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What does Giants’ DT Dexter Lawrence have left to prove?

Lawrence can cement his status as a star in 2023

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants spent this offseason making sure their homegrown stars will remain in blue jerseys for years to come. While that process isn’t quite finished, it did result in a massive contract extension for Dexter Lawrence, whose ascent last year saw him become one of the NFL’s best interior pass rushers.

What does Lawrence have in store for this year? Let’s discuss what we can expect from the big man in the middle as we continue our profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.

By the numbers

Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 342
Age: 25
Position: Defensive tackle
Experience: 5
Contract: Year 1 of four-year, $90 million deal; $46.5 million guaranteed | 2023 cap hit: $6.65 million

Career to date

In the 2019 draft, former general manager Dave Gettleman selected Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall and Lawrence at No. 17 — two picks that would end up shaping the future of the Giants on both sides of the ball. (We won’t talk about New York’s other first rounder that year).

Like Jones, Lawrence struggled to live up to his draft status in his first three NFL seasons. His rookie year was promising: he played more snaps than any other Giants defensive lineman and was named to the Professional Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team. But entering 2022, Lawrence had never had more than four sacks or 11 quarterback hits in a season, despite appearing in every game.

That changed with the arrival of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. Martindale used Lawrence as a true nose tackle, the position he played at Clemson. The results were almost instant: Lawrence had 29 pressures when aligned in zero-technique (directly facing the opposing center). No one else in the NFL had more than eight.

Lawrence set career highs in sacks (7.5), tackles (68), tackles for loss (7), and quarterback hits (28), and was named a second team All-Pro. Pro Football Reference credited him with 36 pressures, more than double his previous career high. ESPN measured his pass rush win rate at 17%, tied for second-best among defensive tackles. He was also a force against the run: in the Giants’ Wild Card win over the Vikings, Lawrence played a huge role in holding Dalvin Cook to 60 rushing yards on 15 carries.

Lawrence also continued to develop an incredible chemistry with Leonard Williams, as the team captains formed a bond that gives New York’s pass rush its identity. Williams has called Lawrence a “generational” player, and Lawrence frequently cites Williams’ leadership skills. Pro Football Focus recently named them the best interior defender duo in the league.

In May, the Giants made Lawrence the league’s third-highest paid defensive tackle with a four-year, $90 million contract extension, including $60 million guaranteed.

2023 outlook

Lawrence only has one elite season on his track record, but there’s no reason to believe it will be an outlier. His burst off the line of scrimmage is outstanding for a player his size, and his incredible power and physicality aren’t going anywhere. He’s never missed a game due to injury. And even now that he’s earned his payday, Lawrence still says his is goal is to retire as a Hall of Famer.

Lawrence still has room to clean up his mechanics and refine his pass-rushing technique, rather than rely on his size and strength. The hope is another year with Martindale will help him build on those skills.

For some time now, the bond between Lawrence and Williams has been the core of New York’s pass rush. It’s possible this will be Williams’ last year in New York, which would leave Lawrence as the main veteran of the Giants’ defensive line. Either way, Lawrence’s leadership skills will be more important than ever as he enters his fifth season and the team continues to develop young pass rushers like Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari.

Their progression is vital to take some pressure off Lawrence — as is the presence of veteran backup defensive tackles Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson. “Sexy Dexy” played 864 snaps on defense last year, over 100 more than any other Giants pass rusher, and the Giants would like to lower that number.