As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2017 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
The Giants are a great example of how quickly things change in defense. A year and a half ago in the 2016 playoffs, the Giants had the best defense in football. Olivier Vernon was a defensive end. Jason Pierre-Paul was a Giants mainstay. Keenan Robinson and Jonathan Casillas were solid inside linebackers. Eli Apple was exciting. Giants fans thought Ben McAdoo was good. Things have changed a lot since then.
This season, there’s a brand new coaching staff in charge and James Bettcher has taken over the defense. He brings a new scheme which is significantly different from the past few seasons but is full of heavy blitzing and exotic defensive backfields. It will be one of the more drastic changes to watch unfold.
“Big Snacks” is a player who transcends his position. The numbers he puts up for a nose tackle are absurd and he’s (almost without competition) the finest run defender in the NFL. In terms of scheme, it’s not great but not a disaster. He’ll still line up on or shaded over the center and likely have two-gap responsibility. We’ve seen him put up monster tackle numbers from various types of front before so he should be fine. He is very scoring system dependent though. For all his brilliance (over 70 total tackles three seasons in a row!), he’s not much of a pass rush threat and has averaged just a sack and a half per year over the same stretch.
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Dalvin Tomlinson played on the inside last season as a rookie and impressed. He was one of the better tackles in the class. With the scheme moving to a 3-4 front, he’ll be classified as an end this season and it hurts his value fairly significantly. He’s not going to be much of a pass-rush threat even if he is a potentially excellent run defender.
After Tomlinson, this is a deep unit. Bettcher has shown a marked preference for deep rotation on the line. Aside from Harrison, it should be expected that several players move around the formation and play a moderate amount. This is not going to be the stereotypical depth chart with three separate lists. It’s much more of an ensemble cast.
Alec Ogletree is a favorite of many in the IDP world for his early seasons under Gregg Williams as a Ram. In reality, he’s nowhere near as good as many think he is – he just racked up tackles whilst playing high volume in a favorable scheme. He is a good interior pass rusher and a fine athlete but his instincts are poor. The move to Bettcher’s defense actually works brilliantly in his favor and a return to form is very possible.
B.J. Goodson is the presumptive starter… oh, who are we kidding? He’s going to get hurt again, isn’t he? He managed 71 snaps in week one in 2017 then just 301 snaps over the next 15 games. He is simply not reliable. If he turns in a good season then good luck to him but his supporters are so staunch he’s generally not very buyable.
Ray-Ray Armstrong is the top backup on the team and stands to profit if (or when) Goodson does get hurt. He’s very much a journeyman and not worth owning in most leagues.
With the shift in scheme, the Giants had to blow up the strength of their IDPs over the past few seasons – their bookend pass rushers. Jason Pierre-Paul was chased out of town and Olivier Vernon moves to a linebacker designation.
Vernon has 41 sacks over the past five seasons (only seven linemen have more) but he has been a volume rusher. Over that same five-year period, he’s averaged 873 snaps per season. Only three linemen (Carlos Dunlap, Cameron Jordan, and Ndamukong Suh) have played more than Vernon. He’s a risky buy at the moment even in leagues that value OLBs.
Connor Barwin will likely start with the lion’s share of snaps on the other side. This is a potentially productive role but Barwin is a little past his best and has never impressed as a full-time player. Rookie Lorenzo Carter is an intriguing option to challenge him and will likely get his chance sooner rather than later. The Giants used the 66th overall pick on him (seventh edge player taken in the draft) and will expect some repayment on that investment. He’s got some development to do as a player but could easily become relevant quickly.
Janoris Jenkins has more to worry about given the issues involving his brother this off-season but hopefully can still play well and solidify himself as the Giants’ top corner. He’s a gambler who likes to try and make plays on the ball but does not have the tackling floor to be a great IDP.
Eli Apple has somehow held on to his job after his issues with the old coaching staff. Giants’ decision-makers seem to have decided that was as much on Ben McAdoo (McAdon’t?) as it was on Apple and given him one last chance. Apple has the talent but his suspect disposition is a worry.
Bettcher had Tyrann Mathieu in the slot in Arizona. There is no equivalent player here but whoever emerges as the starter will likely be more productive than he would be on many teams. William Gay is the current favorite but this could change fast.
Landon Collins bookends this team as the other star of the unit. He’s been spectacular since he got on the field and has a clear lead on all other all safeties in solo tackles with 254 since his entry into the NFL (Reshad Jones trails him on 231). Expect more of the same this year. It is worth noting that Collins has avoided any significant injuries so far across his career. This is unusual for safeties.
Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams will spend camp battling it out for the starting free safety job. This could easily be the theme all year long. Whoever wins it is unlikely to be a useful IDP so again you can safely ignore it. Thompson is on top here but it could easily be the other way round.
Landon Collins. There’s no getting around it. Collins is a shooting star at a position where production is easily replaced from similar players. Collins is insistent in his production and performance and should continue to be one of the few safeties who rise above the melange.
Alec Ogletree. Ogletree has good numbers here and should be viewed as a success story. He’s here as a disappointment because his supporters still believe he’s a great player who should be at the very top of LB production every season.
Oliver Vernon. As above, there are reasons why Vernon might not be as good as he has been in the past. But he’s still in the upper echelons of current NFL pass rushers and playing for a blitz-heavy coordinator who has delivered top IDPs at the position as recently as last season (when Chandler Jones led the league in sacks). He’s a risk worth taking.
This is a complex situation because of the big change in schematic style. A certain amount of adjustment will no doubt be necessary. We’re dealing with humans here and it takes time to learn a whole new system. For this year, treat it as a fascinating scheme with a couple of potential stars. We’ll get to see it in its true format in 2019.
Thanks for reading.
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