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ESNY Graphic AP Photo

Predicting who will start on the defensive side of the football for the New York Giants come their Week 1 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Ryan Honey

The New York Giants opening game against the NFC East rival-Dallas Cowboys is officially fewer than five weeks away. Yes, that seems like a long time, but compared to how long we’ve already waited, five weeks is nothing. Essentially, Week 1 is right around the corner, so be patient Big Blue fans.

This past weekend, you saw the predictions for who’ll start Week 1 on offense. It included some obvious givens, such as Saquon Barkley and Eli Manning (no, there will not be a quarterback competition). It also included some guys who are predicted to win position battles, such as wide receiver Bennie Fowler and center Spencer Pulley.


Now, we’ll be predicting who will start on the defensive side of the football. Just like the offense, it includes some givens who will start unless some sort of miracle happens for the guy behind them. Or, unfortunately, an injury. The legitimate predictions will be for guys who’ll have to work extra hard to win their respective position battles.

That being said, here are the predictions for who the defensive starters will be when the Giants face Dallas on Sept. 8.

The Givens

Defensive Line — Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, Dexter Lawrence

Each one of these players on the defensive line started their careers with the Giants, with Dexter Lawrence entering his rookie season. Big Blue drafted him in this year’s draft with the No. 17 overall selection out of Clemson. The Giants also took Dalvin Tomlinson out of Alabama in the second round of the 2017 draft and took B.J. Hill out of NC State in the third round of the 2018 draft.

Tomlinson has played and started in all 32 of his games since entering the league. He was tied for sixth on the team last year with 59 combined tackles. Hill appeared in all 16 games as a rookie last year, starting in 12 of them. He finished second on the team in sacks (5.5) and tied for ninth on the team in combined tackles (48).

It seems like the Giants want a young, healthy group on the defensive line, and that’s what they’re going to get. All three of these guys are the clear-cut starters, regardless of where they line up in the trenches. And that’s what so great about it: all three are versatile enough to switch spots and play different roles.

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher runs a 3-4 defense. None of these guys are edge rushers or defensive end-type players at all, but that’s a good thing. These three guys will be able to confuse opposing offenses with where they lineup and what responsibilities they’ll have on each play.

Inside Linebackers — Alec Ogletree and B.J. Goodson

The Giants acquired Alec Ogletree in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams prior to the 2018 season. The Rams sent the veteran linebacker and a seventh-round pick in the 2019 draft to New York for fourth and sixth-round picks in the 2018 draft.

Despite having the second-lowest Pro Football Focus grade on the Giants last year (50.7), Ogletree managed to put up decent numbers. In 13 games (13 starts), Ogletree finished with 93 tackles (second on the team), six tackles-for-loss, four quarterback hits, 1.0 sack, five interceptions (led team), and eight passes defended (second on the team).

The Giants drafted B.J. Goodson in the fourth round (No. 109 overall) out of Clemson in 2016. He started 13 games for the Giants last year, appearing in 15 games in total. Goodson finished fifth on the team in tackles (61 combined) and was tied for third in interceptions (two). He also finished with four tackles-for-loss, three quarterback hits, and .5 sacks.

Ogletree and Goodson now have that experience working with each other, so it should work out for the better in 2019. The only other inside linebacker that could have a chance to crack the starting lineup is Tae Davis. The Ogletree-Goodson tag team should hold up though barring any sort of injury, with Davis being included in certain packages.

Left Outside Linebacker — Lorenzo Carter

In his rookie season last year, the former Georgia Bulldog Lorenzo Carter showed great potential for the Giants. As a second-string edge rusher, Carter played behind now-former Giant Olivier Vernon. In the process, he finished with 43 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, 10 quarterback hits, and 4.0 sacks, finishing third on the team in the latter statistic.

He only started two games last year, but now with Vernon in Cleveland, Carter has the chance to show the coaches what he can bring to the table even more. He’s the favorite to become one of the top pass rushers for the Giants, and it’ll be exciting to see if he lives up to the current expectations.

