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Mailbag: Giants' defensive X factor?

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Peter in California: Who is the "X factor" on defense? My own pick is Elerson Smith. He needs to put on a few pounds of muscle and be moved to DE. With his linebacker speed and quickness, he'd be quite a load coming off the edge in passing situations.

John Schmeelk: It's hard to put an "X factor" label on a rookie, especially a fourth-round pick from a FCS program who has not played in a competitive game since 2019. It isn't fair to the player. A better argument could be made for second-round edge Azeez Ojulari, but it usually takes pass rushers a year or two to come into their own.

So let's go with fourth-year OLB Lorenzo Carter. Before his injury last season, he looked to be developing into a young starting-caliber NFL edge defender. We hadn't quite seen the emergence of consistent high-level pass rush production, but every part of his game was coming together. There was no obvious weakness. He played more snaps than any other edge player. The coaching staff trusted him. Carter has the best chance of all the players at the position to emerge as a consistent force that other teams will have to watch. It remains to be seen how his recovery from last year's Achilles surgery will impact his progress, but he seemed to be coming along nicely during off-season training.

Darryl in New York: Who do you see starting at the OLB spot ?

John Schmeelk: Lorenzo Carter is one player you can expect to start at outside linebacker. The other spot could very well be situational. In running situations, Ifeadi Odenigbo or Ryan Anderson might be the players that man one of the edge spots. In pass rushing situations, it could be a competition between youngsters Oshane Ximines, Azeez Ojulari, and Elerson Smith. 

Barry in Maryland: Kyle Rudolph might be the most underrated pickups this year. He is a classic two-way TE, much like former Dallas star Jason Witten (who had an HOF-level career in Garrett's offense). Will we see those plays run with Rudolph as a regular part of the game plan?

John Schmeelk: Rudolph likely will take on the role of the reliable hands-catcher in short and intermediate areas of the field. And you can expect him to be a consistent red zone target. Much like with Jason Witten, Rudolph is not someone who requires a lot of separation to be targeted for a completion – he is excellent at coming up with contested catches. 

Chris in New York: Which of the three offensive lineman who the Giants selected in the 2020 NFL Draft do you think will improve the most from their rookie season?

John Schmeelk: When in doubt, go with the player with the most natural talent, and that's Andrew Thomas. He was better over the final six games of the season, so expect another jump from him in his second season in the league. He has the length, strength, and athleticism to be an elite tackle in the NFL.

Matt Peart would be next on this list, given his elite raw tools. He has length and the movement skills to be a good NFL tackle. He played a bit last year, but if he can earn the starting job in 2021 and play starting snaps each week, the added reps should accelerate his progress.

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