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Fact or Fiction: Olivier Vernon in the Pro Bowl?

Posted May 28, 2016

The Giants.com staff debates Big Blue topics as the Giants prepare for the 2016 season

The Giant most likely to make his first Pro Bowl is Olivier Vernon.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - My initial reaction here was to agree, but then I started thinking about it. If Vernon plays for a whole season like he did in the final eight games last year, I think he’ll be a Pro Bowl candidate. Janoris Jenkins is a possibility, too.

He has all the skills to be a Pro Bowl corner, assuming that he continues to cut down on his mistakes. Damon Harrison has to be in the mix, too, widely recognized as one of the best run-stopping defensive linemen in football. If Johnathan Hankins can have the type of season rushing the passer he had last year, he would have to be in the mix as well. I’m going to go off the reservation instead. Last year Weston Richburg was deserving of Pro Bowl honors at center.

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It usually takes an offensive lineman a couple seasons of excellent play to make his first Pro Bowl, and I think this is the year Richburg gets recognized. He has tough competition at the position with the Cowboys’ Travis Frederick and the Falcons’ Alex Mack, but I’ll roll the dice and go with Richburg.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Really, take your pick from the first three free agents the Giants brought in this offseason; they could all run a Pro Bowl campaign in 2016. But of those, I’ll go with Vernon, especially if he picks up where he left off in Miami. Over the last eight games, he had 5.5 sacks, 29 quarterback hits and 12 tackles for loss. He more than doubled his previous career high in quarterback hits for the season with 36 (he had 16 in 2013). His arrow is pointing up.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - The best way to secure a Pro Bowl invite is to pile up stats at your respective position, especially flashy stats like quarterback hits and sacks, which is good news for Olivier Vernon. The veteran defensive end has collected at least 6.5 sacks in each of the last three seasons and now joins a talented line that should limit the amount of double-teams he’ll see. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison is another good candidate but, unfortunately, players at his position who make the Pro Bowl usually have more sacks and Harrison has just 1.5 in his four-year career.

Giants will have more sacks than passing TDs
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - Since 1997 the Giants have had 32 or more sacks in every season except for one: 2015. Eli Manning has only had more than 32 touchdown passes once, when he had 35 last year. In other words, 2015 was a huge outlier and more often than not, the team has more sacks than passing touchdowns. With Olivier Vernon arriving in free agency, I think it’s fair to believe the numbers will return to the norm this year. Looking deeper, since 1997 the Giants have had under 40 sacks 7 times, with five of those coming since 2009. They hope to reverse that particular trend and break the 40-sack mark once again in 2016.

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DAN SALOMONE: Fact - And it won’t be for a lack of passing touchdowns. With more weapons and another year in Ben McAdoo’s offense, Eli Manning will likely keep up the pace coming off two of his best statistical seasons. The pass rush is what needs to come along now, and with the offseason additions at all three levels, the sack total should shoot up. And don’t forget about Johnathan Hankins and Owa Odighizuwa coming back healthy.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Last season, the Giants had 36 passing touchdowns versus 23 sacks. This season, I think the gap between those two stats will be smaller, but I still give the edge to Eli Manning and company. He threw for a career-high 35 touchdowns in 2015 and that was without wide receiver Victor Cruz, tight end Larry Donnell missing half the season and an up and down running game. With both of those players back from injury and the addition of second round pick Sterling Shepard, Manning will have even more options to spread the wealth. Plus, it’s his third season in Ben McAdoo’s offense, so there will be even more of a comfort level running the system.

Best offensive player on the schedule is Adrian Peterson.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Aaron Rodgers? Ben Roethlisberger? Drew Brees? Tony Romo? With those quarterbacks on the schedule, he definitely isn’t the best offensive player. Is he the best non-quarterback? It would be a close contest between Peterson and Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Dez Bryant. It’s hard to pick anyone over Antonio Brown with the way he has played the last two years, so I don’t even think Peterson is the best non-quarterback.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - He could go down as a top three player in the history of the NFL at his position, which is more than you can say for anyone else on the schedule. His 97.3 yards per game are second only to Jim Brown (104.3) and Barry Sanders (99.8). With another 1,000-yard season, the three-time NFL rushing king will already be in the top 10 in total rushing yards.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - The Giants are going to be facing a number of talented running backs in 2016. In addition to Adrian Peterson, they’ll have to deal with the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott, the Rams’ Todd Gurley and the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell. I wouldn’t put Peterson significantly ahead of the list, but there is one wide receiver they’ll be facing that has separated himself from the pack, and that’s Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown. In each of the last three seasons, Brown has tallied at least 110 receptions, 1,500 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Last season, he led the NFL in receptions, was second in receiving yards and, most notably, was tied with Odell Beckham for a league-high eight catches for 40 or more yards. He’ll be by far the biggest challenge for the Giants’ secondary, and I haven’t even mentioned any of the quarterbacks they’ll have to contain.

Best defensive player on the schedule is Aaron Donald.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - If you look at Pro Football Focus’ metrics, Aaron Donald out up J.J. Watt-level production last year. That’s how good he was. He can penetrate, stop the run, and pretty much do everything. He’s a beast. The best competition for him will be Fletcher Cox from the Eagles, Anthony Barr from the Vikings and Geno Atkins from the Bengals. But I’m going with Donald, who looks like he might be able to develop into one of the best defensive linemen of this generation.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - And he’s only getting better. He’s been the defensive equivalent of Odell Beckham Jr., who was drafted one spot ahead of him in 2014. Beckham went on to be the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year; Donald was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. Beckham made the Pro Bowl in each of first two seasons; Donald did the same while picking up All-Pro honors as well.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - In just two years in the league, the Rams’ Aaron Donald has already shown he may ultimately be the best pass rusher at defensive tackle in the league (20 sacks in his first two seasons) and that’s only one facet of his game. He’s also not too shabby against the run. When you look over the schedule, Donald is the most versatile defensive opponent the Giants will see. The Eagles’ Fletcher Cox, Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins and the Lions’ Ziggy Ansah also deserve consideration, but the biggest difference is that Donald’s numbers have been consistent since he arrived in the league.