are lagging behind because of the injuries. But let’s look at what he’s done in the three seasons he’s been with the Giants.

Olivier Vernon’s Giants Career

Season Total Tackles Sacks Total Pressures Stops Missed Tackles
Season Total Tackles Sacks Total Pressures Stops Missed Tackles
2018 30 7.0 46 22 4
2017 37 6.5 38 22 6
2016 63 8.5 88 37 15

Vernon is very much a serviceable player who probably has several good years of football left in him. However, those who want to make the argument that his production doesn’t match his contract, which in 2019 jumps up to $19.5 million, well, there is very little evidence to dispute that position.

As for Barwin, it’s fair to say his production was a disappointment. The former Eagle and Rams edge rusher finished with six tackles and just one sack, having played in just 26.4 percent of the Giants defensive snaps.

The Giants will save $1.5 million and get hit with a $363,500 dead-money hit if they release Barwin this offseason.

Where Barwin was worth the investment was in tutoring Carter, one of two Giants third-round picks in 2018. Carter participated in 40.3 percent of the Giants defensive snaps and 53.4 percent of their special teams snaps.

The rookie finished with 43 tackles (30 solo), 4.0 sacks, 7 tackles for a loss and 29 total pressures. Where he will most likely look to take the biggest leap between his rookie and second season is as a run defender.

2019 look ahead

Defense -- and in particular, the pass rush -- is going to be a top priority for the Giants this offseason, and fortunately for them, the 2019 draft class is shaping up to be loaded with defenders and, in particular, pass rushers.

It’s still a little too premature to figure out who they might home in on, but someone like Josh Allen of Kentucky is a player who would look good in Giants blue.

But here’s the big question the Giants will have to sort through, especially if they do indeed jettison Vernon and Barwin: Will they add a cheaper veteran to the mix of Carter and a potential draft pick or will they simply bite the bullet and go with a youth movement across the board?

Given how many college prospects are typically stronger in the pass or the run, logic would dictate that the Giants look to add a veteran to this group who can hold his own as both a pass rusher and a run stopper, at least until the kids get fully up to speed.

That veteran could still be Vernon if the Giants offer him a pay cut that he might accept — a big “if,” but a possibility that can’t be ruled out.

Either way, look for the Giants edge rushers to have a very different look in 2019, one that hopefully will help a pass rush that has lingered in the bottom third of the league for the last two seasons rise closer to the top.