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Giants 2021 roster profile: Increased burden on broad shoulders of DL Dexter Lawrence

Without Dalvin Tomlinson, Giants will likely need more from Lawrence

NFL: SEP 20 Giants at Bears
Dexter Lawrence makes a play during a 2020 game vs. the Chicago Bears.
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dexter Lawrence roomed with Daniel Jones as the two prepared for their rookie seasons with the New York Giants in 2019. “Sexy Dexy” doesn’t — and shouldn’t — face nearly the scrutiny of his quarterback ex-roomie. The Giants, though, do need the 342-pound Lawrence to continue the upward arc of his own career.

Let’s take a closer look at Lawrence as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp at the end of July.

The basics

Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 342
Age: 23
Position: Defensive line
Experience: 2
Contract: Year 3 of four-year, $13.248 million rookie contract | 2021 cap hit: $3.613 million

Career to date

The decision to select Jones No. 6 overall in 2019 has been, and will continue to be, debated until proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can be a top-tier quarterback.

The selection of Lawrence 17th overall in that same draft has drawn far less scrutiny. Lawrence is an excellent player who improved from Year 1 to Year 2 and could continue to climb the ranks until he is ultimately considered an elite interior defensive lineman.

Still, we can debate whether or not Lawrence has played well enough to negate any “they should have selected a pure pass rusher” argument. In addition to finding a franchise quarterback and building a good offensive line, GM Dave Gettleman has always wanted to add a premier edge pass rusher to the defense, recalling the days of Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and the beginning of Jason Pierre-Paul’s career.

Gettleman may finally have done that with the selections of Azeez Ojulari (Round 2) and Elerson Smith (Round 4) in this year’s draft. Could he have done it three years ago, though, by selecting Montez Sweat with that 17th pick instead of Lawrence?

Sweat was often connected to the Giants before that 2019 draft, and our Chris Pflum wrote that Sweat “checks almost all of the Giants’ boxes” and profiled as “a player in whom the Giants have to be interested.”

Sweat has 16.0 sacks and forms a dominant pass-rushing duo with Chase Young that the Giants are going to have to deal with for the foreseeable future.

I bring this up only for the purposes of debate, not to malign Lawrence in any way. He is a terrific player who does things no human being of his size should be able to do.

Lawrence, an interior defender who generally has lined up as a defensive end in the Giants’ 3-4, has 6.5 sacks and has become a force as a run stopper. His 9.1 run stop percentage in 2020 (a run stop being a play deemed a failure for the offense) was 12th among 73 qualifying interior defensive linemen, per Pro Football Focus.

Per Sports info Solutions, Lawrence’s average of 3.3 tackles per game was 12th among defensive tackles. SIS uses a complicated formula to determine points saved by defensive players. Lawrence finished 23rd in that category among defensive tackles who made at least 20 tackles

As a pass rusher, Lawrence won 12 percent of his pass rush snaps in 2020, 23rd among 53 qualifying interior rushers. In 2019, he was 27th of 48 qualifiers with a 9.1 percent win rate. Thus, he did appear to be ascending as a pass rusher.

2021 outlook

If he’s healthy, there’s no reason to believe Lawrence won’t continue to get better. Lawrence’s continued ascension would go a long way toward easing the loss of defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. To give you an idea what Lawrence, Danny Shelton and Austin Johnson have to replace, per SIS Tomlinson was seventh in total points saved and ninth in points saved per play last season.

There are two things I’m wondering about with Lawrence.

Will the Giants ask him to play nose tackle more often? That is what he primarily did at Clemson, but not thus far with the Giants. In 2020, Lawrence played only 76 of 655 snaps as a pure nose tackle or a “shade” nose tackle. In 2019, with James Bettcher as defensive coordinator, he played 189 of 701 snaps at those spots.

The Giants signed Shelton and brought back Johnson to play the nose tackle in their 3-4 alignment. Could they, however, ask Lawrence to man the middle more often?

The other thing I’m wondering is whether or not defensive coordinator Patrick Graham will ask Lawrence to play more snaps. He played 63 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019 and 60 percent last season. In 2020, his 655 snaps played placed him 23rd. He has averaged roughly 42 snaps per game over two seasons. Last season, Leonard Williams played 803 snaps (50.2 per game). There were 16 tackles who played 45 or more snaps per game and eight who played 50 or more.

Would it be feasible, or smart, to ask a 340 or so pound man to take on additional snaps in what will now be a 17-game season?