clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Better or worse? Giants’ defensive line

With Leonard Williams for a full season, and Austin Johnson added, has this group gotten better?

New York Giants v Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The defensive line is arguably the New York Giants’ deepest position group and the unit got stronger last season after a Week 9 trade for New York Jets’ impending free agent Leonard Williams. The trade was illogical due to Williams’ contract and the 2019 state of the New York Giants, but the presence of the player should still be valued, despite the means of how the team acquired the talent.

In recent years, the Giants have dedicated a 2019 first-round pick, 2018 third-round pick, and a 2017 second-round pick into the position. Williams, along with Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill should form a solid defensive rotation around these skilled big men. With that said, let’s compare the position group and see if the current 2020 Giants are better or worse than they were in 2019.

Key Losses: Olsen Pierre
Key Additions: Austin Johnson (TEN)

New York made that big splash in Week 9 by acquiring Williams. Since coming over to the Giants, Williams played 63 percent of the snaps along the defensive line. He rushed the passer 231 times and played the run 130 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Here’s what the rest of the Giants looked like according to snap percentage on the season:

Dexter Lawrence: 63 percent
Dalvin Tomlinson: 53 percent
B.J. Hill: 44 percent (just 32 percent after the Williams trade and 56 percent before the trade)
Olsen Pierre: 16 percent
R.J. McIntosh: 11 percent

Pierre played nine defensive snaps in Week 9, Williams’ first week in a complicated defensive system. After Week 9, Pierre was waived in favor of offensive lineman Evan Brown.

Chris Slayton, a 2019 seventh-round selection, was on the practice squad and was promoted to the active roster for the season’s final game. Slayton and undrafted rookie Niko Lalos, are currently on the Giants’ roster, but it’ll be tough for either to earn a roster spot on such a deep squad.

Why the Giants might be better

Another year of experience for Williams, Tomlinson, Lawrence, and Hill should theoretically only help the young players, even though it’s an entirely different defensive system. Both Williams and Tomlinson are in contract years, which ostensibly means they have everything to gain which could engender more motivation. For that argument to stand, then it would suggest that the players’ motivation wasn’t maximized to begin with, which is disingenuous to assume. Either way, both players are in line to get a whole lot of money if they play up to their potential.

2018-2019 defensive line coach Gary Emanuel, a long-time respected coach in the NFL, has been replaced by Sean Spencer (A.K.A. Coach Chaos). Emanuel seemed to do a very good job with the young players, but Coach Chaos figures to bring a different type of energy. Penn State raved about the coach and Joe Judge was commended when he brought Spencer on staff, there’s something to be said about that.

Furthermore, the addition of Austin Johnson, a former Titans’ second-round pick who played for Spencer at Penn State, should act as a better rotational piece than what the Giants’ had in 2019. Johnson was a rotational cog in the Titans front, playing mainly in early-down situations. He doesn’t have a lot of upside as a pass rusher, but he’s a sound run defender. It’s a crowded room for sure, but he may just find some snaps in a rotation. The position group didn’t lose any huge names or add anyone that will make a splash, but the extra year of development should only help the young players on the defensive line unit. Hopefully, a player like B.J. Hill can break away from his sophomore slump and return to his 2018 level of play. For that to happen, he needs snaps, which may be hard to come by.

Why the Giants might be worse

The Giants had a Day 2 pick have a sophomore slump, a terribly-timed trade where the new player recorded half a sack in nine games, albeit being effective in other ways, and the team added Johnson who played 375 snaps on one of the best defensive lines in football last year. That is while retaining all the top talent and even potential developmental pieces like R.J. McIntosh.

If the Giants can get sack production from Williams and Lawrence/Tomlinson continue to ascend in the way their career paths have suggested, then it’s hard to think that the position group could get any worse. Of course, it’s no guarantee that Lawrence/Tomlinson will play like their 2019 versions, there’s a new coach, system, and overall environment that 2020 features. However, I believe in the skill sets of both those players, and I think Williams can get more than a half-sack this season.

A concern with the position group would be injury. The 2019 unit hardly dealt with any injuries. That may not be the case in 2020, so that’s one avenue that may lead to the Giants’ 2019 unit surpassing the 2020 one. All in all, the 2020 Giants’ defensive line group is the least of the 2020 Giants’ worries.

Final thoughts

The end of 2019 defensive line group and the 2020 defensive line group are both talented and little has changed in terms of personnel, but in my opinion, the addition of Johnson makes the 2020 group a more formidable unit.


Are the Giants better or worse on the defensive line than they were in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    (739 votes)
  • 2%
    (23 votes)
  • 24%
    The same
    (242 votes)
1004 votes total Vote Now