The New York Giants were bad defensively in 2015. Really bad. Really really bad. Really really really bad. Like dead last in the NFL in total defense allowing over 415 yards per game while ranking 30th in the league in sacks bad.
Have I mentioned that the Giants were bad on defense last year? Because they were.
General manager Jerry Reese was active to the point of manic in addressing those defensive deficiencies in both free agency in the draft. Whether it was over $100 million in guaranteed money to a handful of free agents or the team’s first-round draft pick, the defense was the overwhelming focus of the team’s offseason spending spree.
In the preseason at least, all that work appears to have paid off.
Number in parentheses denotes 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
The Giants spent a fortune on the defensive line, beginning with the five-year, $85 million deal the team handed to Olivier Vernon (DL14), who was the top-ranked 4-3 DE at Pro Football Focus in 2015. Vernon told Dan Graziano of ESPN he’s determined to show all that coin won’t make him complacent.
“I never want to give the impression that I’ve fallen into a big contract and everything else will just come to me and I’m being lackadaisical and everything like that. I never want to give that impression,” Vernon said. “I just want to show everybody what I can do.”
Vernon’s work ethic has impressed new teammate Jason Pierre-Paul (DL88), who returned to the team on a one-year “prove it deal” after an injury-marred 2015. “Some guys come run with us,” Pierre-Paul said. “It’s at your own will; we do it because we know what’s at stake and what’s coming up. We’ve got to be at our best come these 16 games, and our conditioning can’t be low. We’re doing whatever we have to do, we’re taking care of business. That’s basically it.”
Given their respective finishes last year and Pierre-Paul’s fireworks mishap, it might appear Vernon’s the player to target. But as Jene Bramel of Football Guys wrote, things aren’t always as they seem. “Pierre-Paul convinced me last year,” Bramel said. “He lost none of his quickness off the ball and effort in pursuit. He’s had the benefit of an offseason to learn how to use his injured hand to better disengage from blockers and likely won’t need the further limiting bandage/wrap this year.” Both are DL2 in the upcoming season, but Pierre-Paul carries both a lower asking price and a higher ceiling.
IDP owners in DT-required formats would be well-served to look past the big contract and bigger tackle numbers of Damon Harrison (DL41) in 2015. Johnathan Hankins (DL118) will play the more IDP-friendly three-technique spot in 2016. On a loaded front, the fourth-year veteran is primed to be a bounce-back value play this season.
For all the money Reese threw at the defense this summer, the GM continued his annually maddening apathy toward the team’s issues at linebacker. Yes, the Giants brought in free agent Keenan Robinson (LB95). But Robinson’s inability to stay healthy followed him from the nation’s capital to the Big Apple, and he was unable to beat out plodder Jasper Brinkley (LB70) to start at MIKE.
In fact, the only linebacker who appears assured of a three-down role in New York is hurt. However, weak-side man Jonathan Casillas (LB43) pledged to Michael Eisen of the team’s website that he aims to be ready for Week 1.
“I’m not 100 percent sure, of course, but my goal is to play in Dallas,” Casillas said. “Whatever I need to do, I’m going to do so I can be ready for Dallas week one. I kind of got folded up on the sideline. (Matt) Forte had a toss on the sideline. I made a play, and I just got bent up a little bit on the sideline. I kind of tried to play through it. Football players try and be tough, but when you’re hurt, you’re hurt. A couple plays later, I felt like I couldn’t go anymore.”
Make no mistake — Casillas isn’t an especially good linebacker. Only one qualifying 4-3 outside linebacker at PFF received a lower grade in 2015 than the eighth-year veteran. But any linebacker in a three-down role is going to have some modicum of fantasy value in deeper IDP leagues — Casillas included.
UPDATE (9/5/2016): The Giants released Brinkley on Labor Day, leaving Kelvin Sheppard (LB41) the winner of the least inspiring battle to start in the history of ever. However, Sheppard had 105 stops last year and should see the field enough to rate a late dart throw in deeper IDP leagues.
If there’s an upside to the Giants’ dumpster fire at linebacker, it’s that strong safety Landon Collins (DB13) should once again see a ton of tackle opportunities this year. Collins, who led the Giants with 112 tackles last season, slimmed down in the offseason, and safeties coach Dave Merritt told Ed Valentine of SB Nation he can see the difference.
“Landon is taking care of his body,” Merritt said. “I told him, ‘If you want to become one of the elite safeties in the league you are going to have to at least get between 212 and 216.’ He texted me this morning, it is funny and he said, ‘Coach, I am at 216’, I said, ‘Great. Keep it up.’ “
“Landon has been a breath of fresh air versus the young man from last year because he understands the defense a little more being in his second year, so he is communicating, he is taking charge out there as well as Darian (Thompson) (DNP), so I am very happy with Landon and where he is mentally,” Merritt added.
Collins is in the midst of a perfect IDP storm — talent slamming into opportunity. In fact, if I had to pick a player who’s set up best situation-wise to be the No. 1 fantasy defensive back in 2016, Collins would be the guy. Even Thompson’s on the DB3 radar after winning the free safety job as a rookie, thanks to the sad state of the linebackers in front of him.
The Giants went hard after the cornerback position too, overpaying free agent Janoris Jenkins (DB38) and drafting Ohio State’s Eli Apple (DNP) in Round 1 back in April. One is a big-play reliant veteran who was a low-end weekly starter in CB-required IDP leagues in 2015. The other is a talented but untested youngster. Jenkins might be worth a late look on draft day, but Apple’s likely best left on the waiver wire until he shows something in a signicant role on defense.