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Position preview: How the Giants’ EDGE group improved

Talent, depth have been upgraded

NFL: Green Bay Packers at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants’ EDGE group was decimated by injuries last season. Oshane Ximines suffered a shoulder injury after Week 4, Lorenzo Carter tore his Achilles 10 snaps into Week 5, and Kyler Fackrell suffered a lower-leg injury that resulted in four missed games down the stretch of the season. Markus Golden, a talented EDGE rusher who had 10 sacks in the previous season within James Bettcher’s scheme, was stylistically out of place. The Giants traded him for a 2021 sixth-round pick - the one spent on Oklahoma State cornerback Rodarius Williams.

David Mayo, Jabaal Sheard, Trent Harris, Cam Brown, Niko Lalos, and Carter Coughlin were all forced to play significant snaps at the position in lieu of the injured starters. Due to these injuries and defensive lineman Leonard Williams being the most talented pass rusher on the roster, the EDGE position finished with 30 percent of the team’s overall pressures.

Ximines and Carter spent much of the earlier offseason rehabbing, and Fackrell wasn’t retained (signed with the Chargers). This prompted the organization to invest in the EDGE position. An upgrade at the position was more than necessary, and Dave Gettleman acknowledged the need.

The Giants were reportedly in the market for Leonard Floyd - the talented Los Angeles Rams’ pass rusher. According to Pro Football Focus, playing alongside stud DL Aaron Donald, Floyd amassed 10.5 sacks and 55 pressures. However, it would be the second time the Giants missed the opportunity to bring Floyd onto the team (the 2016 draft wasn’t kind to the Giants as the Bears and Titans jumped the Giants for Floyd and OT Jack Conklin).

Nevertheless, Gettleman looked for cheaper options during free agency. He signed Minnesota Vikings pass rusher Ifeadi Odenigbo to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, with $1 million guaranteed. Then the team invested a one-year, $1.1 million contract in Washington EDGE Ryan Anderson, who is more known for his EDGE setting ability than his pass-rushing upside.

It was still clear that the Giants needed some depth and a possible starter upgrade at the position. Many speculated the Giants would draft Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye or Miami EDGE Gregory Rousseau in the first round, but they opted to go with Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney.

Another EDGE name frequently linked to the Giants was Georgia pass rusher Azeez Ojulari, who fell to the Giants in the second round. However, the team traded their second-round pick and still landed Ojulari at pick 50. Many envisioned Ojulari going in Round 1, but a possible injury to his knee may have resulted in the slide.

Gettleman and the Giants weren’t done with the position. With their first selection on the third day, pick 117, Big Blue added long, explosive Northern Iowa pass rusher Elerson Smith, an exceptional SPARQ athlete.

Kent Lee Platte does a great job utilizing math and athletic numbers and relating them to football. Smith scored excellently in Platte’s model. The Giants now have two young “veterans” coming off of injury, two talented rookies, and two free-agent acquisitions to pair with the players who were healthy down the stretch of last season.

Where they started

The Giants went into training camp with Carter, Ojulari, Ximines, Smith, Odenigbo, Anderson, Harris, Lalos, Brown, and Coughlin. Videos of Carter were appearing on social media, showing a player that seemed to be moving well. Ximines started training camp on the PUP list, and Elerson Smith hurt his hamstring in rookie practices right before camp began.

The slow start for Ximines and Smith opened opportunities for Anderson, Odenigbo, Harris, and Lalos; Brown as well, but his roster spot was probably safe due to his special teams’ ability, and Coughlin was being transitioned to the linebacker position. UDFA Raymond Johnson III also saw snaps on the EDGE but is more of a defensive lineman in the Giants’ eyes.

Ximines was able to get healthy with his shoulder and a slight hamstring issue in time for preseason. He led the EDGE position in pressures with six in 24 pass-rushing snaps while also recording a sack. His ability to play the run isn’t entirely proven, but he looked quick, flashed solid hand usage, and didn’t seem hindered by the injuries.

