The New York Giants have increasingly been linked to a possible Round 1 investment toward the defensive line in the 2023 NFL Draft. On the surface, it may appear imprudent to allocate a first-round pick to a defensive line room with $44 million of the Giants’ 2023 cap expended on the two starters, especially with as many holes as New York possesses.
However, the surface is misleading; we must peel back the layers and analyze the group long-term. Leonard Williams is set to make $32 million in 2023. Logic, Williams’ post-season interview, and speculation from the media suggest that Joe Schoen and the Giants will attempt to rectify that situation.
The Giants could look to extend the 29-year-old coming off an injury-plagued season. He has a void year on his contract, making him a free agent at the end of the season. The Giants could trade him to a team with cap space and a defensive line need. New York will have to create cap space somehow; I don’t think they’d flat-out cut Williams, for they would save just under $13 million in cap space while eating a bitter chunky $20 million, but the remedy is unclear.
Dexter Lawrence will likely be resigned to a massive deal. The Giants added Rakeem Nunez-Roches in free agency to help stabilize the 28th-ranked (yards allowed per game) run defense from last season. New York could use another defensive lineman to fortify a strong rotation and to start next to Lawrence once Williams is eventually gone.
The Giants could select depth later in the draft, or they could look to invest in the position at pick No. 25. Before becoming the Giants' general manager, Joe Schoen was the right-hand man for Brandon Beane in Buffalo.
The Bills selected Ed Oliver, A.J. Epenesa, Gregory Rousseau, and Carlos “Boogie” Bashom across three drafts in the top-61 picks. Buffalo poured investments into their defensive front to bolster their ability to stop the run and harass quarterbacks. Former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said it best — “You can never have too many pass rushers.”
There are two defensive linemen who could interest the Giants at pick No. 25: Pitt’s Calijah Kancey and Clemson’s Bryan Bresee. Both players are different, with completely different paths, but the Giants should be interested in both players. Let’s start with the undersized explosive pass rusher from Pitt.
The parallels to former Pitt Panther Aaron Donald are easy to draw. Kancey and Donald are explosive undersized defenders, but any comparisons to first-ballot Hall of Famers are unfair. Kancey was a unanimous All-American - the first for Pitt since Aaron Donald in 2013. He was the only player in the country selected as a finalist for the Outland Trophy (nation’s best interior lineman) and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (national defensive player of the year).
Kancey recorded 31 tackles, 21 STOPs, 14.5 for a loss, 7.5 sacks, and 47 pressures in 2022. He finished his college career with 91 tackles, 65 STOPs, 34.5 for a loss, 16 sacks, and 111 pressures in three seasons. He was also named ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2022. Kancey’s size is an issue, but he’d make an excellent one-gap penetrating defensive linemen who can wreak havoc in one-on-one situations.
Kancey was productive, but just for reference, Donald recorded 66 TFLs, 29.5 sacks, with 181 tackles through his four years of school. Here are the two players RAS (Relative Athletic Score):
Sans the broad jump, Kancey was slightly better than Donald in terms of athletic testing. The glaring difference in their profiles is the hands and arm length. Kancey is in the 1st percentile for reach and the 7th percentile in terms of hand size, whereas Donald is in the 29th percentile and the 45th - that’s a significant difference in reach.
Donald’s wingspan is 77.6 inches, and Kancey’s was 73 inches at his Pro Day, which is smaller than cornerbacks Cam Smith (South Carolina), Devon Witherspoon (Illinois), and DJ Turner (Michigan). I’m not attempting to lambaste Kancey, who I like a lot. Still, I do want to paint an accurate picture of the differences between Kancey and Donald when it pertains to their measurements and how that could impact specific roles translating at the next level.
Length is not on the 22-year-old’s side, but explosiveness, penetration, and the savviness to employ pass-rushing moves are something that Kancey excels at doing. His excellent burst off the line of scrimmage, and his low leverage, force offensive linemen to whiff in a phone booth; his combination of balance, strength, flexibility, and hand fighting allow him to quickly shed/get to the half-man, and separate in order to disrupt/pressure the pocket. He’d be an excellent fit in a one-gap penetrating team as a three-technique, albeit most of his snaps came at nose or one-shade in 2022.
Kancey is a very difficult assignment in one-on-one situations for pass-blocking IOL. He also does a solid job defending the run despite his size, albeit his anchor and strength versus double teams are adequate and not a plus in his profile, which makes him a more situational-based player early in his career.
