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Giants Now: Azeez Ojulari among PFF's 2022 breakout candidates


Azeez Ojulari among PFF's 2022 NFC breakout candidates

Azeez Ojulari enjoyed a strong rookie season with the Giants last year.

Ojulari set a new franchise rookie record with eight sacks, which also led the team. The linebacker out of Georgia added 13 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, one forced fumble and two pass breakups to his season stats.

Pro Football Focus' Kambui Bomani chose six breakout candidates from the NFC for the 2022 season, and the Giants' young linebacker made the list.

As Bomani states, "The Giants have been slowly building up their pass-rush unit the past few seasons, including using a first-rounder on Oregon edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux in the 2022 NFL Draft.

"Last season, New York drafted Ojulari in the second round, and he didn't disappoint, putting up a 17.8% pass-rush win percentage and 28 total pressures on true pass sets. While his overall grade underwhelmed (58.3), he had three 80.0-plus game grades in 2021. Now accompanied by Thibodeaux on the opposite side, Ojulari can use his athleticism and bend on second-tier linemen, opening the door for a breakthrough Year 2."

The other players on Bomani's list include Chicago Bears TE Cole Kmet, Dallas Cowboys WR Jalen Tolbert, San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk, New Orleans Saints CB Paulson Adebo, and Green Bay Packers CB Eric Stokes.

View the best photos of outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari's career with the Giants.

CBS Sports picks Kayvon Thibodeaux for DROY

Lining up opposite Ojulari this upcoming season will be No. 5 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Thibodeaux enjoyed plenty of triumphs while playing at Oregon, and according to one NFL analyst, that could lead to some immediate success in the NFL.

CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso ranked his 10 favorite candidates for the 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and Thibodeaux landed at No. 1.

As Trapasso writes, "Thibodeaux was graded a touch lower than Hutchinson in my scouting gradebook, but it feels like Thibodeaux has the specific type of skillset more conducive to winning DROY. Hutchinson may play more snaps and have more tackles, but Thibodeaux wins more quickly and enters the league as a pure, pass-rushing specialist.

"Defensive coordinator Don Martindale is going to blitz and blitz and blitz more -- the Ravens defense finished first in blitz rate in three of the four seasons under his watch from 2018 to 2021. Thibodeaux's pressure and sack totals will be bolstered by the scheme itself. But it won't be a sham of a DROY victory. Thibodeaux's juice off the edge alone will beat many lesser NFL tackles, and he has a nice but not fully developed arsenal of pass-rush moves to counter off his patented outside speed rush. Azeez Ojulari opposite him and Leonard Williamsand Dexter Lawrence inside will provide the No. 5 overall pick with plenty of one-on-one matchups.

"Sacks move the needle more than anything else with DROY voters, and Thibodeaux could reach double digits in Year 1. With Thibodeaux, I get serious Danielle Hunter vibes."

Thibodeaux registered 19.0 sacks in 31 career games at Oregon to go with 34.5 total tackles for loss, the fifth-most among Power 5 players since 2019. He earned a 91.5 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus in 2021 after recording seven sacks, 28 hurries and 48 total quarterback pressures in 11 games.

View photos of the Giants' draft picks as they tour their new home.