giants' week 1 defensive starters dalvin tomlinson
Courtesy IG: @leonardwilliams

There should be a multitude of position battles for the New York Giants when it comes to the defensive side of the ball.

The Giants defense is looking to build off its productive 2020 campaign in which it finished 12th in total yards allowed. The unit did a superb job taking pressure off Daniel Jones and the young Big Blue offensive group and will surely work to repeat that in 2021.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks at some positions though.

Dalvin Tomlinson, one of the more underrated defensive linemen in the entire league, departed East Rutherford in March for a two-year contract with Minnesota. There’s additional uncertainty in regard to both the inside linebacker spot alongside Blake Martinez in a 3-4 scheme and at least one of the two outside linebacker/edge rusher roles.

Who will start for New York on the defensive side of the ball once the Week 1 matchup with Denver rolls around?

DL — Leonard Williams

You’re telling me the Giants brought back one of the more valuable players of this defensive unit to not play him a noteworthy amount?

This one is easy — Leonard Williams is set to once again be the leader of this defensive line.

DL — Dexter Lawrence

Dexter Lawrence is one of the top young defensive linemen the NFL has to offer and has been an integral part of this defense ever since the Giants drafted him in 2019’s first round.

Lawrence started 31 of 32 games through his first pair of seasons — given his talent and production, this trend shouldn’t change in 2021.

DL — Austin Johnson

The final defensive line spot in a 3-4 scheme was tricky — Austin Johnson and B.J. Hill will be two of the primary options for the role.

The current coaching staff in place wasn’t involved in the 2018 drafting of Hill, and in the staff’s inaugural season in East Rutherford, B.J. was on the field for just 35% of the team’s defensive snaps (a career-low).

Johnson, on the other hand, was rewarded a one-year contract extension this offseason following his first year with Big Blue.

Translation: the staff sees something in Johnson it might not see in Hill.

OLB (EDGE) — Lorenzo Carter

Lorenzo Carter was set to be one of the Giants’ top edge rushers last year but suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles in Week 5.

He’s primed to make a comeback in 2021, and with Kyler Fackrell and Markus Golden out of East Rutherford and the uncertainties that surround Oshane Ximines’ on-field consistency, Carter should take on a significant role once again.

OLB (EDGE) — Azeez Ojulari

The Giants used their No. 50 overall draft selection in this year’s second round on Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari.

Translation: he’ll certainly play a notable amount.

If all goes as planned with Ojulari, he’ll likely impress the staff more than Ximines and free-agent pickup Ryan Anderson in both training camp and the preseason. The latter-most aforementioned individual is expected to be more of a reserve edge rusher but still a component of the rotation while Ximines may need to work to make the final roster.

ILB — Blake Martinez

This is self-explanatory — Blake Martinez is a tackling machine and one of the Giants’ top players, period.

He’s a captain of this defense and will continue to be dominant in the middle of the field.

ILB — Tae Crowder

The alternative inside linebacker spot in a 3-4 scheme will play host to another position battle, potentially between Tae Crowder, Cam Brown, Trent Harris, Devante Downs, and Reggie Ragland.

Crowder is a playmaker though and the Giants are certainly high on him.

I’ll just say this: Mr. Irrelevants usually aren’t starting five games into their NFL careers. Crowder did just that last year, and in a number of matchups, didn’t disappoint.

The 2020 seventh-rounder racked up at least seven combined tackles in four games and recorded the go-ahead scoop-and-score in the Week 6 win over Washington.

CB — James Bradberry

Another starting lineup prediction that’s pretty simple.

James Bradberry was one of the top corners in the NFL last year and the Giants’ only defensive Pro Bowler.

Unless he succumbs to injury, New York will absolutely be fielding its best cornerback as much as possible.

CB — Adoree’ Jackson

It’s the investment that will prompt the Giants to start Adoree’ Jackson (he’s also just superior to the other options).

The Giants inked Jackson to a three-year, $39 million deal back in March, which is very interesting considering they could’ve acquired a veteran like himself to be a short-term stopgap option before developing a cornerback taken early in the draft.

The fact they’re bringing Jackson in on a multi-year contract says something — the Giants are high on him and should be fielding him at the second cornerback spot opposite Bradberry.

S — Logan Ryan

Logan Ryan is here for the long term.

After the Giants signed him to a one-year deal last August, Big Blue extended his contract by three years in December.

Expect Ryan to be a crucial component of the New York defensive backfield again in 2021.

S — Jabrill Peppers

Jabrill Peppers could’ve made the Pro Bowl last year amid a dominant 2020 season.

His value to the defense is clear given his sheer versatility to perform in the secondary and also up near the line of scrimmage as more of a hybrid linebacker-safety.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is high on Peppers considering the young safety was on the field for 84% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2020.

Ryan Honey is a staff writer and host of the Wide Right Podcast.