The New York Giants have done a lot of work to improve their roster over the course of the 2023 off season. It was pretty obvious that they needed to add talent to their offense, but they also needed to improve their defense.
There were good feelings regarding the Giants’ defense by the end of the 2022 season. Wink Martindale worked magic with a depleted unit, and his aggressive scheme made enough plays to eke out narrow wins thanks to (largely) mistake-free offense. But the defense struggled on a down-to-down basis, giving up 125.22 EPA to opposing offenses, 29th in the NFL.
The Giants’ pass defense was in the middle of the pack (18th in yards allowed, 20th in net yards per attempt), but they gave up the 6th most rushing yards (2,451) and 3rd most yards per attempt (5.2). And despite having the highest blitz rate in the NFL (39.7 percent) and calling 20 more blitzes than any other team, the Giants finished 13th in sacks.
The Giants took steps to address their run defense this year, adding defensive tackles Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson, as well as linebacker Bobby Okereke, in free agency. The Giants will also get NT D.J. Davidson (2022 5th round pick) back from injury and selected NT Jordon Riley out of Oregon in the 7th round of the 2023 draft.
They also took steps to improve their pass coverage, selecting CB Deonte Banks at 24th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft as well as signing S Bobby McCain and CB Amani Oruwariye in free agency.
But did they do enough to improve on their 29th ranked defense from 2022?
Pro Football Network isn’t so sure, and projects the Giants to remain at 29th in the NFL in 2023.
Arif Hasan writes:
“The Giants had a glaring hole at cornerback that they fixed with Deonte Banks, but they still have work to do at that position and safety. Without a strong projected unit at linebacker and only a modest pass rush despite the excellent names there, there’s reason to believe the Giants will stay about the same defensively.”
Personally, I felt that pass rusher was an under-the-radar need for the Giants entering the 2023 NFL Draft. As we saw, the Giants didn’t select a pass rusher in the draft, and concerns regarding their pass rushing depth remain. NFL.com’s Mark Sessler agrees, and points to the position as the Giants’ top remaining priority.
Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari form a spicy duo along the edge, but the latter missed 10 games a year ago. Thibodeaux morphed into a monster down the stretch, but also lost three starts to injury. There’s a lot to like, but general manager Joe Schoen would be wise to add a veteran to round out an inexperienced group. Outside linebacker was ignored both in the draft and free agency beyond re-upping with Jihad Ward. Expect Big Blue to add a body.
Nick Falato pointed out former XFL edge defenders Tuzar Skipper and John Daka in a recent post as players the Giants could bring into training camp. Skipper was one of the best pass rushers in the XFL this past season, and Daka is undersized but has been highly productive.
There are also some interesting veterans still available as well.
Former Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams EDGE Leonard Floyd stands out among the crowd of unsigned veteran pass rushers. Floyd, 31, is coming off of a strong season with the Rams, in which he racked up 9.0 sacks, 22 QB hits, and 10 tackles for a loss. Those numbers are consistent with the previous two years, suggesting that he isn’t in decline. Floyd’s asking price might be too high for teams right now, as he averaged $15.25 million per year with the Rams. However, he is almost certainly the top name still on the market and would give the Giants a true 1-C pass rusher to complement Thibodeaux and Ojulari. It would also prevent Floyd from joining every other Georgia Bulldog on the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense.
Former Colts edge defender Yannick Ngakoue would likely be the Giants’ second-best option if Floyd is priced out of the Giants’ reach.
Ngakoue has been a popular name among Giants’ fans for a couple years now, but he’s always landed elsewhere. He might not have Floyd’s athletic traits, but Ngakoue is a bit younger at 28 years old and has been a reliable pass rusher since entering the NFL. He’s coming off of a 9.5-sack (16 QB hit, 8 TFL) season for a Colts team that started out bad and got worse as 2022 went on. He would also be familiar to Wink Martindale, playing in 9 games and starting 3 for the Baltimore Ravens in 2020.
Jadeveon Clowney is still on the market as well, and is (somehow) only 30 years old. He might be much more affordable for the Giants than Floyd or Ngakoue. Clowney has never been a dynamic pass rusher despite his impressive linear athleticism and only managed 2.0 sacks and 4 QB hits and 4.0 tackles for a loss in 2022 (12 games, 10 starts). He had a much better 2021 season, with 9.0 sacks, 19 QB hits, and 11.0 tackles for a loss. Clowney could be an intriguing addition if Martindale is able to get him back to his 2021 form.
Former Giant Jason Pierre-Paul remains on the market as well. JPP never recaptured the magic from his 2011 season, but has remained a very consistent defender despite overcoming some incredible adversity. However, it seems as though the multiple career-threatening injuries might have caught up to him, and he’s only had 5.5 sacks, 8 QB hits, and 8.0 tackles for a loss the last two years combined. It would be a nice story for JPP to retire a Giant, and he could help improve the Giants’ perimeter run defense for a low price.