When it comes to the edge rusher spot on the New York Giants roster, a whole lot has changed from Week 1 to the present day.
A position group that was once rich with depth is now lacking that same quality.
Heading into Week 13, the New York Giants are without their top four edge rushers from the commencement of the 2020 season. It was a position that defensive coordinator Patrick Graham could’ve once utilized an effective rotation of fresh bodies for at the beginning of the year.
Week 1’s matchup against the Steelers saw the Giants field third-year man Lorenzo Carter, second-year player Oshane Ximines, veteran Markus Golden (who the team brought back on a rare unrestricted free agent tender), and 2020 free-agent pickup Kyler Fackrell.
And now, for the upcoming matchup out in Seattle, none of those four names will be on the field.
Ximines left the Week 4 loss to the Rams early due to a shoulder injury. He was placed on injured reserve thereafter and was recently designated to return to practice, but a subsequent decision to undergo rotator cuff surgery effectively ended his sophomore campaign.
Carter went down in the Week 5 loss to Dallas with an Achilles rupture, an injury that will certainly keep him out until 2021. He was looking to experience a breakout season, but that’ll sadly need to wait.
Golden was probably the Giants’ most talented edge rusher to begin the year and certainly was from a statistical standpoint last year. In 2019, he led the team with 10 sacks and was the first Giants linebacker to notch double-digit sacks since Lawrence Taylor racked up 10.5 in 1990.
The veteran seemingly didn’t fit into Graham’s system though, and on Oct. 23, the Giants dealt him to Arizona as part of a pre-deadline trade in exchange for a 2021 sixth-round draft selection.
And most recently, Fackrell found himself on injured reserve with a calf injury sustained during last Sunday’s win over Cincinnati. He’ll now miss at least the next three games, a stint that includes matchups with the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Browns.
So amid the injuries and pre-deadline trade of Golden, who’s left for Big Blue ahead of a very important stretch of games?
Moving forward, the Giants will likely look to rookies Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin along with Trent Harris and Jabaal Sheard to fill the void at edge rusher.
Sure, you’d like to have Carter, Ximines, and Fackrell healthy, as well as Golden still around, but this isn’t as horrific a situation for the Giants as some may believe.
Jordan Raanan of ESPN notes that Brown actually leads the team in quarterback pressure rate, per Next Gen Stats. The sixth-round draft pick out of Penn State is currently at 22.2%, while Coughlin, a 2020 seventh-round selection, is at 20.0%.
Huge opportunity coming for rookies Carter Coughlin + Cam Brown. Giants need them in bigger role.
QB pressure % (Next Gen Stats)
Cam Brown 22.2
Carter Coughlin 20.0
Markus Golden 16.5
Lorenzo Carter 11.0
Trent Harris 10.0
Kyler Frackrell 8.5
Oshane Ximines 3.7
Jabaal Sheard 2.5
— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) December 1, 2020
The Giants even increased Brown’s role on the defensive side of the ball in Sunday’s victory, rewarding him with 10 reps.
Harris should see time despite finding himself on the inactive list for the Bengals game. He’s taken 70 total defensive snaps since joining the Giants prior to the Week 7 loss to Philly and has pressured the quarterback at a semi-productive rate — 10% to be exact, as you can see in Raanan’s tweet.
The Giants increased his playing time for Week 10 before deactivating him for Week 12, so it’s unclear exactly how much time he’ll see moving forward, but he should at least be on the field during some passing downs.
Sheard is beginning to improve and locate his niche within Graham’s defensive system, having found time on nearly half of the team’s defensive snaps against the Bengals while racking up a late-game forced fumble that sealed the victory. He’s an athletic option who the Giants could likely use as an outside linebacker and on the line in more of a defensive end role — a level of versatility that would be a benefit to this defensive unit.
Coughlin’s situation, lastly, is a tricky one. He gained more responsibility in the Bengals game, notching a career-high 19 defensive reps, but it’s unclear if he could be as versatile and consistently perform in more of an off-ball linebacker or defensive end role.
The athleticism is present though. Coughlin ran a 4.57 at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine and was twice a second-team All-Big Ten selection at Minnesota — both reasons why the Giants pounced on him when he was still on the draft board back in April.
So even with the number of situations that have led to Fackrell, Ximines, Carter, and Golden either not being healthy or on the team for Sunday’s game, the Giants still employ a number of bodies that could get the job done.
Not to mention, guys like Blake Martinez, Leonard Williams, Logan Ryan, and Jabrill Peppers can additionally rush the quarterback and force the opponent to make mistakes.
It’s really not about who specifically you send in pressure, but rather how many guys you send. It’s tough for any quarterback to make a play when five or six defenders are coming towards them, and the Giants must realize that ahead of the upcoming crucial stretch of games.