giants defensive players
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A number of New York Giants defensive players must prove in 2021 they’re worthy of staying with the organization.

Beneficial free-agent signings, smart draft picks, and the intelligence of coordinator Patrick Graham paved the way for the improvement of the Giants defense last season. From 2019 to 2020, the unit went from 25th to 12th in the NFL in total yards allowed.

With Leonard Williams back on a new deal, second-round edge rusher Azeez Ojulari in the mix, and an improved secondary following the acquisition of Adoree’ Jackson, this defense should continue to prosper.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t on-field issues involving a few specific individuals. A number of defensive players haven’t unlocked their full potential or made their presence felt, and as a result, may need to prove in 2021 they’re worthy of sticking around.

Preface: Pat Shurmur-era draft picks becoming phased out

There’s been a trend in the last year-and-a-half or so since Joe Judge earned the job as the Giants head coach — the organization seems to be phasing out multiple Pat Shurmur-era draft picks.

Just think about it — 2019 fifth-rounder Ryan Connelly (who could’ve been a prime asset in the middle of the defense) was gone after a year. After playing just nine games under the Judge regime, 2019 sixth-rounder Corey Ballentine said his goodbyes as well.

Actually, out of the 16 total combined picks made in the 2018 and 2019 drafts, six are already off the squad.

Five of the remaining ten selections are listed below — each needs to bring his A-game to the 2021 season (or the training camp period preceding it for that matter). Otherwise, that individual’s Big Blue tenure could be concluding at some point prior to the 2022 campaign.

EDGE Lorenzo Carter

Lorenzo Carter underwent a promising 2018 rookie campaign and was third on the team with four sacks.

Following the trade of Olivier Vernon in 2019, Carter’s role was to expand and he possessed the opportunity to be a premier pass rusher on this team.

A significant development wasn’t achieved during his sophomore NFL campaign though, and in 2020, a ruptured Achilles tendon concluded his third season after just five games.

Even with Carter on the roster, the Giants have made moves to still improve the pass-rushing unit.

The organization brought back Leonard Williams on a three-year deal this offseason — the veteran, although more of a down lineman in a 3-4 defensive scheme, is the star of this pass rush. Then following that extension, the Giants drafted edge rushers Azeez Ojulari and Elerson Smith in the second and fourth rounds, respectively

The attention being focused on alternative bodies could eventually cause Carter’s role to diminish as time progresses. And in a contract year this coming season, Lorenzo’s performance is as crucial as ever.

DL B.J. Hill

B.J. Hill is another 2018 draft pick who experienced a solid rookie year — his 5.5 sacks and 48 combined tackles were respectively second and ninth on the team.

But over the course of the last two years, the magnitude of his on-field role has decreased.

Through his first three seasons in the league, the percentages of defensive reps Hill earned were 59%, 44%, and 35%.

2020 was additionally the first year in which Hill didn’t start a single game for the Giants.

Amid the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson via free agency, there’s a chance B.J. could earn more time than he did this past season. However, the Giants seem to be high on fellow defensive lineman Austin Johnson (his competition) — the organization provided him with a one-year extension in March.

In a contract year, Hill has a lot to prove.

DL R.J. McIntosh

Not a notable explanation needed for this one.

2018 fifth-rounder R.J. McIntosh has accomplished next-to-nothing for the Giants since entering the league.

Out of 48 possible regular-season games, McIntosh has played in just 18, including zero in 2020. Not to mention, he was on the field for just 6% and 10% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

He’s entering the final year of his rookie deal and is very likely to be a preseason roster cut unless he locates a true niche within Patrick Graham’s defense.

EDGE Oshane Ximines

2019 third-round pick Oshane Ximines looked to be a potential diamond in the rough during his rookie season (he tied for second on the team with 4.5 sacks). However, in 2020, his year was cut short due to a shoulder injury — Ximines played in just four games and racked up five combined tackles and zero sacks during that span.

Like Lorenzo Carter, Oshane could see his role diminish due to some attention being focused on alternative options. Azeez Ojulari and Elerson Smith are now in the mix and there’s a chance the Giants could enhance the roles of 2020 draft picks Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin.

Ximines has yet to prove he can build on that productive rookie season and must do so in a timely manner.

DB Julian Love

Anytime there seems to be a possible concrete role for 2019 fourth-rounder Julian Love, the Giants fill it with someone else.

Following the release of Antoine Bethea ahead of the 2020 season, Love could’ve fulfilled the free safety role alongside strong safety Jabrill Peppers. However, the Giants subsequently drafted Xavier McKinney in April of that year.

Some also believed Love could’ve been a starting slot corner, but 2020 fourth-rounder Darnay Holmes eventually assumed that role.

Julian additionally could’ve been McKinney’s replacement when Xavier fractured his foot in last year’s training camp, but the Giants went out and signed Logan Ryan instead.

And finally, Love was an option to start at the outside cornerback spot opposite James Bradberry for 2021…until New York inked Adoree’ Jackson to a three-year deal in March.

Any time there seems to be a legitimate spot for Love, the organization heads in a different direction; there’s a possibility this coaching staff simply isn’t high on the former Notre Dame standout.

Was 2020 the beginning of the end for Love’s time with Big Blue? Is Julian not a lock to make the final roster ahead of the 2021 regular season?

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