In Part 1 we examined the 11 starters on Offense to gauge their anticipated improvement in 2017. Here in Part 2, we turn our attention the Defense.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul– IMPROVEMENT. We believe JPP rates to miss a lot fewer games than he did last season. So that alone should provide an uptick. This will also be JPP’s second season with the glove, giving him more comfort/effectiveness with what he has. But neither of those factors are significant compared to this- JPP has lost weight and will be 10 pounds leaner in 2017. As football players get older, they begin to lose that fraction of a step and need to keep up the speed. Michael Strahan lost weight at the end of his career to play faster. It is a smart move by JPP to do this, and I believe we will see the difference on the field. Will he lose some of the advantages of the weight, specifically in run defense? Perhaps. But stopping the run is a strong suit for JPP anyway, and the NY Giants need JPP pressuring the QB in the pocket. This offseason move will be a big improvement for the Giants DE.
DT Damon Harrison– SIDEWAYS. Gulp, I hate shorting this guy. He plays with so much pride. It is not that we do not believe in Harrison. We just think he was so terrific last year that it is hard to see him outdoing 2016. SIDEWAYS is still a big win for the team, given his high level of play. I cannot say I would be surprised if Snacks found a way to improve (pass rush?). He’ll be a gamer no matter what.
DT Dalvin Tomlinson (?)– DECLINE. Replacing seasoned veteran Hankins (who was lost in Free Agency) with a rookie? This is going to be a camp battle for the starting position. Before OTA’s, Tomlinson had the inside track. Now, apparently it is a 4 way race between the rookie, Jay Bromley, Robert Thomas and Corbin Bryant. Whatever the outcome, it is pretty clear that no one will be filling Hankins’ shoes as well, certainly not in 2017.
DE Olivier Vernon– IMPROVEMENT. OV played hurt. He was in a new system. He played well but he has another gear. When you play with a shattered hand for half the season, there is plenty of upside for this year.
LB BJ Goodson– SIDEWAYS. Giants LBers have been subpar over the last many years. So when you get a 2nd year player to take over the MLB reins, it is not a downtick. Antonio Pierce is helping Goodson to study film and do the signal calling. Goodson will have growing pains but by the end of the season he’ll be better than what the Giants had (Shepperd/Robinson) in 2016.
LB Devon Kennard– SIDEWAYS. This is a tough one. We have been waiting for Kennard to have his breakout season for a couple of years now. Do we finally see the upside we projected for the 4th year Linebacker? We’ll hold our expectations in check for this review. Kennard played decently last season, so we are cautiously optimistic he can take his play up another level.
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromarie– DECLINE. He had an excellent season in 2016, tying his career record for INT and nearing his record for passes defensed. But he is 31 years old and he is oft-injured. One would have to expect a decrease in production.
CB Janoris Jenkins– SIDEWAYS. Jenkins became a shutdown corner for the Giants in 2016, justifying the rich contract he received in Free Agency. He will continue to play at the very high level he notched last season, which is a win for the Giants.
CB Eli Apple– IMPROVEMENT. We expect any Round 1 draft pick to improve in his second year, when game speed typically slows down. But beyond that, Apple explains that he has gained strength in the offseason, getting not only bigger but also faster (as confirmed by GPS tracker). While we did not project Apple as a star Cornerback in the NFL, we believe his upside is greater than that of Prince Amukamara. This season we should expect to see a jump in his output. Exciting.
S Landon Collins– IMPROVEMENT. How can an All-Pro stud who exploded in his 2nd year get even better in his third season? The answer is that Collins is the real deal and he has publicly set his sights on being one of the greats in the game. He openly talked about being in the conversation with Seattle’s Earl Thomas as an elite Safety. If Collins was a stock, I think you would have to be brain dead to short this issue. He was not All-Pro last year in coverage, so that is where we expect Collins to work to improve. Don’t sell him short.
S Thompson/Adams– IMPROVEMENT. Giants fans have to be grateful that they have two young players at Free Safety that can help the Defense. We have yet to see the ‘promise’ from Thompson. Adams, for his part, will get better in his 2nd year if Thompson cannot wrest away the starting job. So either way, it should be an improvement for the position.
Final tally for the Defense:
That is not too shabby for the 3rd ranked Defense last season, a net of +3 IMPROVEMENT. It is very hard for an excellent unit to improve, but given the continuity of personnel and coaching, we are believers. The FA triumvirate of Jenkins, Harrison and Vernon are all returning from their first season in Spagnuolo’s Defense. That is a very good place for any team to be, getting a very high level of output from veterans all in their 20’s. Lack of significant turnover means players playing faster with more confidence.
The Offense is projected to have 9 improving players and 2 sideways. That makes sense given how poorly that unit performed last year. It has to be up for that side of the football. Yes, our fingers are crossed that Ereck Flowers will deliver on the offseason chatter about his efforts. The recent disclosure that he has also been taking boxing lessons to quicken his hand speed and jabbing technique is another positive development.
Only time will tell whether this subjective bottom up analysis is accurate. Some of these players will get injured, blowing up their net year/over/year output. Considering everything, we see an improved Offense and a Defense that will continue to excel. Together, we expect a very good season for the Giants. If the injuries are low and Flowers/Hart improve, that will portend a very strong season. Wonder and I really like the continuity and think that the Giants have the opportunity to make a run. If everything falls into place and they get a little bit of positive luck on injuries, there is no reason why they can’t be in the Super Bowl discussion.