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20 Questions: Who will be the Giants' Defensive MVP?


With the calendar flipped to July, asks 20 important questions heading into the team's 2020 training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

For 20 days, a member of the crew will answer one question about the roster, coaching staff, schedule, and much more.

No. 15: Who will be the Giants' Defensive MVP?

Dan Salomone: This is an interesting one because not only are there so many new faces, but the unit will require a collective effort. Plus, new head coach Joe Judge and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham come from the Bill Belichick tree, which is rooted in adaptability. Their philosophy is to put pressure on opponents by making them prepare for multiple things. Within that, they need personnel versatility/flexibility with the scheme to adjust the game plan, thus maximizing their strengths against any opponent's weaknesses.

Long story short: The focus of the defense won't be concentrated on one player.

Nevertheless, players still need to make plays. Who will they be? Let's start with the newcomers. Former Packer Blake Martinez, who will be the quarterback of the defense, leads the NFL with 441 tackles since 2017 and is second to five-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner since Martinez entered the league in 2016. Former Panther James Bradberry has been tested against the NFC South's gauntlet of receivers and was regularly assigned to shadow them. Kyler Fackrell, another former Packer, has a double-digit sack campaign on his resume.

The coaching staff also hopes to tap into a lot of potential from the team's returning players. Among them is big Dexter Lawrence, who is my answer to this question. This team will find success when it controls the line of scrimmage. The focus around the Giants is often on the offensive line, but the defensive line is just as important, particularly the interior. If you can gain ground inside, then the quarterback or running back is running for his life and the edge defenders can finish the job. The NFC East is stacked with running backs, and the team that can stop the run will win the division. Lawrence, a former first-round pick, along with Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, can be a major factor in achieving that goal.

John Schmeelk: This begs for me to be boring. Saquon Barkley, right? Easy peasy. He is going to be one of the most productive players in the NFL, so making him the Giants' offensive MVP should be a no-brainer. Nah – too boring!

If everything goes right, it is going to be Daniel Jones. In truth, the most important player on any high level NFL offense is the quarterback. The quarterback is the engine and the Giants are likely to go only as far as Jones takes them. Nah – too boring!

Instead, I am going to go with the player that I think may be the offense's biggest X-factor: Evan Engram. Will he play in enough games to compile the necessary stats to be the Offensive MVP? Probably not, but that doesn't make him any less important to the unit.

Engram is the team's biggest mismatch amongst their tight ends and wide receivers. At his speed, linebackers have no hope of staying with him in coverage, and even safeties could have issues battling his size down the field on contested catches.

Every Giants fan has seen how Jason Garrett's offense in Dallas featured Jason Witten for more than a decade. Engram could be a similar weapon and go-to player in the red zone with even more big-play ability. He has special skills. If he can ever play 16 games, he could turn the Giants' offense into one of the league's top units.

Dan Salomone: Just follow the green dot. The player with it on his helmet is the one who relays play calls from the coordinator to the men in the huddle. On defense, that will most likely be Blake Martinez. Originally a fourth-round draft choice by Green Bay, Martinez leads the NFL with 441 tackles since 2017 and is second only to five-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner since he entered the league in 2016. He recorded double-digit tackles in 24 of his 61 games played. He also has familiarity with assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who was Martinez's position coach with the Packers in 2018.

"I love having the green dot," Martinez said when he signed with the Giants. "It's always been an awesome aspect that I've [been] able to have since my rookie year. I've grown more and more, and just understanding the things that I need to do within the huddle, out of the huddle, pre-snap, all those things that have just been growing throughout the years. I know Pat's extremely open and free with communication that he's going to allow me to do within a given series, within a given game. It's exciting for me to be able to have that freedom. I can't wait to be able to go out there and obviously, lead the Giants defense."

Whether you want to call him a tackling machine or cleanup guy, Martinez said his responsibility is not to let big plays happen. The Giants allowed 79 plays of at least 20 yards last season, tied with the Lions for the third-most in the NFL. There are a lot of intriguing newcomers on this roster, but Martinez is the quarterback of the revamped defense and a promising linebacker corps.

View photos of every roster addition made by the Giants this offseason.

Lance Medow: If there's one statistic that is most synonymous with winning and losing games in the NFL, it's turnover differential. In 2019, the Giants had 33 giveaways (17 INT/16 FR), third-most in the league, just behind the Bucs (41) and Panthers (35). On defense, the Giants only recorded 16 takeaways (third-fewest in the NFL) to finish with a turnover differential of minus-17. which tied with the Chargers for last. It's no coincidence that these two teams finished with four and five wins, respectively.

