Who could the Giants field on the defensive line alongside Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence in a 3-4 scheme?
The Giants have had a great offseason — but no offseason is perfect (unless you’re the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, apparently).
Despite acquiring a new No. 1 receiver in Kenny Golladay, a new starting cornerback in Adoree’ Jackson, and re-signing star pass rusher Leonard Williams, Big Blue still lost defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson via free agency. One of the league’s most underrated players at his position, Tomlinson signed a two-year deal with the Vikings back in March, concluding his Giants tenure after four seasons.
In a 3-4 scheme, the Giants and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham are set to field Williams and the up-and-coming star that is Dexter Lawrence as down linemen. The third primary starter on the line — Tomlinson’s replacement — remains a mystery though.
Who are the main options for this specific role?
Despite participating on just 21% of the team’s defensive snaps last year, Austin Johnson must’ve impressed the organization in some way, shape, or form. The Giants re-signed him to a one-year deal this offseason and are expected to potentially consider him for a legitimate role within this defense.
While Johnson isn’t, nor is expected to be, the most significant playmaker on the roster, Graham should be intelligent enough to find the correct type of role for Austin, who recorded 18 combined tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble last year.
The starting nose tackle spot is a specific role Johnson carries experience in — he started nine games at the position for the Titans in 2018.
B.J. Hill is likely more talented than Johnson, but it is interesting to note how his overall role with the team has consistently diminished over the past few years, to the point where he may be fighting for his job in training camp.
Hill earned time on 59%, 44%, and 35% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively. Given the fact his career-low in defensive snap count percentage came last year, there’s a chance this coaching staff just isn’t as high on him
However, the 2018 third-round draft pick has proven to be versatile, and we all understand how much Joe Judge and Graham desire that on-field quality. Hill is capable of stopping the run (48 combined tackles during his rookie campaign) and rushing the passer (5.5 sacks that same season).
The training camp and preseason periods should reveal a notable amount about what’s to come for B.J. Hill and his tenure in East Rutherford.
The Giants inked Danny Shelton, a 2015 first-round draft pick, to a one-year, $1.13 million deal this offseason. He’ll need to prove his worth ahead of the regular season, but the versatility he’s capable of bringing to the field makes the signing a potential low-risk, high-reward scenario.
With the Patriots just two seasons ago, Shelton notched three sacks and 61 combined tackles while additionally recording six quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
He can certainly make plays and has the opportunity to prove he still possesses that ability at 27 years old.
If the Giants do believe B.J. Hill doesn’t truly fit into the system and part ways with him prior to the regular season, Shelton could receive a legitimate role within this defensive unit.