Leonard Williams had the most impressive season on the team.
John Schmeelk: Fact - There are three potential answers to this question: Leonard Williams, James Bradberry, and Graham Gano. I will go with Leonard Williams because his 11.5 sacks is not something defensive tackles other than Aaron Donald normally do. According to Pro Football Focus, among interior defensive linemen he was second in sacks to Aaron Donald, second in quarterback hits to Chris Jones, and tied for third in total pressures behind Donald and Stephon Tuitt.
Gano's field goal streak (30) was impressive, but the record he broke was set only five years ago by Josh Brown. James Bradberry had a spectacular year, but the Giants played a heavy zone scheme that did not require him to cover man-to-man. He was as good as anyone at what he was asked to do, but that small piece of context gives the nod to Williams, who was the best pass rusher on team and the most productive.
Dan Salomone: Fiction - There are plenty of candidates on defense, which is a good sign for assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who signed a contract extension and will not pursue any head coach positions for 2021. For me, it comes down to the two defensive co-captains: middle linebacker Blake Martinez and defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson. You can't mention one without the other. Tomlinson makes Martinez's job easier by taking on the junk in front of him so he can rack up tackles. Meanwhile, Martinez is the quarterback of the defense and puts everyone in the right position. But in the NFL, the quarterback is king. With that as the tiebreaker, I'll choose Martinez.
Lance Medow: Fact - It would be very hard to put anyone else on the roster ahead of Leonard Williams after his very strong 2020 campaign. In eight games with the Giants in 2019, Williams recorded half of a sack, 11 quarterback hits and two and half tackles for loss. In double the amount of games of 2020 his production skyrocketed with a career-high 11.5 sacks, 30 quarterback hits and 15.5 tackles for a loss. Williams proved to be a consistent disruption and accounted for nearly half his career sacks this season. He gets the nod even though several other Giants, including James Bradberry and Blake Martinez, were impressive.
Tae Crowder's scoop-and-score vs. Washington was the best play of 2020.
John Schmeelk: Fiction - This was very tough. There were a number of terrific Daniel Jones throws or runs to choose from, but I felt obligated to pick a defensive play given the performance of the unit this year. Crowder's score was critical in the Giants' first win against Washington, but a stop on a two-point conversion later in the game clinched the victory.
I will go with a play that was the game-clincher against Cincinnati. After a punt return gave Cincinnati the ball a midfield down only two points with 57 seconds left in the game, a great team defensive play forced a turnover that gave the Giants the ball back. Great coverage in the secondary forced quarterback Brandon Allen to hold the football, which gave Carter Coughlin and Jabaal Sheard time to get to him and knock the ball away. Leonard Williams then made a great hustle play to fall on the football to clinch the victory. The Giants won a hard-fought game.
Dan Salomone: Fact - Aside from the critical situation and Kyler Fackrell forcing it on a strip-sack, the concentration of the rookie was incredible on that play. The ball bounced a few times, even hitting him in the facemask before he secured it and ran it in for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown against the eventual 2020 NFC East champions.
Lance Medow: Fiction - Tae Crowder's scoop-and-score is in the conversation, but I think Kyler Fackrell's Pick 6 in Week 5 against the Cowboys was a more impressive play. That's not taking anything away from Crowder but, in fairness, Fackrell had to overcome a few more obstacles en route to the touchdown. First, he caught the ball off an Ezekiel Elliott deflection, then stiff-armed Elliott to avoid being tackled while managing to stay inbounds, followed by a zig-zag in and out of traffic before being tripped up by Dallas tight end Sean McKeon and reaching for the goal line.
Jabrill Peppers was the most improved player on the team this year.
John Schmeelk: Fiction - Peppers made more plays in a slightly adjusted role for Patrick Graham, but I'm going to go with someone else. I already gave Leonard Williams his props in my first answer, so instead I'm going to select Wayne Gallman. A big part of it is opportunity, but I thought Gallman ran with more decisiveness and power to break more tackles this season. He also protected the passer and caught the football fairly well. He showed he was a NFL quality back that deserves playing time in some sort of role in 2021.
Dan Salomone: Fact - This is what everyone envisioned of him since he was an elite high school prospect coming out of New Jersey. He is a dynamic player who can fill any category in the box score at any moment. The thing is this might have been in him the whole time - this coaching staff just found a way to unlock it for him.
Lance Medow: Fiction - Jabrill Peppers put together a very nice season, but it still falls short to Leonard Williams, who did more than double his production from 2019. No one comes close to the jump Williams made within one season with the Giants. Wayne Gallman is another strong candidate but his production is more a product of additional playing time. We've seen flashes from Gallman. It was just a matter of him getting more opportunities on the field.
The experience gained by the young offensive linemen will pay the biggest dividends down the road.
John Schmeelk: Fact - This is as much aspirational as it is predictive. The Giants' success next year will have a lot to do with the progress of a very young offensive line. Andrew Thomas needs to continue to play like he did in the second half of the season, and improve after a full off-season in the NFL. Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez need to prove they can be starting caliber guards. Matt Peart needs to show he can handle a full allocation of snaps at right tackle after spending time in the off-season program. The progress of the line will impact the entire offense, from Daniel Jones to the return of Saquon Barkley and the running game.
Dan Salomone: Fact - This was a top priority for the team as evidenced by the unconventional rotation in the heat of games. Nothing can simulate live reps, and seven different Giants played 150 snaps or more this season. That's a lot for a group that was largely healthy.
Lance Medow: Fiction - The experience gained by the young offense linemen this past season was extremely valuable, but I'd put the young players on defense slightly ahead on this list. With Patrick Graham agreeing to an extension with the Giants instead of pursuing head coaching opportunities, the scheme won't change. The rookies who received reps this season already have a good grasp of what they'll be running next season. Players such as Xavier McKinney, Darnay Holmes, Tae Crowder, Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin were able to get on the field this season and sometimes play significant roles. I think the continuity on defense will go a long way in helping New York in the long run.
Re-live the most memorable moments and images from the first year of the Joe Judge era.