1. Outside linebacker Markus Golden will lead the team in sacks this season.
John Schmeelk: Fact – Even though it was non-contact practice with no pads, Golden looked impressive in the spring. I saw no lingering effects of the ACL injury from 2017. He is the only player on the roster with a NFL track record of rushing the passer. There’s a chance Lorenzo Carter or Oshane Ximines develop and surprise by surpassing him. Golden leads the team with at least 8.5 sacks.
Dan Salomone: Fact – I think it will be neck and neck between Golden and Lorenzo Carter, with the former leading slightly. It takes time to get over a serious knee injury like Golden sustained, and two years later, you could see him return to a double-digit sack total. On top of that, he is reunited with James Bettcher, his former coordinator in Arizona. Throw in some pressure up the middle from Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson, and things could open up for Golden to come off the edge.
Lance Medow: Fact – Last season, Olivier Vernon led the team in sacks with 7.0 and rookie B.J. Hill was right behind him with 5.5. Of the front seven players currently on the Giants roster, Markus Golden leads the way with 19 career sacks, highlighted by 12.5 in 2016, and 10 other players have combined for 34.5 with no one having more than 6.5. Given Golden will be two years removed from his torn ACL, I think he’s the best bet to lead the team in sacks. While Hill and Carter have upside, they have a much smaller sample size of production and keep in mind that 3.0 of Hill’s 5.5 sacks came in one game last season.
2. The Giants need to rank in the top half of the NFL in sacks in order to be successful.
Schmeelk: Fiction – It would certainly be nice, but finishing in the top half of the league in sacks is not essential to a team being successful. The Cowboys and Titans finished tied with the Jets with the 16th most sacks, but both were still top 10 defenses in terms of points allowed. The Patriots had the second-fewest sacks in the league but were the seventh-ranked defense in terms of points allowed. The Chargers and Colts were also top 10 defenses but finished tied for 19th in sacks. The Giants’ young secondary will have to play at a high level for the defense to finish in the top half of the league in sacks.
Salomone: Fiction – It’s hard to say “fact” here when the Giants and Patriots had the same number of sacks, and one had a 5-11 season while the other won the Super Bowl. They each had 30, tied for the second-fewest in the NFL ahead of only the Raiders. Football is all about the situation, so boiling things down to one number is risky. The Patriots are so good because they not only the right plays, but they also make them at the right time.
Medow: Fact – Nine of the 12 teams that made the playoffs in 2018 finished in the top half of the NFL in sacks. I think that stat alone is a very strong selling point. The only way to overcome a low sack total is to have an outstanding secondary that can cover for an extended period of time, but if you consistently put that much pressure on your corners and safeties, it will eventually come back to haunt you. In 2011, the Giants collected 48 sacks and finished tied for third in the league, and in 2016 they had 35 sacks and ranked tied for 14th. Why do I bring that up? Those were the last two times the Giants made the playoffs and it’s no coincidence that both times they finished in the top half of the league. It’s also no coincidence that with the exception of the 2014 campaign, in every other non-playoff season since 2011, the team ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in sacks.
3. Among the newcomers, safety Jabrill Peppers will make the biggest impact on the defense.
Schmeelk: Fact – I almost went with DeAndre Baker, but I think Peppers’ impact on all three levels of the defense will be felt at a high level. He will be tasked to cover tight ends one-on-one, be a playmaker in zone in the middle of the field, blitz the quarterback, and come up in run support. He will be used like a Swiss Army knife, and how effective he is will really impact the defense.
Salomone: Fact – He’s going to be asked to wear many hats, which is why he will make the greatest impact. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is the team leader in tackles and interceptions, or at least one of them. He’ll also have a sack or two. This is the type of player James Bettcher covets, one who can play a variety of roles to mix up coverages.
Medow: Fact – Let me rephrase the statement. The Giants “need” Jabrill Peppers to make the biggest impact on the defense. Aside from Janoris Jenkins, the defense will be relying on an extremely young cornerback group, with potentially two rookies claiming starting jobs. That means a player like Peppers, despite just entering his third season in the league, will be the veteran of the group along with Antoine Bethea, who you also shouldn’t overlook in terms of impact on the defense. I’ll go with Peppers because of his versatility. James Bettcher loves to take advantage of hybrid players and when you look at the new arrivals on defense, Peppers may fit that label the best.
4. Someone in the 2019 draft class will break B.J. Hill’s franchise record for most sacks by a rookie (5.5).
Schmeelk: Fiction – This is a terrific question. Asking an interior player like Dexter Lawrence to top 5.5 is a tall order, so it would fall on the shoulders of Oshane Ximines. If I knew Ximines would be on the field for 70 percent of the snaps, I would have agreed with the statement, but I think he will be playing behind Markus Golden and Lorenzo Carter for much of the season.
Salomone: Fact – Why not? Hill never had more than 3.5 sacks in a season at N.C. State, and the defensive tackle was a third-round pick (69th overall). So why can’t Dexter Lawrence, the 17th overall pick and former All-American at Clemson, get there? Chances are he ends up creating more sacks for other people than he actually finishes off himself, but I don’t think it’s too outlandish to say he breaks the year-old record. Plus, there’s always the X-Man to challenge it.
Medow: Fiction – We were very close to a fact sweep, but that run will end here. As I noted in my response to statement number one, 3.0 of Hill’s 5.5 sacks came in one game. If that outburst against the Bears doesn’t happen, we’re likely not even having this discussion. On paper, it appears the only rookie with a realistic shot to surpass Hill’s total is Oshane Ximines. Without knowing how Bettcher will utilize his skillset and how many snaps he’ll see in his first year in the league, it’s hard to bank on him setting a new rookie mark.