elerson smith giants
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Elerson Smith should bolster the Giants pass-rushing unit, which already includes a star in veteran defensive lineman Leonard Williams.

The NFL is a passing league — everyone has become accustomed to this.

To combat it, teams must employ a creative and dominant pass-rushing unit, one that keeps opposing offensive lines guessing. A successful pass rush takes pressure off the secondary and can be a focal point of an overall productive defensive unit.

From 2019-20, the Giants defense immensely improved, going from 25th to 12th in the NFL in terms of yards allowed. A significant reason for the turn-around was the enhancement of the pass rush, which went from 22nd to tied for 12th in total No. of sacks.

The success could repeat itself in 2021 with Leonard Williams back on a new contract, Lorenzo Carter returning from injury, second-round pick Azeez Ojulari now in the mix, and Elerson Smith commencing his professional career.

Of course, the Giants acquired the latter-most individual in the fourth round of this year’s draft out of Northern Iowa.

Smith should provide Patrick Graham‘s pass rush with important depth during a crucial 2021 season, but will he assume a noteworthy role? What could his on-field responsibilities entail?

Expect an edge rusher rotation encompassing Smith and co.

Patrick Graham runs a situational, matchup-based defense — we saw it last year when he utilized a rotation at the edge rusher position in a 3-4 scheme. No single individual was truly the top dog of that position group; Graham included Markus Golden, Lorenzo Carter, Kyler Fackrell, Oshane Ximines, Carter Coughlin, and Cam Brown into the mix.

Expect the intelligent defensive coordinator to employ the same ideology in 2021, which means Elerson Smith will find time in the on-field situations that best suit him.

A rotation would keep opposing offensive lines on their toes and assist in the application of creativity. Not to mention, it would keep bodies fresh and minds focused on the tasks at hand.

The Giants don’t need a star within the edge rusher unit; the team already employs one within the overall front seven in Leonard Williams. Guys like Smith, Carter, Ximines, Ojulari, Brown, Coughlin, and Ryan Anderson will just need to fill specific roles.

How does Smith stack up against the fellow edge rushers?

Despite the fact a rotation will likely be utilized, Smith could still improve his game as his rookie season progresses and earn more trust than some of the other components of the group.

Who could he potentially surpass on the depth chart?

The Giants made more of an investment in Smith (fourth-rounder) than they did in Brown and Coughlin (sixth- and seventh-rounders, respectively), so there’s a chance Elerson could eventually find more reps than the pair of 2020 draft picks. Not to mention, it’s truly unclear if Brown and/or Coughlin will make the final roster following the preseason — maybe the coaching staff prefers other options.

Smith could potentially locate a more notable role than the ones Carter and Ximines possess, considering neither are consistently healthy or reliable. Heck, there’s a chance Ximines doesn’t make the final roster after not truly developing over the course of two seasons following his 2019 draft selection.

I can’t see the Giants providing Smith a larger role than Azeez Ojulari given the difference in talent and the fact the organization made more of an investment in the latter. Ojulari is one of the only players who will likely remain above Smith on the depth chart, but regardless, both could see significant time on the field.

The development should be intriguing

Look, we can’t sit here in June and tell you exactly what Elerson Smith’s 2021 role will be — that’s why we use the word “could” in the title.

He might be a bust; he might be a diamond in the rough as a Day 3 draft pick.

We don’t know.

But what we do know is that Graham will likely implement situational, matchup-based game plans when it comes to the overall defense and edge rusher position, which will definitely lead to Smith finding time in various scenarios.

How he performs and how much trust he gains from Graham and the rest of the coaching staff will be up to him. It could take Elerson some time to become accustomed to the speed of the game, but nonetheless, his overall development and how he progresses at the professional level should be intriguing to watch.

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