Last season, the offense played just two clean games without turnovers. The first one didn't come until Week 14 in Philadelphia and, the second, two games later at Washington. In 11 of the other 14 games, the Giants turned over the ball at least two times in each contest and had six games with at least three giveaways. Daniel Jones was responsible for 23 of the team's 33 turnovers with 12 interceptions and 11 fumbles, including at least one lost fumble in five straight games from Weeks 7-12. No matter how you break down these numbers, the Giants need to cut down on their turnovers if they want to maximize possessions and take pressure off the defense.

Turnovers and the lack of scoring go hand in hand, and that was brought to the forefront in 2019. Last season, the Giants averaged just over 21 points per game (tied for 18th in the NFL). In nine of their 16 games, they failed to score at least 20 points. If you turn over the ball at the rate New York did last season, you're going to lose possessions/scoring opportunities. The message for this season is crystal clear: protect the ball at all costs.

John Schmeelk: Last season, the Giants ranked 29th in the NFL with 7.6 yards allowed per pass play - this put them in the bottom quarter of the league with the Bengals, Raiders, Dolphins, Cardinals, Lions, Jaguars and Falcons (all non-playoff teams). Six selected in the Top 10 of the draft, and four, including the Giants, were in the Top 5.

I don't care what the Giants do offensively, or against the run defensively. None of it will mean anything if they don't creep their way closer to the middle of the league in yards allowed per pass play. Staying near the bottom of those rankings would inhibit the offense from sticking with a run-first philosophy and force them into too many passing situations that can lead to more turnovers.

There are two facets to improving the pass defense: pass rush and coverage. Spare James Bradberry, the Giants lack established players with long track records in either area of the defense. Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines or Kyler Fackrell need to be consistent pass rushers. Multiple players from the young defensive back group are going to have to step up to be starting caliber NFL players. The season depends on it.

John Schmeelk: Cornerback James Bradberry. The Giants' biggest question mark coming off last season was their pass defense. They released Janoris Jenkins and carried over a room full of young cornerbacks. They needed a veteran to come into the room, be a stabilizing force and bring some experience covering the opponent's best receiver.

In Carolina, Bradberry consistently followed receivers such as Mike Evans, Michael Thomas and Julio Jones no matter where they lined up. I would expect him to do the same for the Giants. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham could also put Bradberry on an island against the opponent's second-best receiver and run double-teams against its top wideout.

The Giants' pass defense will be the key to the season, and no player affects that more than their top cornerback. When Bradberry was brought in this offseason, he immediately became that player. He will impact the team more than any new addition, and perhaps even more than any other player on the roster not named Daniel Jones.

Lance Medow: For any quarterback entering his second year in the league, the expectations are pretty simple: show improvement across the board. Evaluating a signal-caller isn't just about fantasy football numbers, so I certainly won't dedicate the bulk of my response to a mathematical equation. As it goes without saying, the Giants want to see his stats trend upwards. Case in point: Eli Manning, who played in slightly fewer games than Daniel Jones during his rookie year in 2004, improved his production in just about every statistical category in his second year in the league. But there's one notable difference between year two for Manning and Jones. Manning had the same head coach and play-caller.

Why do I bring up the changes on the coaching staff? Well, that ties right into expectations. For the bulk of the roster, this will be the second or third new scheme players are learning in as many seasons, and when you have a young roster, you never know how the learning curve will play out. This will be Jones' third offense in three years, and now he is adjusting to Jason Garrett's scheme during a virtual process with no on-field work up to this point. This isn't to say that Jones can't handle a new system. How young players deal with change is a true test and can be a challenge. That's something to watch as the season progresses and something to keep in mind when placing expectations on a player.

If there's one stat to watch, it's Jones' fumble rate. He fumbled the ball 18 times (and lost 11) in 12 starts or 1.5 fumbles per start. Ball security is critical for all players but even more important for quarterbacks, who touch the ball on every play. Jones obviously knows this better than anyone and made it his focus this offseason. If both Jones and the offense want to make strides in 2020, they have to maximize possessions and avoid cutting down on the volume of opportunities, or what I like to call at-bats.

View photos of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones throughout his NFL career.