With New York Giants young Romeo Okwara now officially on the IR, we ponder what his role prospects can be next season once healthy.
The New York Giants recently placed Romeo Okwara on injured reserve after he sprained his knee in practice. The second-year defensive end was playing a very small role, collecting only three tackles in five games.
The #NYGiants place DE Romeo Okwara on IR, claim LB Nigel Harris off waivers from the Chargers.
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 17, 2017
However, Okwara has shown he has potential, specifically last year. In week 13 against the Cowboys, Okwara started in place of an injured Jason Pierre-Paul and had a big game. He collected eight tackles, three of which were solo, and one sack (the only of his career to date). The Cowboys last season had a dominant offensive line, as well as a great running back in Ezekiel Elliott and a mobile quarterback in Dak Prescott.
This year, Okwara was once again stuck behind Olivier Vernon and Pierre-Paul, both of whom play a very high percentage of snaps, and both of whom have Pro Bowl potential. He’s been forced to compete with Avery Moss and Kerry Wynn for the limited number of substitute snaps. Such is the life of a player in a dominant defense. However, watching him play brings back memories of a former Giant who had success in Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system.
Mathias Kiwanuka was a great pass rusher who was blocked out of playing defensive end thanks to superstar ends being in front of him on the depth chart (Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora to name a few).
Kiwanuka was a great pass rusher, averaging one sack every 3.12 games played for his career. He was incredibly consistent as well, never producing less than 2.5 sacks in a single season, and never less than 3.5 in a season in which he played all 16 games. He had an impressive 13 forced fumbles throughout his eight-year career as well.
Kiwanuka was primarily a defensive end and often started there when one of the starters at defensive end were injured. But the Giants were a very durable team when Kiwanuka was here, and he was never quite good enough as a run stopper to become a full-time linebacker.
Kiwanuka instead became a pass rushing ‘super sub,’ lining up all along the front seven in passing situations to help bring pressure. Whether lined up as a defensive end or outside linebacker bringing pressure from the edge, or as a defensive tackle or (occasionally) inside linebacker and bringing pressure from up the middle, he was always able to help the defense by being a threat rushing the passer.
Okwara has the potential to be the same kind of player for the Giants. He is a supremely talented pass rusher, although somewhat raw in his ability to get off blocks. However, with Spagnuolo’s aggressive, blitz-heavy system, a speedy rusher who can line up anywhere in the box is valuable.
The Giants have two great outside pass rushers in Pierre-Paul and Vernon, as well as a very strong pass rushing linebacker in Devon Kennard. Damon Harrison is arguably the best run stopper in the league right now, and young players B.J. Goodson and Dalvin Tomlinson have made some impressive plays. Pierre-Paul, Harrison and Goodson were listed as three of ESNY’s 10 most important Giants entering the season.
None of these players are going away anytime soon (Kennard is due for a contract extension but the Giants would be foolish to let him leave). For Okwara, this means coming up with a new way to get involved in the defense.
Becoming a pass rush specialist who can bring heat from anywhere in the box is the best way for Okwara to make a big impact on the Giants defense in 2018 as he returns from his knee injury.