The New York Giants have invested several assets into their edge room since the 2021 NFL Draft. The selections of Azeez Ojulari in the second round and Elerson Smith in the fourth during that draft were subsequently followed by the investment of a top-5 pick in Kayvon Thibodeaux.
Still, even with these investments and some veteran players, edge remains a priority as the Giants enter the 2024 offseason. I remain high on Thibodeaux, a 23-year-old with 89 pressures in his first two seasons, but Ojulari’s inability to stay healthy was a problem for the Giants since they selected him with the 50th pick.
There is little to no proven depth behind the two young pass rushers.
2023 in review
Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Jihad Ward, Carlos “Boogie” Basham, Tomon Fox, Benton Whitley, Oshane Ximines, Tomon Fox
Kayvon Thibodeaux played in every single Giants game and recorded the fourth-most snaps on the defense with 981 plays. He finished the season with 44 pressures, 11.5 sacks, 50 tackles, 26 solo tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, four passes defended, three forced fumbles, and 29 STOPs. Here is a breakdown of 11 of Thibodeaux’s sacks.
One of the more entertaining stories of the Giants’ dismal 2023 season was when the young pass rusher was rebuked by local media pundits who were interviewing Giants legendary linebacker, Carl Banks. The criticism was about Thibodeaux’s impact on the field and had nothing to do with anything stated by the former Oregon Duck.
The conversation became contentious, even though Banks maintained tranquility, and the media pundits hung up on Banks. This dispute created an entire story where Thibodeaux’s proficiency came under scrutiny and was being questioned.
I can’t speak for Thibodeaux, but he’s not a troglodyte. We’re all human, and he damn well heard the objections. Let’s reflect back on Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll’s predraft interview with Kayvon Thibodeaux, where Giants’ brass gave the young man a hard time.
In a foreshadowing manner, Schoen, Daboll, and Thibodeaux discussed how the young man would handle a brutally critical New York media. Thibodeaux responded professionally, but my oh my, did he ever respond with a drop-the-mic moment.
In the next game, Thibodeaux ended the Jets' first drive with a strip-sack fumble that gave the Giants the football. He then sacked Zach Wilson on the first and fourth down plays of what should have been the Jets’ final drive. In almost an impressively astonishing fashion, the Giants found a way to lose the game.
He displayed resilience and the ability to overcome even this trifling situation with authority. I still, however, believe Thibodeaux has a ways to go as a professional football player. He was able to finish sacks at a higher rate in 2023, and his ability to win high-side improved drastically.
Still, consistency with pass rushing, a more advanced pass rushing repertoire, and his run defense are all areas he could improve. Although he reportedly had a great relationship with OLB coach Drew Wilkins, a new defensive philosophy could help the pass rusher, who dropped into coverage just under 100 times this season.
Thibodeaux is not an issue, but the Giants still need to find a way to maximize his talents; that’s been a problem for the Giants at plenty of other positions on the roster.
Ojulari played in 11 games this season with 25 pressures, 2.5 sacks, 16 tackles, and three tackles for a loss. He’s only played in 18 games over the last two seasons. He’s the most explosive pass rusher the Giants currently have on their roster, but his struggles against the run are still evident. He would make an elite situational pass-rusher who has double-digit sack upside; he had eight sacks in his rookie season.
Jihad Ward, a Wink Martindale favorite, operated as the other edge who would kick inside in passing situations and be a solid play-side run defender. His massive size for an edge created a mismatch against tight ends tasked to block him on the play side of runs, but he offers little as a consistent pass rusher, albeit he had a career-high five sacks. Ward finished the season with 24 tackles, five sacks, 20 pressures, five tackles for a loss, and a forced fumble.
The Giants traded for Boogie Basham, a player Joe Schoen helped Brandon Beane draft in Buffalo, right before the start of the season. Basham played 194 defensive snaps. I’m not attempting to be mean, but he was virtually invisible. He finished the year with 11 tackles, five of them were solo.
Oshane Ximines and Benton Whitley were two other edge rushers who earned snaps. The former played in three games with 52 snaps under his belt. He recorded three pressures and four tackles, with two QB hits, and the latter played 13 snaps on the Giants’ defense. Ximines was released before the end of the season. Tomon Fox also played in Week 16 and saw 19 snaps.
The Giants aren’t only in search of a new defensive coordinator, but both Drew and Kevin Wilkins were relieved of their duties. Drew was the OLB coach, and Kevin was his assistant. The inevitable hires should give us more information on the Giants' path forward.
Both Whitley and Ward are set to be free agents. Basham is under contract for one more season but can be released to free up $1,427,037 in cap space with zero dead cap, per Over The Cap. I don’t think this is an easy release. Perhaps a different coordinator can get more out of the former second-round pick, who is still just 26 years old.
Tomon Fox is signed to a future contract with the Giants heading into the offseason, as is Jeremiah Martin, a 6’-foot-4, 265-pound former Washington Husky who was a rookie this season. He did not play, but he recorded 52 pressures and nine sacks in 2022 at Washington. He was in college for five years and played his first three years at Texas A&M.
The EDGE group consists of Thibodeaux, Ojulari, and Basham, with Fox and Martin on future-reserve contracts. New York must look into the edge position during the 2024 NFL Draft, and/or possibly free agency.