Will the Giants be better on defense in 2023? Let’s look at the list

Wink Martindale is back for a second season as the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator. Martindale has long said he wants to be an NFL head coach, but after interviewing for and not getting Indianapolis Colts‘ job in the offseason Martindale says he is “happy” with where he is.

“I don’t have a problem sleeping every night,” Martindale said. “I’m at peace. It sounds a little dramatic, to be at peace, but I’m excited to be the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, and the day I’m not is the day they say, ‘Hey , do you hear Wink retired?’

“This is not a stepping stone job here. This is a destination.”

However, Martindale is not retiring just yet. There is still work to be done to build the Giants’ defense into the championship-caliber unit Martindale envisions.

“We’re really excited about who we have, the additions we made and it’s still ongoing what Joe and Dabs (head coach Brian Daboll) have done with the roster,” Martindale said. “We’re still building on that.”

With the offseason program now in the rearview mirror, let’s take a look at the defense Martindale is bringing to training camp.

Defensive line

Current list — Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, A’Shawn Robinson, Ryder Anderson, DJ Davidson, Jordon Riley, Vernon Butler

The big question

Can the Giants do a better job defending the run?

The Giants were 31st in the league in yards allowed per carry. rushing attempts last season and gave up 5.3. Assistant GM Brandon Brown called it one of the team’s “pain points” in 2022. Martindale said everyone in the organization knew that “starting with Mr. (President John) Mara at the owners meeting, he said we need to get better in the run game. “

Now it’s a team responsibility to defend the run. However, it starts with the defensive line. That group must be able to hold the line for everyone else to do their jobs.

The Giants set out to address this deficiency in the offseason. Veteran stopgap tackles Nick Williams and Justin Ellis were not retained. Upgrades were sought and potentially found with the additions of quality veterans Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson. Jordon Riley, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound run-stuffing nose tackle was added as potential depth in the seventh round.

In addition to an improved run defense, the Giants hope the added depth will allow them to ask Dexter Lawrence, who played a career-high 864 snaps (82%) last season, and Leonard Williams, who entered his ninth season with an injury for the first time to play fewer snaps.

Defensive line coach Andre Patterson said this week it would be “beautiful” if the Giants can give Williams and Lawrence more rest.

“It’s been the story of football,” Williams said. “D-linemen usually don’t take 100% or 90% of the snaps. Better to have a rotation and keep guys fresh. It’s going to be fun that way when we’re rotating guys, just hitting up offensive lines together.”

The elephant in the room

Leonard Williams in more ways than one. Can he stay healthy after a neck injury forced him to miss games last season for the first time in his career? Is he still the same player he was in 2020 and 2021 when he had 18.0 sacks over those two years? Will he finally be a Giant after this season?

Williams says his neck is fine after an offseason of rest and rehab, that he’s “obviously open to staying” with the Giants, but there have been no significant conversations and that he doesn’t feel any decline in his athleticism, which is entering its ninth season.

“I still have my explosiveness; I still have my power,” Williams said. “Honestly, I feel like I know the game more, I’ve got a lot more years in me.”

The roster issue

Who will join Lawrence, Williams, Nunez-Roches and Robinson on the 53-man roster? Ryder Anderson made the roster last season as an undrafted free agent and struggled against the run while playing at 6-6, 276 pounds. Patterson recently revealed that Anderson is now a lean 305 pounds. 2022 fifth-round pick DJ Davidson is back after suffering a torn ACL five games into his rookie year. Riley, a player who Patterson says “has been given some gifts that you can’t give him as a coach,” will also be in the mix.


Current list — Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Jihad Ward, Oshane Ximinex, Tomon Fox, Ellerson Smith, Habakkuk Baldonado

The big question

Will Thibodeaux and Ojulari become one of the league’s premier edge duos?

Ojulari is a 2021 second-round pick and a player who had 13.5 sacks in 24 career regular-season games. Thibodeaux was No. 5 overall committee i 2022 NFL Draft and while he only had 4.0 sacks, his improved play as his rookie season unfolded hinted at increased impact in the future.

Given the draft capital spent on both players, the Giants have to bet on them being defensive cornerstones for the next several years.

Thibodeaux said his rookie season was “pretty good” but that “I left a lot of room to grow.”

Ojulari had 8.0 sacks as a rookie, but quad and ankle injuries limited him to just seven regular-season games in 2022. Martindale said Ojulari looks “much more robust this year.”

