From the beginning of the 2020 season to the end, the edge position underwent a complete transformation for the New York Giants.
Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines were lost to injuries. Markus Golden was traded. Kyler Fackrell missed time toward the end of the year due to injury.
By season’s end, Jabaal Sheard, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Niko Lalos and even inside linebackers David Mayo and Tae Crowder were finding snaps on the edge.
The Giants received adequate play overall, but it’s apparent the defense would really benefit from the addition of a truly dynamic edge defender. Let’s look at the key players at the position for the Giants in 2020.
53-man roster: Kyler Fackrell, Jabaal Sheard, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Niko Lalos
Practice squad: Trent Harris
IR: Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines
Traded: Markus Golden
The Giants and Fackrell gambled that a one-year “prove-it” contract reuniting him with Patrick Graham, his position coach for the Green Bay Packers in 2018 when Fackrell posted a career-high 10.5 sacks.
The move paid off. Fackrell became a reliable player who posted 4.0 sacks and 34 tackles in 12 games, nine of which were starts. He was a solid, much-needed veteran presence after the injuries to Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, and the trade of Markus Golden to the Arizona Cardinals.
Fackrell might be one-and-done with the Giants, even though he is a good, useful player. The Giants have several edge options and cap difficulties in trying to keep defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson. They simply might choose not to pay Fackrell.
The Giants signed the accomplished 31-year-old off the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad early in the season, and the move paid off handsomely. As the Giants re-worked their edge group throughout the season, Sheard became a regular part of the rotation. He ended up with a sack and four quarterback hits in nine games while playing 260 defensive snaps.
Like Fackrell, Sheard could be one-and-done with the Giants depending on how aggressively they choose to re-make their edge group.
A seventh-round pick (218th overall), Coughlin began at outside linebacker, was converted to inside linebacker and then moved back outside after injuries and the trade of Markus Golden decimated the position. Through all of that, Carter was a solid special teams contributor.
By the second half of the season, Coughlin was playing significant defensive snaps, including a season-high 64 vs. the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14. Coughlin finished the season with a sack and 17 tackles in 192 defensive snaps.
Whether his future is inside, outside or purely as a special teams contributor remains to be seen.
Primarily an off-ball linebacker at Penn State, the Giants looked at Brown’s explosion, good enough speed and 95th percentile arm length and saw an edge defender.
The 6-foot-5, 233-pound Brown is a tad light to hold up as an edge-setting run defender. The Giants eventually worked him into the defensive rotation as a pass rush specialist.
Can the sixth-round pick become more than a sub-package pass rusher? Maybe, maybe not. We know, though, that his athleticism quickly made him an outstanding special teams player.
Carter would seem to have all of the traits Patrick Graham values. Long arms. Excellent athleticism. Top-tier speed for the position he plays. The ability to play both going forward as a rusher/run defender and backward into pass coverage.
Carter, unfortunately, suffered the dreaded torn Achilles tendon Week 5 against the Dallas Cowboys and missed the remainder of the season. It would have been interested to see how things evolved with Carter had he stayed healthy.
Carter will still be only 25 during the 2021 season. You have to wonder if there is still another level Carter can reach, or if solid, multi-dimensional player is what he is destined to be.
Before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, the 2019 third-round draft pick seemed to be struggling to gain the confidence of a new coaching staff that wasn’t involved in his selection.
In four games, Ximines played more than half the defensive snaps just once. He finished the season with five tackles and no sacks in only 110 defensive snaps.
Ximines showed pass rush potential as a rookie, with 4.5 sacks. It’s far too soon to write him off, but with Carter coming back, Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin having gained confidence and experience and an entire offseason ahead during which the Giants seem destined to pursue edge-rushing help, Ximines may have an uphill battle to find a prominent role in 2021.
The former Dartmouth star became a bit of a cult hero when he came off the Giants’ practice squad and had an interception and a fumble recovery in his first two NFL games.
An undrafted free agent, Lalos brought energy, athleticism and a nose for the ball to the defense beginning in Week 12. Lalos, though, played only five total defensive snaps over the season’s final two weeks.
Will his story be just a nice footnote to the Giants’ 2020 season? Or, can he build on what he did and become a valued part of the defensive rotation in 2021?