The biggest roster decisions this summer will be on the defensive line.
John Schmeelk: Fact - but this is not in regard to the starters. I would be very surprised if Dalvin Tomlinson, Dexter Lawrence, and Leonard Williams aren't the team's three starting defensive linemen in their base 3-4 defense. We know that with some level of certainty. Figuring out who will make up the back-end of the roster at the position is much more interesting.
BJ Hill is likely to be the fourth defensive lineman, but then things get more complicated. RJ McIntosh and Chris Slayton were 2019 draft picks, while free agent addition Austin Johnson is a former first-round pick. It is unlikely all of those linemen make the roster, and that's without mentioning others, such as Oluwole Betiku, Niko Lalos, and Dana Levine.
Dan Salomone: Fiction - The Giants used 40 percent of their 2020 draft capital on linebackers, so let's start there. Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, TJ Brunson, and Tae Crowder were Day 3 selections who joined free-agent additions Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell to make one of the most promising Giants linebacker corps in recent memory. Special teams will be the deciding factor in any roster decisions for the younger players.
Lance Medow: Fiction - I think, at this point, the Giants have a pretty good idea of what they're working with on the defensive line. Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson and Dexter Lawrence are penciled in as the starters, with B.J. Hill, R.J. McIntosh, Chris Slayton and free-agent addition Austin Johnson competing for two or three spots. I'm not saying there's not competition on the back end of the depth chart, but I wouldn't list the defensive line as the position that presents the toughest challenge to make roster decisions.
Instead, I'm actually going with a position that, likely, many are overlooking: quarterback. In a typical season, I wouldn't even entertain this spot but, given the current circumstances of the country, this is a year when you have to think hard about keeping an extra quarterback or two (maybe even quarantining one) who have familiarity with the scheme. The Giants have five signal-callers on the roster and I think you need to find a way to keep all of them, between the active roster and practice squad. Retaining at least three on the active roster is a must, so that means a battle for behind Daniel Jones between Colt McCoy, Alex Tanney and Cooper Rush (who knows Jason Garret's system very well having played in Dallas over the last three seasons). Someone like Rush holds a great deal of value because you could potentially quarantine him. Unless they tweak the rules governing the practice squad, Tanney is ineligible to be placed on that unit because he has too many accrued seasons in the NFL.
View photos of every member of the defensive front on the Giants' 90-man roster.
Dexter Lawrence has the most buzz on defense heading into training camp.
Schmeelk: Fact - There might be more accomplished players with a firm track record, such as James Bradberry, but Dexter Lawrence has the most upside on defense. His combination of size, strength and quickness is special and if he can harness it consistently, he has the chance to be an All-Pro caliber player. He has the potential to be a break out defender in stopping the run AND rushing the passer.
Salomone: Fact - Who doesn't want a piece of Sexy Dexy? The 6-foot-4, 342-pound former first-round pick has all the potential in the world to be a disruptive force in the NFC East for years to come. But as we know, "potential" can be the most dangerous word in sports. Now, it is up to assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and defensive line coach Sean Spencer to tap that potential and make his rookie season just the tip of the iceberg.
Medow: Fiction - Dexter Lawrence is entering Year 2 in the NFL so he's a player to watch, but the pass rush still remains the biggest question. Who will emerge? Who will stand out during training camp? That's why there's a lot more buzz surrounding Kyler Fackrell, who is the only player on the roster to have a double-digit sack season (10.5 in 2018); Lorenzo Carter, who is entering his critical third season with the team; and Oshane Ximines, who showed some flashes as a rookie in 2019. I'd put all three of those players ahead of Lawrence on the buzz chart.
Safety Jabrill Peppers is the X-factor for the defense this season.
Schmeelk: Fiction - It's hard for me to select one player, but I can select one position … as in every cornerback not named James Bradberry. I don't know who is going to start opposite Bradberry or in the slot. DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal and Darnay Holmes are logical players to consider for those spots, but it wouldn't shock me if someone like Corey Ballentine, Grant Haley, Dravon Askew-Henry or Montre Hartage find their way into significant playing time. At least two of the young cornerbacks on the roster must play as starting-caliber players for the defense to take a step forward.
Salomone: Fact - The Giants didn't pick up their fifth-year option on Jabril Peppers for nothing. He is known for his versatility, and this coaching staff values that trait as much as anything else. It's just a matter of harnessing it and using it effectively. The addition of second-round safety Xavier McKinney should only help the duo flourish in the defensive backfield. Big plays hurt the Giants throughout last season, and the safeties are the last line of defense.
Medow: Fiction - I'm going to emphasize my response to the previous statement. With an extremely young secondary, the guys up front are going to have to do some heavy lifting to take pressure off the back end. That's why I think the X-factor is in the front seven, specifically a pass rusher. With Markus Golden's status still very much up in the air, the Giants need someone to make a statement in the pass rush department and Kyler Fackrell, Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines are intriguing candidates. If one or two of those players can emerge, they could be a huge boost to the overall defense and give Patrick Graham opportunities to get a bit more creative. Someone within the front seven needs to provide opposing offenses a reason to be concerned or to consider a double-team.
View photos of Giants safety Jabrill Peppers.
Dalvin Tomlinson will play the most snaps on the defensive line.
Schmeelk: Fiction - As a rookie, Dexter Lawrence played 106 more defensive snaps than Tomlinson, according to Pro Football Focus, and I would expect that to continue this year. It's Leonard Williams, however, that I expect to lead all defensive linemen in snaps. He is the most versatile as he can shift to defensive end in even fronts. I expect him to be the team's primary three-technique on passing downs. Both Williams and Lawrence will probably get more pass rushing snaps than Tomlinson, even though the Alabama product had a career-high 3.5 sacks last year.
Salomone: Fiction - He might not play the most snaps, but something tells me this coaching staff is very high on Tomlinson, both as a playmaker and leader. Tomlinson has stated every game since he came into the league in 2017 and has been one of the most consistent presences in the locker room. He is a Joe Judge guy. He just puts his head down and goes to work every day. He also reunites with Patrick Graham, who was his position coach as a rookie. Don't get caught up in snap counts with defensive linemen; Tomlinson will make an impact inside and outside of the box score.
Medow: Fiction - Last season, Dexter Lawrence played the most snaps (702) on the defensive line and Tomlinson (596) finished second. Let's not overlook the fact that Leonard Williams didn't have a full season with the Giants, so you have to take that into consideration when projecting the totals for 2020. B.J. Hill finished third with 487.
I think Lawrence is in line to play the most snaps again. When healthy, he proved to be a consistent disruptive player at Clemson and I'm sure Patrick Graham wants to tap into that more often than not this season. Lawrence can also be moved around on the line, so that increases his chances of staying on the field to stop the run and get after the quarterback. Williams consistently played between 800-900 snaps in his four full seasons with the Jets, so he'll push Lawrence in that department; but barring injury, Lawrence will edge him out.