Making the Case for a Defensive End as the New York Giants' 1st-Round Draft Pick

Patricia Traina@Patricia_TrainaFeatured Columnist IVApril 6, 2016

Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis announces the number twenty-five overall pick to the Panthers in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing my look at the various positions the New York Giants are no doubt going to consider for the 10th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft (assuming they don’t trade the pick away), this analysis looks at defensive end, a core position on the team and one that general manager Jerry Reese has typically placed an emphasis on.

Would the Giants—who have 17.12 percent of their 2016 salary-cap space tied up in the position, per Spotrac—add a first-round pick whose salary would theoretically push them past the Miami Dolphins (17.85 percent) for the most spent on the position this year?

Let’s break it all down.

 

Why It Should Be a Defensive End

Say whatever you want about Jason Pierre-Paul since the fireworks accident that permanently damaged his right hand, but the one thing he hasn’t lacked is confidence and faith that he will return to playing at a high level sooner than later.

Perhaps he’s right. This year, Pierre-Paul will have the benefit of a full offseason. This should help him tremendously, especially if he ends up moving from the right side to the left side. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, in his meeting with reporters last week, didn’t rule that out as a possibility.

Then again, perhaps Pierre-Paul is being a little too unrealistic with his expectations. Case in point: Last year, as he was getting ready to return to football, Pierre-Paul tweeted that he couldn’t think of the last time his index finger (missing on his right hand) got him a sack.

Dec 20, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) reacts after blocking a pass by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (not pictured) during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Gi
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While he’s theoretically correct, this was a case where his optimism was unrealistic. Pierre-Paul might very well be able to function in football without his index finger, but if his hand isn’t fully healed and he has to wear that club-like cast like last year, then that is a problem.

Pierre-Paul told reporters during a recent conference call that he hoped to be able to lose the club and play this coming season with a specially tailored glove on his right hand. He also expressed confidence that the surgery he had in January will help his grip.

“I’ll be able to grab. Now I’ll be able to open my hand up, he said. My fingers are straight, and I’ll be fine. You’re limited with the club. I’d rather play with one finger than have a club on.”

So while all systems appear to be a go and everyone is optimistic, the Giants would still be better off not putting all their eggs in Pierre-Paul’s basket. If he has a strong season, there is no guarantee they will be able to retain him next offseason (unless they franchise-tag him again).

Even if they do franchise-tag Pierre-Paul again, it would be the second and final time they could do so, with no guarantee of anything for the future.

If he doesn’t have a good year, they will be in a hole if they don’t have a Plan B to replace him if he does move on.

Former general manager Ernie Accorsi said it best when he uttered his now-famous “you can never have too many pass-rushers” line.

Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are solid, and Owa Odighizuwa has promise. But one injury, one unexpected turn, and suddenly one of the most important positions on this team becomes frighteningly thin, as both Kerry Wynn and Brad Bars have yet to demonstrate they can be threats off the edge.

 

Why It Won’t Be a Defensive End

Truthfully, I can’t think of any reason why the Giants won’t address this position if the chance presents itself. Yes, there are other pressing needs, mainly a starting left tackle and cornerback depth.

However, let’s look at what the core of the Giants defense is, and that’s the pass rush. Without a functioning pass rush, the back seven of the defense gets exposed, as we saw all too often last year.

Nov 8, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Giants  defense coordinator Steve Spagnuolo works out prior to the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s go back to 2007 for a moment. That year, the Giants had a solid pass rush. As a result, the defensive secondary—which consisted of a pair of run-of-the-mill safeties in James Butler and Gibril Wilson—wasn’t a liability to the team.

A solid pass rush in 2016 could do the same thing for the inexperienced safeties the Giants apparently plan to roll with this year. Reese has often said in his draft preview press conferences that you can’t fix everything in the draft.

With six draft picks, he’s absolutely correct. So in weighing “best available” against need—a defensive end to rotate with Vernon, Pierre-Paul and Odighizuwa—one would not only give New York depth for the future, but he would also solidify a pass rush that could potentially take some of the pressure off the back end, much in the same way it did in 2007 and 2008.

 

The X-Factor: Owa Odighizuwa

There are certain things you can set your watch to in life. When it comes to the Giants, the defending NFL injury champions, every year we hear about the “bonus” picks they’re going to get. That refers to guys coming off season-long injuries and how those guys are like having extra draft picks.

To a degree, they are a “bonus,” but to another degree, they are not. However, if that’s the consolation for having to watch the injury bug tear through the roster, then so be it.

Jun 16, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (58) takes part in practice during minicamp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Steven Ryan-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Ryan-USA TODAY Sports

This year, don’t be surprised if Odighizuwa, last year’s third-round pick who ended up missing the bulk of his rookie season with assorted injuries, is mentioned as one of those “bonus” picks the Giants are expecting to have back.

However, they shouldn't count on Odighizuwa being a ready-made plug-and-play guy.

First, depending on the injury a player had, there will be rehab that spills into the offseason and cuts into his training time. Whether that is the case with Odighizuwa remains to be seen.

Second, the coaches still don’t know what they have in Odighizuwa as far as how he’ll do when the multiple moving parts start in motion, and that’s a concern.

The good news is that because he was on the temporary injured reserve list last year, Odighizuwa hung around the facility and remained involved as best as he could, which gives him an advantage.

He had an opportunity to learn the defense and prepare as though he was going to play, even though by rule he couldn’t get out on the field and practice.

With that knowledge foundation in place, Odighizuwa told me at the end of last season that he planned to really hone in on the coming season by getting his body right, adjusting his diet and his sleep patterns, and coming in ready to be the player the Giants thought they were getting last year when they took him in the third round. 

 

And the Pick Is…

Shaq Lawson of Clemson (6'3", 269 lbs) fits the typical prototype the Giants seem to like in their defensive ends.

Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com pointed out that Lawson—the national leader with 25.5 tackles for a loss—has accomplished all he has so far despite only being a starter for one season, which means he has room to grow.

He also offers something—at least on paper—that both Vernon and Pierre-Paul offer: He can be equally effective against the run and the pass, a quality that makes him a complete defensive end.

According to Rang and Brugler, Lawson has a quick first step off the snap, a nonstop motor, better-than-average upper body strength to create a push and the lower body athleticism to change direction in pursuit.

If the Giants want a solid edge protector who can disrupt the quarterback, Lawson, ranked as the 11th-best overall draft prospect on Rang’s Big Board, would be a solid fit for the Giants if he’s on the board at No. 10.

 

Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced. Advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.

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