The New York Giants started the 2023 free agent period by agreeing to terms with veteran defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches on a three-year contract with a purported two-year out. The deal is reportedly worth $12 million, with $7.5 million guaranteed. Nunez-Roches was a sixth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015.
The 29-year-old spent his first three seasons with the Chiefs before signing with the Indianapolis Colts. He failed to make the Colts’ roster and was waived in 2018, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quickly added him to their roster.
Nunez-Roches assumed a more significant role as a rotational defensive lineman in 2019, and that role slightly expanded through the next four seasons. Nunez-Roches was a starter in Todd Bowels’ aggressive 3-4 base defense. He started 11 games in 2020 and ten in 2022; he helped the Buccaneers win a super bowl to conclude the 2020 season.
The 6-foot-2, 307-pounder has played more than 475 defensive snaps over the last three seasons. He has 39 pressures and two sacks over that period and had 11 pressures and two sackslast season. Here are his measurables and athletic testing from 2015:
Giants GM Joe Schoen has stressed the importance of adding quality depth to spell Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams along the defensive line this offseason. Lawrence tied B.J. Hill for the third most snaps for a defensive lineman this season. He played 977 snaps at 342 pounds; his previous high was 759 in 2021.
Nunez-Roches is the perfect fit to transition into Martindale’s scheme. He has the quickness, body control, and necessary leverage exploding out of his stance to penetrate if the Giants decide to attack or play one-gap responsibilities. Or, he can anchor, read, and absorb double-teams to allow newly signed linebacker Bobby Okereke to flow to the football.
He’s been a relatively healthy player with a few injuries that he played through. However, he missed a 2017 Wild Card game with an ankle injury. Maybe the Giants didn’t start free agency with a splash, but adding a player like Nunez-Roches is savvy and conducive to building a successful organization. It’s just one of the many steps needed to help develop this roster.
Here’s some film on Rakeem Nunez Roches, No. 56.
I appreciate the run-defending fundamentals exercised by Nunez-Roches throughout his tape. He has the quickness to penetrate and force tough angles for interior offensive linemen, but we also see him display gap control, positive leverage, and extension on the play above. Nunez-Roches is essentially playing a gap-and-a-half on this play; his primary responsibility is the B-Gap, where he is lined up as a 4i-shade on the inside shoulder of the tackle. The guard engages Nunez-Roches, and the defensive lineman shades his hips into the B-Gap, presenting himself as a presence.
But the Buccaneers blitz Devin White (45) through the A-Gap in what appears to be a cross-dog linebacker assignment. White gets washed up field by the center and H-Back, and the A-Gap comes open. However, Lavonte David (54) and Nunez-Roches are the contingency plans for that exact situation. Nunez-Roches reads the play, locks out the guard, stays low, and shifts his body weight inside to constrict the A-Gap and tackle Samaje Perine (34).
He reads, reacts, and attacks well, but he also makes plays like the one above. He is a quick penetrator who can maintain a low center of gravity while exploding forward, and he couples those skills with heavy active hands to shed and swim over trash. Nunez-Roches is aligned as the nose technique against a zone-oriented rushing attack; he’s aware of the blocking concept and times the center’s move exceptionally well. Once the Center attempts to get hip-to-hip to create the seal, Nunez-Roches swims over the top of the center and beats the guard to his landmark. He quickly locates the football and makes the big tackle for a loss.
Here’s another play against the Rams where Nunez-Roches uses his quick first step to penetrate and threaten the running back’s path. He drives his shoulder into the center’s chest to reduce the surface area of his own chest and puncture the offensive line.
We get to witness how low he fires off the snap as the 3-technique, who gets substantially lower than the tackle attempting to cut off his angle. The tackle could have used some help; a forearm or something from his guard, but, to the benefit of Nunez-Roches, the defensive linemen tackle Cordarrelle Patterson (84) for a loss.
Against the Chiefs in a BEAR front (three interior defensive linemen with two outside guys in 3T alignment), as the field side 3-technique, Nunez-Roches once again anticipates the timing of the snap perfectly to maximize his quickness from the backside as a pursuit defender against outside zone blocking. He does an excellent job staying tight to the guard as he attempts to reach Vita Vea (50). We see how the low center of gravity, coupled with the burst off the line, forced the tackle into a precarious situation where he gained no control on Nunez-Roches.
Nunez-Roches aligned as a 3-technique against the Saints. He came off the line of scrimmage and quickly met a double team. Another thing I appreciate about Nunez-Roches that is witnessed above is his ability to get skinny through narrow crevices. He is able to absorb the contact of the tackle with enough force to press the inside shoulder of the tackle inward, allowing him to separate from the double team. Just prior, he shed the contact from the guard with quick hands to create the one-on-one matchup.