The roster issue

At this point, it looks like the Giants are running it back with the same personnel they had last season on the edge. Can they get enough quality play from Jihad Ward, Oshane Ximines, Tomon Fox and the perennially injured Elerson Smith, or do they need more help? 12-year veteran Justin Houston, who was with Martindale in Baltimore for the 2021 season, is one of several edge defenders still on the market.

Inside linebacker

Current list — Bobby Okereke, Darrian Beavers, Cam Brown, Troy Brown, Carter Coughlin, Jarrod Davis, Dyontae Johnson, Micah McFadden

The big question

Who will win the job next to Okereke?

Sophomore Darrian Beavers was on his way to winning a role in the linebacker rotation before he tore an ACL during training camp. Is he fully recovered and can he win a job this time? Can Micah McFadden, demoted to the bench at the end of the year after playing significant snaps at times, resurface? Will Jarrod Davis, a veteran heavily pursued by the Giants during the 2022 season, benefit from having a full spring and summer with the team?

The roster question

Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin were 2020 late-round picks, which are truly special teams’ first and only emergencies. Can they keep their roster spots?


Current list — Adoree’ Jackson, Deonte Banks, Zyon Gilbert, Gemon Green, Tre Hawkins III, Darnay Holmes, Leonard Johnson, Amani Oruwariye, Aaron Robinson, Cor’Dale Flott, Rodarius Williams

The big question

How good will Deonte Banks be?

Sauce Gardner’s All-Pro, Defensive Rookie of the Year 2022 season shattered expectations for rookie cornerbacks everywhere.

If you expect Banks, drafted 24th overall by the Giants, to have a rookie season similar to the one Gardner had after being selected No. 4 overall by New York Jets, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. What Gardner did in 2022, where he immediately established himself as a dominant NFL cornerback, is the exception, not the rule.

The Giants love Banks. They think he can be a really good player for a long time. Expecting him to be a star right out of the gate is unfair, though.

Banks drew comparisons from college scouts to Adoree’ Jackson, and I think the Giants would be thrilled with a rookie season from Banks similar to what Jackson did for Tennessee Titans after being selected 18th overall in the 2017 draft.

Jackson started all 16 games that year with 17 passes defensed in a career-high 120 targets, five touchdowns allowed, a solid passer rating against of 87.5 and an overall grade in Pro Football Focus of 74.6.

The roster question

Will Darney Holmes make the team?

This is not about Holmes being a bad player. He is not. The 2020 fourth-round pick is basically a league-average slot cornerback. His 85.8 passer rating while in the field was 16th out of 44 qualifying cornerbacks ranked by Pro Football Focus in 2022. In 2021, he ranked 18th out of 41 qualifiers. In slot snaps per reception allowed, Holmes (7.7) was 33rd of 44 cornerbacks last season. In yards allowed per snap, Holmes (1.17) was number 22 out of 44.

Holmes has a career passer rating of 90.0, which is fine. He is a poor run defender, with his run defense grades dropping each season – 42.5 in 2020, 34.6 in 2021 and 29.0 in 2022.

All in all, the numbers add up to Holmes being an adequate player.

The problem for Holmes is twofold. First, the Giants have several options in the slot, including cornerbacks Cor’Dale Flott, Aaron Robinson and Zyon Gilbert. Safeties Nick McCloud, Xavier McKinney, Jason Pinnock and Dane Belton can all drop into the field. Second, with all these options, is Holmes valuable enough to keep, or would the $2.743 million in cap space the Giants could save by cutting him ultimately prove more valuable?


Current list — Xavier McKinney, Nick McCloud, Alex Cook, Gervarrius Owens, Dane Belton, Bobby McCain, Jason Pinnock, Trenton Thompson

The big question

Who will start next to Xavier McKinney?

During OTAs and mandatory minicamp, Nick McCloud, ostensibly at cornerback, and veteran free agent Bobby McCain split time in that role. Jason Pinnock and 2022 fourth-round pick Dane Belton are also options, but neither player participated in team practices during the spring. Both worked exclusively with trainers as they are rehabilitating injuries.

The roster issue

How many safeties will the Giants keep on the roster and who will earn the last few spots?

McKinney, of course, is a lock. Belton is a 2022 draftee, but saw his role decline as the season wore on. Pinnock and McCloud played well when given opportunities. McCain is a veteran, but the Giants would only take a $652,000 cap hit by cutting him. Owens is a 2023 draft pick and Cook is an exciting free agent.

This will be an interesting position to find out during training camp.

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