Giants cannot afford to ignore hole at edge rusher any longer

The Giants own the No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This year, more than most others, they can go in several different directions with their first round selection, as opinions can and

The Giants own the No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This year, more than most others, they can go in several different directions with their first round selection, as opinions can and do vary on what their top priority should be.

Here, in the fourth and final installment of a four-part series, A Case Can Be Made for the Giants going with an edge pass rusher at No. 11:

It does not add up.

What the Giants had, what they have and what they need is not in sync. Do the math this way, that way, any way. Take the roster and study it, with the most open of minds. Dare to dream.  Even with the most wildly optimistic projection, it appears obvious, glaring and painfully apparent. The Giants do not have enough at edge rusher to take the needed step forward as a defensive operation.

There is great respect in the building for Patrick Graham, the defensive coordinator, for the way he identifies talent, hides weaknesses, devises schemes to accentuate the positive and makes more from less. He is not a miracle worker. That he somehow coaxed 40 sacks out of his defense in 2020 – more than respectable, tied for 12th in the NFL – is a credit to Graham’s usage of personnel, his timing with pressure calls and also a byproduct of defensive lineman Leonard Williams erupting with a career-high 11.5 sacks.  

Next on the list for the Giants was Dexter Lawrence, like Williams an interior defensive lineman, and Kyler Fackrell, an outside linebacker, with four sacks apiece. Fackrell was not re-signed, and is now with the Chargers. Remarkably, the edge rushers on the team last year who return this year totaled 1.5 sacks in 2020 – one sack for Carter Coughlin and one-half sack for Trent Harris.  

Realizing they need help, the Giants made a run in free agency at signing Leonard Floyd, who had a career-high 10.5 sacks last season, but Floyd re-signed with the Rams.  The Giants did add Ifeadi Odenigbo, who had 3.5 sacks last season for the Vikings, and Ryan Anderson, who has six sacks in his four-year career – none in nine 2020 games. They think Cam Brown, with no sacks as a rookie, can develop into a pass rusher.

Jaelan Phillips (left) and Azeez Ojulari will be among the Giants’ options if they wish to take an edge rusher early.
Getty Images

Can the Giants count on another 11.5 sacks from Williams, even after rewarding him with a three-year contract worth $63 million? Doubtful.

A return to health is expected for Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, former third-round draft picks who accounted for one sack in injury-shortened 2020 seasons. This will provide a boost to the pass rush, but how much is yet to be determined. Carter had 8.5 sacks in his first two seasons and, despite flashing playmaking ability, has not revealed himself to be a feared sack artist. He played only two games for Graham before suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon. Ximines had 4.5 sacks as a rookie but did little in four games last season before landing on injured reserve and eventually undergoing shoulder surgery.

“Those guys, I wish that Lorenzo and ‘X’ had been able to play the whole season last year, but you know what, they couldn’t, so we filled in with some guys and did the best we could,’’ general manager Dave Gettleman said. “We’re going to do better.’’

The Giants signed Kenny Golladay and Adoree’ Jackson in free agency to address obvious needs at wide receiver and cornerback, respectively. They selected three offensive linemen, including two tackles in the first three rounds, in 2020. The last difference-making edge rusher they drafted was Jason Pierre-Paul, way back in 2010. 

Most scouts acknowledge this is a weak draft class for pass rushers.  There will be NFL draft boards – many of them – that do not list an edge rusher in the first 10-12 spots.  Kwity Paye (Michigan), Azeez Ojulari (Georgia), Jaelan Phillips (Miami), Jayson Oweh (Penn State), Gregory Rousseau (Miami), Zaven Collins (Tulsa) and Joseph Ossai (Texas) are players to watch, but taking any of them at No. 11 could be considered a reach. 

If the Giants are intent on going for an edge rusher in the first round, trading down a few spots – something Gettleman has never done while running eight drafts – is a scenario worth serious consideration. Or else, going with a different position in the first round and hoping to see one of these pass rush prospects is available at No. 42 overall, in the second round.

As presently constructed, the Giants’ defense is lacking in firepower. The secondary, potentially, is first-rate, especially if Xavier McKinney develops as anticipated. An edge rusher to strike fear into opposing blockers is not yet part of the equation.  

Asked about filling holes at edge rusher and wide receiver entering free agency, Gettleman said, “Well, there is a draft, right?’’ 

Right. Golladay was signed in free agency. The draft is nearly upon us and the need for pass-rush help remains.

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Paul Schwartz

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