Nunez-Roches is the 4i-shade over the inside shoulder of Jonah Williams (73). Watch how he initially shoots the B-Gap with a low profile, forcing Perine to bounce outside. Nunez-Roches then recenters Williams, rinks his hips, and shifts outside, giving Perine the perception of a hole. Once Perine lowers his shoulder at the line of scrimmage, Nunez-Roches closes the B-Gap and earns himself a STOP. This is smart, technically sound, football; winning with leverage, physicality, and awareness at the point of attack.
As a 1-technique on the backside of a G-Lead type of play - it appears like the Bengals are folding the play side guard and center around the tackle - Nunez-Roches displays his control to keep himself free and not overpursue the play. He has discipline when engaged with blocks, and his eyes are active - there aren’t many situations where he doesn’t know where the football is located.
Understanding assignments and being a gap-sound player on the defensive line are two fundamental aspects of success. Against the Ravens with a very athletic and mobile quarterback in Lamar Jackson (8), Nunez-Roches maintained his rush lane and did not panic when the play seemed to go away from him. He stacked the offensive linemen, got eyes on the mesh point, and held the edge once Jackson attempted to evade. Very sound and smart play by the new Giants’ defensive linemen.
What do newly signed New York Giant Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Dexter Lawrence have in common?— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) March 13, 2023
They're both 300+ pounds and make plays like this against the Carolina Panthers pic.twitter.com/wUgBlBsAXL
Smart, tough, dependable...we’ve all heard those three words, and how they’re the critical traits that Joe Schoen is looking to find. Nunez-Roches has key ingredients that Schoen wants in this recipe known as the New York Giants, and we see the competitive toughness, and athletic ability to chase wide receiver D.J. Moore down for a minimal gain. This play reminded me of Dexter Lawrence’s chase down of Baker Mayfield, which is the second play in the clip.
As the nose tackle, Nunez-Roches undercuts the zone block from the center and is able to use his upfield burst to get into the backfield. He takes a direct path and tackles Deebo Samuel (19) as he attempts to cut the football to the backside. He did not give up on the play, and he helped clean up White’s tackle to earn a tackle for a loss.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches disallowed No. 65 from gaining his outside shoulder after No. 64 quickly initiated contact...RNR used OL momentum against him and swam over the top before Kittle attempted to clean up the block— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) March 13, 2023
Despite being contacted by three 49ers, RNR assists with the tak pic.twitter.com/NadKTI5iw9
Nunez-Roches overcomes three separate 49er blockers to earn an assisted tackle on the play above. He’s a tough player who seems to take a lot of pride in playing the trenches.
Nunez-Roches doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher. He can utilize his low profile and his quickness off the snap in an attempt to establish a half-man relationship with a blocker, but he isn’t a consistent threat when pinning his ears back.
He has only 3.5 sacks in his career and only 66 pressures on 1,522 pass-rushing plays. He’ll offer more than Justin Ellis and Danny Shelton, but maybe not as much as Nick Williams. Still, Wink Martindale is known for creating one-on-one matchups and free-rushers; alignment is one way to earn easy production in Martindale’s system, and playing next to Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and Azeez Ojulari could allow Nunez-Roches to set a career-high in pressures, which would be his 2021 total of 16.
Nunez-Roches won’t be an every-down player for the Giants. However, New York is intent on rotating defensive linemen much more this season, presuming the depth is improved, which Nunez-Roches has already assisted. Justin Ellis played 377 snaps for the Giants last year; I would expect, if healthy, Nunez-Roches to earn a sizable amount more than 377 snaps.
Nunez-Roches shows his speed and lateral agility on this E/T twist. He quickly covers ground and avoids offensive linemen to sack Jacoby Brissett (7) in a violent manner.
Here’s his other sack in 2022 against the Rams. He attacks the A-Gap, and the guard expects the center to help him; however, Nunez-Roches uses a cross-chop of the guard’s inside arm while sticking his outside shoulder pad into the chest of the guard. This gave Nunez-Roches the angle to split the two interior offensive linemen and burst into the pocket relatively unscathed.
The Buccaneers bring a five-man pressure with the linebacker looping around Nunez-Roches to create a one-on-one matchup against a five-man protection package. The newly-signed Giant gets inside of Tyler Biadasz (63) breastplate. He used a powerful bull rush to start the rep before pulling Biadasz forward. Once he felt Biadasz in a vulnerable position, he exploded to an opening that was created on the line of scrimmage away from Biadasz’s momentum. He separated from the center and hit quarterback Dak Prescott (4).
And if you want to watch a quick highlight reel of Rakeem Nunez-Roches, here is one:
The Giants needed to improve their depth behind Lawrence and Williams. Finding a player as well-versed as Nunez-Roches is important to the continuity of the defense. He played in Todd Bowels’ attacking 3-4 BASE defense. Nunez-Roches can penetrate, anchor in place, and he’s good in backside pursuit. He’ll likely start next to Lawrence and Williams in BASE and be a key contributor as a reliable option to spell the top two defensive linemen in sub-packages. He’s not the franchise-altering player some believed the Giants would sign in free agency, but he’s a solid rotational depth player who will play a significant role up front for the Giants in 2023.