clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Giants position review: A young and talented edge group with upside

Houston Texans v New York Giants Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

The New York Giants invested the necessary draft capital into their edge position. Before 2022, the last time the Giants had more than 40 sacks in a season was in 2014, when they sacked the quarterback 41 times. That number is impressive because the Giants dealt with several key injuries at the edge position.

Wink Martindale’s scheme was a major contributor to the sacks. However, the talent at the edge position is indubitably more exciting than in previous recent seasons. Rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux and second-year pass-rusher Azeez Ojulari have the potential to form a dynamic duo for years to come.

Former Giants general manager Dave Gettleman invested two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft into the edge position; the decision to invest heavily into the position came after Kyler Fackrell was edge No. 1 during the Giants’ playoff push in 2020. Gettleman spent the 50th pick on Ojulari and the 116th pick on Northern Iowa’s Elerson Smith.

Injuries have stifled both Ojulari and Smith’s short careers. Joe Schoen invested the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft on Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. Schoen also found Tomon Fox as an undrafted free agent. Veteran Jihad Ward acted as the vocal leader for a young position group with talent.

Although defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence was the catalyst for the Giants’ ability to generate pressure, the edge rushers are certainly contributors. Pro Football Focus stated the Giants’ pass-rushing unit had 311 pressures in 2022. The last time the Giants had more than that was 2011, when the Super Bowl Champion Giants had 336 (playoffs included).

2022 in review

The roster

Starters: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari
Backups: Jihad Ward, Oshane Ximines, Tomon Fox
Injured Reserve: Elerson Smith
Practice squad: Quincy Roche (now with the Steelers)

Both Thibodeaux and Ojulari are 22 years old. Neophytes executing crucial responsibilities within Wink Martindale’s defense. Both players are still learning and developing. They both had errors in run defense throughout the season, but Thibodeaux is a more complete player. Thibodeaux may overpursue his run responsibility, at times, but he brings a level of physicality that’s necessary for playing EDGE in the NFL.

Thibodeaux finished the season with 45 pressures - second-most on the team - and four sacks, including a pivotal strip-sack touchdown against Washington. Thibodeaux also had six tackles for a loss and 45 total tackles, including 29 stops.

Much like Ojulari, Thibodeaux’s primary pass-rushing move was winning through the outside shoulder with a rip to bend and corner into the pocket.

We started seeing some employment of counters and an ability to string moves together with contingency plans based on the tackle’s reaction, but there’s still room for growth in this area. Thibodeaux had a solid rookie season.

Martindale’s description that Thibodeaux is a “can opener” is an apt portrayal of the young player. However, more consistency and refinement are necessary for Thibodeaux to reach his high potential.

Ojulari had a frustrating season that was marred by injury. He only played in 252 total defensive snaps after missing the first two games with a lingering calf injury. Ojulari then missed Weeks 5-12 with a calf ailment, and then he sprained his ankle down the stretch of the season. He only played 22 total defensive snaps through two playoff games.

The injuries took a toll on Ojulari from training camp through the season, but he had several high points that flashed impressive traits that seemed enhanced from his rookie year. Ojulari appeared to possess more flexibility and explosiveness; his ability to win around the edge improved from his rookie season when he was healthy.

Ojulari finished the season with 20 pressures, 5.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss, and an important strip-sack fumble against Justin Fields in Week 4. Ojulari still has room to improve his run-defending skill set. Staying healthy will be the priority for the young pass-rusher moving forward.

Ward signed a one-year, $1.187 million contract to reunite with Martindale and proved to be a solid veteran edition. Not only was Ward a magnetic personality in the locker room, but he provided the Giants with valuable snaps when injuries mounted.

Ward is a big 6-foot-5, 287-pound player who was used all over the defensive line. Ximines and Ward were both used in Martindale’s pressure looks as middle-hook and curl-flat drop players on fire-zone blitzes and other packages.

Ward had 24 pressures and three sacks with 28 stops at the line of scrimmage. He was a difficult assignment for many tight ends to block throughout the season. He played 740 snaps in 2022.

Ximines meshed very well with Martindale’s system early in the season, which is one reason why he played the most snaps of his career - 529. Ximines finished the season with 15 pressures and three sacks, none more memorable than his game-sealing sack of Aaron Rodgers in London.

Ximines had the fluidity and overall movement skills to drop from the line of scrimmage to the field side, outside the numbers; this allowed Martindale to scheme one-on-one rushes and overload pressures to one side, with Ximines holding an offensive tackle in place. He had several important plays early in the season where he forced indecision by opposing quarterbacks or just made underrated plays in the flat.

Oshane Ximines played his situational role well and started games adequately when he was forced to do so, albeit he could still improve as a run defender.

Fox is a good undrafted rookie story. Fox was a productive college football player who was very physical at the point of attack. He ended the season with eight pressures and a sack, with seven of his eight pressures constituting as hurries. He’s still a developing player, but he has NFL traits.

Smith played in 14 defensive snaps in 2022. He suffered a right leg injury in training camp that held him out until Week 8. He made an elite special teams play against Philadelphia in Week 14 with a blocked punt, but he had to have surgery the following week on his Achilles due to a bone spur.

Roche lost his roster spot to Ximines, which was the obvious outcome during training camp due to usage. Ximines movement skills meshed well with Martindale’s scheme. Still, Roche played on six snaps in two games. He opted to sign with Pittsburgh in late January.

2023 outlook

Thibodeaux and Ojulari are penciled in as the starters for the Giants in 2023, but concerns about Ojulari’s ability to stay healthy remain. Depth is still needed at the position, and there are several free agents the Giants may not retain.

Ward and Ximines are both unrestricted free agents. Both had their role in Martindale’s defense, but both could still be replaced, which would leave New York with only Fox and Smith as depth behind Thibodeaux and an often injured Ojulari.

New York will look to add more bodies to their edge room. They have the draft capital to find their desired fits, and I’m sure the Giants will also look to add a veteran. Martindale may be interested in bringing Ward back on another one-year deal, but more assets must still be invested into the position.

The Giants’ youth at edgeis a great foundation for the positional group, but there’s still work that has to be done to make this a more formidable and consistent position group moving forward.