It’s no secret - New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman loves big defensive linemen. In his five seasons leading the Carolina Panthers, Gettleman selected two big defensive linemen in the first round: Star Lotulelei (2013) and Vernon Butler (2016). Since arriving in New York and assuming the position vacated by Jerry Reese, he’s drafted B.J. Hill in the third round and Dexter Lawrence in the first.
The two players have different body types; Hill is a 6-foot-3, 31- pound quick upfield rush specialist with violent hands and good bend for a defensive lineman. Lawrence is a 6-4, 342-pounder whose skill-set seemed to be a bigger version than Hill, rather than a Dalvin Tomlinson - a skill-set one would imagine Lawrence would possess; Lawrence aligned as a nose tackle only 23 times in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.
He looked solid as a nose, but I believe Lawrence, although large, may be best as the 4i-technique to the strong side of the Giants tight formations in bases personnel. On passing downs, he could align as a 3-technique in an Over type of front where he can use his quick first step, active hands, and disruptive ability to further leverage his upfield explosiveness. He could also just align at the 1-technique, with Leonard Williams operating as the 4i-technique with a bunch of other second level defenders roving the front. Lawrence has shown the ability to anchor down against double teams, but it wasn’t nearly as consistent as Tomlinson, who was excellent as a New York Giant.
Danny Shelton was added to help replace Tomlinson. I like the addition of Shelton and he has plenty of experience two-gapping and occupying the A-Gaps, which allow the linebackers to stay more clean to flow/scrape to the ball carrier. However, Shelton is a journeyman for a reason. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Gettleman look to replace Tomlinson’s skill-set via the draft. I also think it’s important to note that Hill will be a free agent at the end of the season. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham likes a deep defensive line rotation and, as stated earlier, we know Gettleman loves the position, so we may certainly see the Giants invest in the position this draft. Let’s look at a few players who make sense.
Tyler Shelvin, LSU
At 6-3, 362 pounds, Shelvin fits the bill as a replacement for Tomlinson. He’s an immovable mountain of a man who eats space, takes on double teams, and controls the point of attack. Shelvin opted out of the 2020 season after winning the national championship in 2019 with the LSU Tigers.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen him on the football field, but his tape was impressive. Similar to Tomlinson, Shelvin plays with great natural leverage, absorbs contact well, and is just a powerful nuisance for interior offensive lineman. If the Giants are looking to find someone who can replicate Tomlinson’s ability to stop rushing attacks, Shelvin should be their target. There have been weight management concerns with Shelvin in the past; he was reportedly up to 375 pounds at one point during his opt-out - that will have to be investigated. He also doesn’t offer much in terms of rushing the passer.
Tomlinson was much smaller than Shelvin, and he’s a much better athlete, but the big man from LSU can effectively two-gap and allow the Giants to roll out Lawrence and Williams as the other two defensive lineman in base personnel. With Shelton, Austin Johnson and Hill in the fold, I don’t believe the Giants will invest a higher draft selection into the defensive line position; Shelvin may go as early as the third round, and that may be just too rich for the Giants. However, this is Gettleman we’re talking about here.
Alim McNeill, North Carolina State
Our very own Ed Valentine had the pleasure of interviewing McNeill on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast. McNeill is just a good football player who reminds me somewhat of Hill (not just because they went to the same school). McNeill played almost exclusively on the nose, whereas Hill was a bit more of a 4i/5-technique for the Wolfpack, but they both use their hands well, are quick upfield, and have some pass rushing upside.
McNeill is 6-2, 320 pounds, and he ranked third in the NCAA in rush defense, according to Pro Football Focus, for what that’s worth. The tape showed a player who developed better posterior strength and anchor against double teams in 2020. He resets the line of scrimmage, stacks, and gets his eyes quickly on the ball carrier; really does a good job restricting those interior rush gaps. I feel McNeill can be a bit more effective as a two-gapping nose than Hill, but Hill is the better athlete with more natural bend, better and more violent hands, and more pass rushing upside, albeit McNeill has solid traits in this area.
McNeill has very good strength and lower leg drive at the point of attack which allows him to push the pile well in bull-rushing situations. His pad level tends to rise as a pass rushing rep materializes, and it would be nice to see that center of gravity be lowered, but McNeill is still a solid option for the Giants to look into, especially if he falls out of the second day of the draft.
Khyiris Tonga, BYU
A 6-4, 320-pound, defensive lineman that spent a lot of time as a nose tackle in BYU’s defense. Tonga appears to carry his weight well and doesn’t look sloppy. Tonga’s hand size isn’t ideal for a defensive lineman at 9.63 inches (35th percentile) and his arm length was incredibly short at 31 inches (2nd percentile); neither of these measurements are ideal, but they could lead to a significant slide for Tonga who is a strong, quick, big defender with light feet.
In 2019, the BYU defender had 28 STOPS (a PFF stat that measures an offensive failure play due to a defender’s efforts). This ranked 4th in the NCAA and the STOP percentage was at 11.7 with 246 run defense snaps. He also had 21 pressures in 2020 and 57 throughout his four collegiate years.
Tonga’s tape showed someone with really good quickness and very effective strength when he could keep his pad level lowered, which was somewhat of an issue in terms of consistency. At BYU’s pro day, Tonga performed 28 reps on the bench (68th percentile) and jumped 35 inches in the vertical (93rd percentile). The part of Tonga’s game that is most appealing to me is his feet; he’s a very smooth mover and he shows a lot of range down the line of scrimmage. I believe he would be a fun piece on slants and twists; with some development, Tonga could be a solid rotational player to add on day three of the draft.
Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA
Yes, he’s the brother of Owa, a former third round pick in 2015 by the Giants that just didn’t work out, but he’s a talented player who can align all over the defensive front. Odighizuwa is about 6-2, 280 pounds, and he plays with exceptional strength at the point of attack for someone of his size. Does a great job taking on blocks laterally and holding firm in his gap.
He’s a solid run defender who has pass rushing upside; he does an excellent job using all 34 inches of his reach to keep himself at distance from offensive lineman. His hands are active and have many moves to disengage and shed. Does a great job engaging his lower body strength and core to dictate his intentions at the line of scrimmage.
The issue with Odighizuwa is his size - he won’t be a replacement for Dalvin Tomlinson, rather he could be an interchangeable piece that can have an early season role in some sub-packages as a rusher. He has 14 career sacks, according to PFF, and over 20 pressures in each of the last three seasons. Where he gets drafted may be a bit rich for me relative to his fit with the Giants, but if he slides for whatever reason I’ll be interested.
Austin Faoliu, Oregon
A 6-3, 300-pound, defensive lineman who has a quick get off, moves well laterally, and does a great job maintaining low leverage while on the move and while engaged in contact. Does well in twists/stunts because of his quick nature and center of gravity. He’s not the biggest defensive linemen, but he does a good job recognizing offensive plays, reacting, and attacking with a lot of competitive toughness.
Through four years, Faoliu has 113 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, 6 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. His low leverage and solid play strength are good starting blocks to possibly allow him to two-gap in a position that isn’t the nose, but ideally one would like him to be a bit larger than just 300 pounds. Has some pass rush production, but he could be more effective with how he employs his moves and attacks with his hands. Has some good traits and athletic upside, but hasn’t consistently put it together, despite two years as the starter.