The New York Giants are near the bottom of the NFL in terms of talent if you believe the NFL roster rankings posted by ESPN [Insider only] on Wednesday morning. The Giants, in a list created for ESPN by Pro Football Focus, rank No. 27.
PFF used three categories in writing about each team’s roster — biggest strength, biggest weakness, X-factor. Let’s look at, and react to, what was said about each category.
Biggest strength: Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill all finished with well above average run-defense grades at the interior defender position. If you move back to the linebacker position, David Mayo -- the potential starter alongside Blake Martinez -- ended the 2019 season with a PFF run-defense grade of 90.1. Teams are going to have trouble running up the middle against the Giants.
Yes, the name you hate to talk about — Leonard Williams. And the thing many of you think is unimportant in today’s game — run defense.
I happen to agree that this front is the Giants’ strength, and I might add veteran defensive tackle Austin Johnson here, as well. The off-the-ball linebackers, whether it is Mayo, Ryan Connelly, or someone else joining Martinez, should help from the nucleus of a difficult-to-run-against defense.
By the way, I do happen to believe that run defense matters, even though are some who tell you rushing is inefficient. It’s still easier to rush the passer if, when teams do run, you defend it well. There are short-yardage and goal line situations. Whether data analysts like it or not, most teams still run the ball. A lot. So, you have to be able to defend it.
The Giants could last season, with their 3.9 yards per carry against being fourth in the league. They should be able to again this season.
Biggest weakness: Kyler Fackrell replaces Markus Golden in the lineup next season, but his career high in pressures is just 27 in 2017. Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter figure to compete for the other starting edge defender job. In their three combined seasons, the highest PFF pass-rushing grade between them is 62.3. With a run-first defensive line, New York projects to have one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL.
On paper, this is absolutely correct. It ignores a couple of things, though. First is the reality that Golden could easily end up with the Giants next season. The Giants used the unrestricted free agent, or “May 5” tender, on Golden. That means if he doesn’t sign with another team by July 22 his rights belong exclusively to the Giants. So, Golden could be back with New York.
The Giants are hoping for improvement from Carter and Ximines, third- and second-year players respectively. They are also hoping Fackrell, who had 10.5 sacks with current defensive coordinator Patrick Graham as his position coach in 2018, can approach that success. They are also hoping for more pass rush production from Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence.
Those are all, of course, somewhat nebulous. Pointing to pass rush as the biggest weakness is right. We’ll see if a combination of hoped-for factors help the Giants overcome that.
X factor for 2020: The high-end level of play from quarterback Daniel Jones is what has drawn people in, and it does provide reason for cautious optimism. His carelessness with the football last season has to be acknowledged, though. Jones' 31 turnover-worthy plays -- plays that should have resulted in turnovers whether they actually did or not -- ranked as the fourth most in the NFL. Jones' imperviousness to pressure produces some spectacular plays, but it also leads to those unnecessary sacks and mistakes. The Giants' 2020 season will largely rest on whether the second-year quarterback can improve in that area.
Again, no argument here. I wrote the other day that I think Jones will be better in 2020. That’s just a feeling, though, based on what we saw last season and what we know about how he has approached this offseason.
Until he proves it on the field, the second-year quarterback is absolutely an X-factor.