His low leverage and quick hands help him as a run defender, but offensive linemen who latch on control him more easily can displace or disallow Kancey from executing his assignment (Virginia: Q1, 2:00, second-and-9; Tennessee: Q1, 1:06, first-and-goal TD; Rhode Island: Q1, 5:19 first-and-10; 63-yard TD run).
The idea of Kancey in a Martindale defense is alluring. Kancey’s ability to win in tight areas against one blocker could be leveraged excellently in the Giants’ blitz-heavy approach. Martindale loves to crowd the line of scrimmage with seven, sometimes eight, defensive players. The offense’s protection package must account for the blitz-eligible defenders, which creates one-on-one matchups, and free-rushers at times.
Kancey, along with Lawrence, Azeez Ojulari, and Kayvon Thibodeaux, are usually tasked to defeat a one-on-one matchup when Martindale crowds the line of scrimmage, and Kancey would be perfect at creating pressure from these pressure looks. I love the idea of adding Kancey from that standpoint.
A highly coveted five-star recruit - and the number one ranked player in the 2020 recruiting cycle - out of Damascus High School in Damascus, Maryland. According to 247 Sports, he was the 18th-ranked player in their entire database. He committed to Clemson in April 2019, and burst onto the scene as a freshman All-American and became the second ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in Clemson’s history; the first, Dexter Lawrence in 2016.
However, beyond his freshman season, Bresee had a unique career marred with injury and terribly unfortunate events. Bresee only played four games in his sophomore year due to a torn ACL. Besides his ACL injury, Bresee had shoulder surgery, a kidney infection, and his younger sister Ella passed away from brain cancer.
The 21-year-old finished his college career with fifteen tackles for a loss, nine sacks, never had more than four in a given season, and never played more than 500 snaps in a year; despite that, there’s immense potential with his skill set, he’s widely liked by his teammates, and he was a semi-finalist for the LOTT Impact Trophy, which is an honor bestowed to a college football player who makes an impact on and off the field. Bresee was Second-Team All-ACC in 2022 and finished Third-Team All-ACC after only playing 152 snaps in the 2021 season.
Bryan Bresee is a DT prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.59 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 62 out of 1488 DT from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/gFKEroHGdX #RAS pic.twitter.com/Atbs2wi7no— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 19, 2023
Bresee is a phenomenal athlete with a broad thick frame. His pedigree as the number one prospect in his recruiting class will still appeal to teams, including the Giants, and there’s no denying his immense untapped potential.
Still, questions about his consistency and durability are fare. Some may find it tough to invest a first-round pick into Bresee with his production profile and limited snaps, but the idea of Andre Patterson coaching this kid is appealing. A coach like Patterson would get him to maximize his natural athletic ability. The flashes on his tape are bright. Here are two clips from his true freshman season:
2020 Bryan Bresee hitting the outside spin on 2nd & 11 to pressure Ian Book vs. Notre Dame pic.twitter.com/dKjLYvOCtv— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) April 14, 2023
2020 Bryan Bresee using strength/torque to undercut Nicholas Petit-Frere's reach for a TFL in Clemson & Ohio State's playoff matchup pic.twitter.com/ksydyoLUdh— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) April 14, 2023
Bresee has the traits to be a very good versatile defensive lineman who can play the run and pass - but there’s risk.
Andre Patterson would work wonders with both of these players. Kancey’s physical limitations do concern me. Kancey would have a more pigeon-holed defined role. His ideal landing spot in the NFL is as a three-technique in an EVEN front. He wouldn’t operate like that with the Giants in their BASE personnel package.
Would Kancey play early downs in the Giants TITE 3-4 front - I would venture to say no, at least not early on. That makes Kancey more niche, although that niche is very important. Bresee on the other hand has all the necessary physical traits and flashed brightly on film when he was able to play.
I have Kancey ranked higher than Bresee in my rankings, but I do believe Bresee is a better fit for what the Giants want to do defensively; mainly because he can handle more responsibilities in both phases of the game. Even so, I’m going to choose Kancey and assign him the designated role of pass rusher from the inside on Day 1 of training camp. If Bresee’s profile wasn’t full of medical question marks, I might have gone in the other direction because of his more comprehensive profile.
Kancey has range, and his penetration ability is quick and decisive. His ability to keep his chest clean, combined with his rare lateral athletic traits, would give the Giants a difference-making pass-rusher to compliment the rest of New York's defense.
The short arms and the adequate strength do concern me when it pertains to run defense. However, Kancey’s significant impact as a pass rusher is enough to lean me in his direction if it came down to both of these players I regard highly.