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Mailbag: Why Giants tagged Leonard Williams; positions of value in 2020 NFL Draft?

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From Laurence: Why did the Giants prioritize bringing back Leonard Williams instead of Markus Golden, who was a more productive pass rusher?

John Schmeelk: It is easy to look at Golden's 10 sacks versus Williams half a sack and determine Golden was the better pass rusher. When you look deeper, the answer isn't quite as obvious. For example, when you count Golden's and Williams' quarterback hits and quarterback hurries, the comparison looks a bit different. It is important to remember that quarterback pressures have been proven to be a better predictor of future pass rush success than raw sack numbers.

Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Golden had 16 quarterback hits and 37 quarterback hurries, giving him 67 total pressures. Williams had 23 quarterback hits and 32 hurries, good for 57 total pressures. Golden was still more productive from a volume standpoint, but the picture changes more if you look at their per-snap productivity.

It took Golden 509 pass rushing snaps to accumulate those totals. Williams accumulated his in only 466 pass rushing snaps. Williams had a pressure every 8.2 snaps, while Golden had a pressure every 7.6 snaps. Golden's numbers are slightly better but not by much.

If you dig a bit deeper in PFF's numbers, there are other things that jump out. Of Golden's 67 pressures, 19 were on plays where he was completely unblocked and 15 came on clean-up plays or in pursuit rather than creating initial pressure shortly after the snap.

Williams, meanwhile, had only nine unblocked pressures and 16 on clean-up plays or in pursuit later in the play. If you take those numbers out of the equation for both players, Williams finished the season with 32 pressures, while Golden had 33 on more pass rushing snaps. Williams also put up those numbers from a position where it is easier to be double-teamed with far less room to operate one on one.

Those adjusted numbers are seen in PFF's win percentage for the two players. According to PFF, Williams won on 13.3% of his pass rushing snaps, while Golden won at a 12.6% rate. No one would argue that Williams doesn't have to turn more of those pressures into sacks to impact games more, but combined with his run defense, he is a better player than many give him credit for.

From Anthony: If the Giants believe in choosing the best player available, I cannot believe any of the tackles available at selection #4 could be better than Isaiah Simmons (LB - Clemson). Do the experts agree?

John Schmeelk: If you look at most draft experts' Big Boards, which are based on the evaluation of the player and not team needs, Isaiah Simmons is frequently ranked ahead of the offensive linemen in the class. Does that mean he is definitely going to be a better player than all the offensive tackles in this draft class? Absolutely not.

These rankings are assessments and projections based on what the player did in college. For a defensive space player like Simmons, how his coaching staff in the NFL decides to use him will be critical to how effective he is.

Impact level is also something to consider. Simmons could be a dynamic coverage linebacker, but if teams are able to attack other areas of the defense, his impact on the team as a whole might not be felt. An offensive tackle, on the other hand, can help on every play, whether a run or a pass. He could also help the development of Daniel Jones.

Would it shock me if one of these offensive tackles, or maybe even two, end up having a better career than Simmons? No. It also wouldn't surprise me if Simmons has the best career. We just don't know. Teams make their best possible guess of an uncertain future. Injuries, for example, are largely not predictable and impact careers more than anything else in professional sports.

Draft rankings are projections and rife with uncertainty. Tread carefully putting too much stock into them.

Mathy in Virginia: Can the Giants restructure more of their current larger contracts to free up more cap space to sign more free agents?

John Schmeelk: This is a question that is always asked but it is easier said than done and very seldom is it the prudent thing to do. I will not address any specific players since the Giants do not release the details of player contracts. There are two general ways to restructure contracts: a true restructure by converting money in the contract or asking the player to take a pay cut.

I'll cover the pay cut part of this first because it is cut and dry. The important word is that the team ASKS a player to take a pay cut. The player can and will often say no. Then what? An old adage is that you should never ask a player to take a pay cut unless you are ready to release them outright, otherwise what motivation is there for the player to acquiesce? So push this option aside because it is very rare and extremely unlikely. It's easy to say for a fan but much more difficult in practice.

As for a normal restructure, it is important for fans to know that money doesn't simply disappear when a contract is restructured. It is often a situation where the can is kicked down the road and the money becomes a future salary cap liability that is often guaranteed. In other words, the team is still going to have to pay that money, it is simply spread out differently across the contract and often reduces flexibility in future seasons.

Sometimes a restructure of that nature makes sense if the player is someone the organization expects will be a part of the team for the duration of the contract and money is desperately needed in the current year. Often, it does not and can result in dead money on the salary cap in future seasons if that player is released before his contract expires.

In other words, you are robbing Peter to pay Paul. Proceed with caution at all times.

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