Harris had five pressures and a sack in 46 pass-rushing snaps, and Lalos had three pressures on 35 pass-rushing snaps. Harris stood out on film; he’s a player that followed Patrick Graham from Miami to the Giants, so familiarity with the system was always on his side.

Ojulari played in 35 preseason snaps but was dinged up and missed preseason Game 2 against the Browns. Odenigbo also had three pressures on 56 pass-rushing opportunities, although the play didn’t exactly jump off the screen. Carter Coughlin only played four snaps on the EDGE in preseason and 56 as an inside linebacker. He will still have the ability to play on the EDGE, but he won’t be included in the next section of this article.

Where they are now

Current roster:

Starters: Lorenzo Carter and Azeez Ojulari
Backups: Oshane Ximines, Cam Brown, and Quincy Roche
Practice Squad: Niko Lalos and Trent Harris
Injured Reserve: Elerson Smith

The versatility of some players at linebacker and defensive lineman allow the Giants to carry only five EDGEs. Lalos is a player the Giants like who showed solid capabilities to hold his own as a rookie out of Dartmouth. Harris initially made the final 53 man roster but was one of the three released players to make room for WR Collin Johnson, LB Justin Hilliard, and EDGE Quincy Roche. He is on the practice squad.

Carter is entering a contract year and coming off a severe injury. It’s evident the amount of respect defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has for Lorenzo Carter.

The potential of this defense with the two former Bull-Dogs on the EDGE is higher than it was last season. The losses of Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill will be felt, but the additions of a healthy Carter and Ojulari could take this defense to the next level.

Both Carter and Ojulari have pass-rushing burst, upside, and bend. They’re both excellent run defenders as well. The Giants’ TITE alignment will spill runs towards these EDGEs and the secondary force defenders. As long as Danny Shelton and Austin Johnson can anchor both A-Gaps, that alignment should still be formidable.

Ximines and Smith both figure to be quality situational pass rushers. The former has some appeal as the boundary weak-side defender in base personnel, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him used on early downs, despite his questionable ability to hold the point of attack consistently. The quickness of Ximines can be showcased in Graham’s four-man pressure package, specifically as an inside looper.

Smith will miss at least three games since he’s on the IR. It could be more than that; he doesn’t seem as close to returning as John Ross. The injuries in camp have stunted his development. It’s a bummer because Smith also has a lot of potential, but the reps are necessary for the FCS rookie.

Roche is interesting. After being selected in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers waived the former Miami and Temple product. Roche had five tackles, three quarterback hits, and a sack in the preseason while playing in a total of 156 snaps.

By many accounts, Roche wasn’t a bad player in preseason, but second-year EDGE out of Note Dame Jamir Jones outplayed Roche. The Steelers may have been trying to get Roche on their practice squad, but the Giants followed their 2019 steps and claimed Roche like they previously did with Tuzar Skipper.

I would be a bit surprised to see Roche on defense early in the first week or two of the season. He’s an interesting pass-rusher who flashed effective hands, a plan of attack, and the ability to corner around the EDGE. However, he’s not very long or athletic. He should be able to work his way into being a situational pass rusher on this team. Cam Brown may also earn some snaps at EDGE this season.

Odenigbo didn’t make the final roster. The Giants released him despite his $1 million in guaranteed money. Ryan Anderson was suspended for six games after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Final thoughts

New York upgraded the position during the offseason. The addition of Ojulari only makes this position group better. The only significant loss from last season was Kyler Fackrell, and some may argue Jabaal Sheard, who is still a free agent.

Carter and Ximines returning healthy should help this Giants’ EDGE group create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In terms of pressures earned on the Giants last season, the top four players were all defensive linemen: Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and BJ Hill. This will even out if Carter and Ojulari stay healthy. I still expect Williams to lead the defense, but those two former Bull-Dogs will be applying pressure early and often.