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Better or worse in 2023: Giants’ defensive line should be deeper

Additions of Rakeem Nuzez-Roches, A’Shawn. Robinson expected to help

New York Giants Offseason Workout
Leonard Williams
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The New York Giants have Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, one of the best duos in the NFL, anchoring their defensive line. Yet, as a whole, the performance of that position group was perhaps not what it could have been in 2022.

Can the defensive line be better in 2023? Let’s take a look at the line as we continue position by position previews leading up to training camp.

Key losses: Nick Williams, Justin Ellis
Key additions: Rakeem Nunez-Roches, A’Shawn Robinson, Jordon Riley

Why the Giants might be better

Despite Lawrence’s dominance, the first major injury of Williams’ career exposed the Giants’ lack of defensive line depth.

Williams played just 12 games, missing five and being limited in others due to a neck injury. By midseason, the Giants had lost veteran Nick Williams and rookie D.J. Davidson to season-ending injuries.

The chain reaction led to Lawrence playing a career-high 864 snaps and the Giants being 31st in the league in yards allowed per rushing attempt at 5.3.

Assistant general manager Brandon Brown called the run defense one of the team’s “pain points” in 2022.

The Giants addressed it by remaking the depth behind Lawrence and Williams. Justin Ellis and Nick Williams were replaced by free-agent acquisitions Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson, who should be significant upgrades. Riley, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound nose tackle, was drafted in the seventh round to add to the mix of young players with second-year players Davidson and Ryder Anderson.

“I just know this. I know A’Shawn and Nacho [Nunez-Roches] pride themselves on being really good run players and their demeanor is all about the run game,” said defensive line coach Andre Patterson. “I think that’s gonna add to our room and how they see themselves and how they carry themselves on the field.”

Patterson said it would be “beautiful” if the Giants could reduce the workloads of Lawrence and Willliams.

“What you try to do is keep them fresh and keep a wave going out there because the same five O-linemen are gonna stay out there the whole day,” Patterson said. “So, if you can keep them fresh and you can put a wave of guys going, it gives you a tremendous advantage. So that’s what I’m hoping that we’re gonna be able to do.”

Williams also believes the added depth will be helpful.

“That’s been the history of football,” Williams said. “D-linemen are usually not taking 100% or 90% of snaps. It’s better to have a rotation and keep guys fresh. It’s going to be fun that way when we’re rotating guys, just beating up on offensive lines together. It’s going to be fun.”

Why the Giants might be worse

On paper, that should not happen. There are, though, concerns.

The first is Williams. The five games he missed last season were the first of his career missed to injury.

Williams said he did not need surgery and that he expects to be fine after on offseason of rehab.

“I think during the season it was just hard for it to recover just because every time I made a tackle, I would feel it. It wasn’t really going to go away till the season ended. I’ve had a few months off now since football. I’ve been back in the weight room. I haven’t been feeling it at all,” Williams said. “I didn’t need surgery. I rested it, strengthened it, did a lot of shrugs and neck exercises to try to strengthen around it. Most of all in the beginning it just needed rest. The constant banging on it was not letting it go away.”

Williams’ optimism is encouraging. The reality remains, though, that Williams is entering his ninth NFL season. He has traditionally been among league leaders in snaps played by defensive tackles, and has played more than 6,400 in his career.

Williams has thus entered a point in his career where he might need the additional rest the Giants hope to provide, and injuries might become a more common occurrence. If Williams — or Lawrence — is out of the lineup for more than a rest the Giants can’t replace them with anyone who can have as much overall impact.