Free Safety — Antoine Bethea

The Giants signed veteran defensive back Antoine Bethea to a two-year, $6.5 million deal in March. The 35-year-old will be a placeholder at that position for the most part, as rookie defensive back Julian Love has been working at that position as well. Love won’t start there though, at least for right now. Bethea is more experienced and can act as a mentor to the younger defensive backs.

Bethea additionally has experience with James Bettcher’s defense. He played under the defensive coordinator in Arizona for the 2017 season.

No, he’s not the younger option, but the Giants definitely might as well go with the three-time Pro Bowler for the free safety spot than with the rookie option.

Strong Safety — Jabrill Peppers

The former Cleveland Brown was included in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade and thus came to New York in March. And although he’s still young (23 years old), Jabrill Peppers is a very athletic and versatile safety. All-in-all, Peppers can be used as the money backer in James Bettcher’s defense, meaning he’ll be all over the place.

Peppers has a high ceiling, and he’s another player who could be very exciting to watch for the Giants. Big Blue hopes he’ll end up being a reliable option at strong safety within the replacement process of All-Pro Landon Collins. The Giants opted not to franchise tag nor sign Collins to a long-term deal this offseason.

Strongside Cornerback — Janoris Jenkins

This one is sort of self-explanatory. Going into the fourth year of his five-year, $62.5 million deal with the Giants, Janoris Jenkins has been the Giants starting cornerback for nearly the entire tenure. He’s started 38 of his 40-career games with Big Blue.

Last year, Jenkins led the team in passes defended with 15 and was tied for third in interceptions with two.

Jenkins can also act as a mentor to this mostly-young group of defensive backs.

The Battles

Right Outside Linebacker — Markus Golden

I’m going to predict here that Markus Golden beats out both Kareem Martin and rookie Oshane Ximines for the right outside linebacker position. I have reason to believe so as well.

Yes, Martin has more experience with the Giants culture. However, he and Golden both have experience with James Bettcher’s defense. They both played in Arizona for multiple seasons under Bettcher.

Therefore, Golden may not be too far behind when learning Bettcher’s defense. Plus, when he’s healthy, he’s better statistically. It wasn’t that long ago with Golden had 12.5 sacks for the Cardinals in 2016.

Martin was inconsistent last year at outside linebacker, and the coaching staff saw that. Martin started six of the first seven games. He then only started one of the last nine games.

Additionally, the Giants must see something in Golden that they liked being that they signed him to a contract this offseason. Again, he just has to stay healthy. Injuries have forced him to miss 17 of his last 32 games.

Ximines won’t start for right now, being that he’s only a rookie and a third-round pick. He’ll get some time though, and it’ll be interesting to see what he can bring to the field.

Weakside Cornerback — DeAndre Baker

DeAndre Baker will be competing with the second-year man (first year if you count his lost season due to injury) Sam Beal for the weakside corner spot. Beal was looking to become the starter in that spot for 2019, and he’ll definitely get some playing time in certain packages. The starting spot for this position will go to Baker though.

It’s hard to see the Giants trading back into the first round to take Baker with the No. 30 overall pick and not starting him. He was excellent in college and looked like the type of player who can come in and start right away. He’ll surely become a guy to keep an eye on in the preseason.

Beal has an injury history as well, which is concerning. He missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury sustained in July of 2018.

In his final year at the University of Georgia (12 games), Baker racked up 31 combined tackles, two tackles-for-loss, two interceptions, nine passes defended, and one forced fumble.

Nickel Cornerback — Grant Haley

The undrafted Penn State product will return as the nickel cornerback in his second year. Last year, he played in 10 games, starting in nine of them.

He’ll ultimately beat out rookie Julian Love for the spot, as he has more experience under this defense than Love does. The Giants should focus more on Love becoming the successor to Antoine Bethea at the free safety spot.

Haley finished last year with 33 combined tackles, three tackles-for-loss, and two passes defended. The Giants definitely have a ton of confidence in him. There’s not a whole lot of players who sign as an undrafted free agent and end up starting the majority of the year.

He’ll have a small position battle, but he’ll end up ousting the rookie for the job, as he should.

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