2 Giants land on PFF's list of top interior defensive linemen
The Giants defense performed well in 2020, finishing 9th in points and 12th in yards allowed in the league. The numbers get even better when looking at Big Blue's rush defense. The Giants ranked 10th in both rushing yards and touchdowns allowed, while the team's 4.1 yards per attempt surrendered came in at No. 8 in the NFL.
Patrick Graham's unit found success thanks to the performance of players on each level of the defense, but the interior defensive linemen truly showed up in 2020.
Pro Football Focus recently published its rankings of the top 32 defensive tackles heading into the 2021 season, and both Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence finished in the top half of the list.
First up is Williams, who was ranked No. 9 on PFF's list. Playing in all 16 games, the 26-year-old registered a career-high 11.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hits. He also racked up a career-best 62 combined sacks, hits and hurries, seven more than his previous best. Williams' 79.8 overall grade ranked 15th among interior defenders, aided by an elite 82.6 run defense grade.
As PFF's Ben Linsey writes, "His reliability and durability over the course of his career provide at least some level of assurance that the Giants will continue to get strong production moving forward. Williams is one of just four interior defenders with at least 3,000 regular-season defensive snaps since he entered the league in 2015, and he's been the fourth-most valuable player at the position over that span, per PFF WAR."
Lawrence was not far behind his teammate, ranking No. 16 on Linsey's list. For the second consecutive season, Lawrence played in all 16 games, finishing the year with 53 tackles (30 solo), four sacks, six tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits and two passes defended, all of which were new career-bests. His 79.7 overall grade ranked 17th among all interior defensive linemen.
"Lawrence found ways to improve in 2020 (79.7 overall grade) off a strong rookie debut in 2019 (76.2 overall grade)," writes Linsey. "That was especially true on pass plays, as he bumped his pass-rush grade from 64.5 as a rookie to 73.2 last season. You'll take that kind of impact from a defensive tackle listed at over 340 pounds without hesitation."
Next Gen Stats: Daniel Jones top deep passer of 2020
Next Gen Stats is known for using an innovative approach to analyzing data and player performance.
In the latest breakdown using Next Gen Stats, NFL.com's Nick Shook dissected the top deep passers in the NFL last season. Coming in at No. 1 on the list was Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
"We relied on a group of metrics to rank the qualifying passers," Shook wrote. "Chief among them: completion percentage over expectation (CPOE), which represents the difference between a passer's expected completion percentage (determined by evaluating a number of factors, including pressure, time to throw, distance of attempt and separation between targeted receiver and nearest defender) and actual completion percentage. A positive CPOE indicates performance above expectation, while a negative difference indicates performance below expectation...
"A key part of determining expected completion percentage is the separation of a receiver from the nearest defender at the time a pass arrives. A quarterback equipped with receivers who are excellent at creating separation figures to suffer in this regard because he'll have more expected completions than your average QB."
In 14 games in 2020, Jones completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,943 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, his numbers improved significantly when throwing the ball down the field (pass attempts of 20+ air yards).
Below is the data released by Next Gen Stats, which looks at his completion percentage on deep throws, his expected completion percentage on said passes, and his completion percentage over expectation:
Deep attempts: 19-of-39, 636 yards, 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 134.3 passer rating
As Shook writes, "Jones went deep just 39 times but was very effective when doing so, and his year-to-year improvement is incredibly encouraging. After posting a CPOE of -4.9 percent in 2019, Jones took a massive leap in 2020 to +14.8 percent, an improvement of +19.7 percentage points, the largest in the entire league from 2019 to 2020. It seems head coach Joe Judge's arrival did more than just turn the Giants into a scrappy bunch -- it also elevated Jones' effectiveness downfield. His passer rating on deep throws was the highest in the league at 134.3, and his completion percentage on such attempts (48.7) was the fourth-highest mark."
Shook points out that Jones' 134.3 passer rating on deep throws led the league, while his 48.7 completion percentage on those attempts was the fourth-best mark. These numbers, along with Jones' considerable improvement in this area from his first to second season, offer plenty of reasons of encouragement for the Giants' young quarterback, but they are not the only reasons why.
Heading into the offseason, it was clear that the Giants were planning on making a concerted effort to surround Jones with as many playmakers as possible. In his season-ending press conference back in January, Giants President and CEO John Mara told the media, "I think we certainly need to help our offense a little bit this offseason, be it free agency and the draft. I think we need some more pieces there."
We can now look back and say that is exactly what the Giants did. In free agency, the Giants made several offensive splashes with the signings of Kenny Golladay, Kyle Rudolph and John Ross. Big Blue then spent the No. 20 overall pick on Kadarius Toney, providing the offense with another versatile weapon. These four are added to a group that already included Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram and others, not to mention the return of star running back Saquon Barkley.
But in terms of Jones' deep passing, the addition of Golladay could serve as a significant x-factor. Since 2018, Pro Football Focus states that Golladay has the second-highest contested catch rate of any wide receiver in the NFL with at least 50 targets at 63 percent, trailing only New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas (64 percent). In addition, while his 2020 campaign was cut short due to injury, the 6-foot-5 receiver played in all 16 games in 2019 and ranked second in the league with 628 yards on deep passes. ESPN's Matthew Berry added that among receivers who have played a minimum of 30 games since 2018, Golladay ranks third in deep receptions per game and seventh in air yards per target.
Photos: Best of QB Daniel Jones
View some of the best images from the young career of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
View photos of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones throughout his NFL career.