That is one question. To answer it, though, we have to find out how three other questions are ultimately answered.
- Can Markus Golden, off a knee injury that really cost him two productive seasons, return to something resembling his 12.5-sack 2016 form?
- Can 2018 third-round pick Lorenzo Carter build on his four-sack rookie season and become the dominant edge player the Giants believe he can be?
- Can Oshane Ximines, this year’s third-round pick, transition quickly from the small school (Old Dominion) he played for in college and be productive enough to help the Giants forget about all the edge rushers they passed on earlier in the draft?
Projected Depth Chart
Starters: Golden, Carter
Backups: Ximines, Kareem Martin, Avery Moss, Keion Adams
Let’s look more in depth at each of the three key players.
The Giants signed the former Arizona Cardinal to a one-year, $3.75 million “prove it” contract. The hope is that one year further removed from his 2017 ACL tear and re-united with defensive coordinator James Bettcher that Golden will return to dominance.
That is a big gamble. Whether he succeeds or fails, though, it won’t be from lack of effort.
“Don’t ever forget that before that [knee injury] he was one of the best pass rushers in this league. People had to plan for him,” Bettcher said. “I know that because I was one of the guys calling the plays for him on defense. I saw what he was able to do when he was healthy and running around. I love how he is moving right now and I love his work. He is a guy that is going to play exceptionally hard. As I sat here a year ago and talked to you about one of the identifying qualities we needed our defense to look like was it took relentless, work relentless and play relentless. I think that is probably the epitome of Markus.”
During a recent ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, John Venerable of SB Nation’s Revenge of the Birds also praised Golden.
“I have always been a huge Markus Golden fan,” Venerable said. “If the Giants are getting that Markus Golden [the 2016 version], who’s still under the age of 30, even if he puts up eight to 10 sacks that’s going to [pay] dividends.”
Golden believes he can return to his top form.
“I’m not a guy to make excuses at all, but I got injured,” Golden said. “Last year I was kind of playing and trying to get back caught up and getting my legs under me. That’s what happened, but at the end of the day, I’m still believing in myself. I know the work that I put in and I know that I’m not going to stop working hard. That’s all I’m going to do -- keep grinding, keep working hard, and I feel like God is going to bless me and good things are going to happen.”
Venerable put the over/under for Golden’s sack total at eight.
“He is a high-character guy. He is somebody that’s going to be in this league, pending health, for a long time,” Venerable said. “He’s somebody I would not count against because he’s going to do everything on and off the field the right way.”
Venerable also dropped this bomb:
“You just dealt away Olivier Vernon. I think Markus Golden’s a better player than Olivier Vernon.”
The Giants can only hope Golden proves those words prophetic.
Carter knows what the Giants need from him — play-making and pass rush off the edge. During the offseason, he worked to both sharpen his pass rush and strengthen his body, reportedly adding 10 to 12 pounds, to try and provide it.
“I know I can get a lot better. I feel like I had an OK season [in 2018],” Carter said. “People told me I did good, going home people tell you all this stuff about how great you were but for me personally it was just, I know there is a lot of room for improvement. Get in the gym, go to work. Get in the lab and just come back for year two and make it a better year.”
Bettcher said that, entering his second season he saw Carter as a player who is “building his pass rush toolbox right now.”
If you are looking for Ximines to step right in and be a dominant pass rusher Week 1 that is probably expecting too much.
Ximines has “legitimate counter pass rushing ability, counter pass rushing moves,” per GM Dave Gettleman.
The Giants believe his ability to counter what offensive linemen try to do to him will serve him well. Still, it’s a big ask to expect a late-third round pick from a small school to be a major cog in an NFL defense right from the jump.
Ximines admitted that “it is a pretty big jump coming from Old Dominion to a bigger stage.”
The quicker he makes it, the better off the Giants will be in terms of being able to generate edge pressure.