Giants 2021 Position Breakdown: Leonard Williams returns for more on the defensive line

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Danny Shelton/Leonard Williams/Dexter Lawrence Treated Image
Danny Shelton/Leonard Williams/Dexter Lawrence Treated Image

Heading into the 2021 season, the Giants have a much-improved roster on both sides of the ball and are looking to finally make their way back into the playoffs to become a Super Bowl contender once again.

In this series, we’ll break down every position group on the depth chart for Big Blue. This time, we’ll go in depth on the defensive line…

Depth Chart

DT: Leonard Williams, B.J. Hill
NT: Danny Shelton, Austin Johnson
DE: Dexter Lawrence, R.J. McIntosh
Depth: Raymond Johnson III (rookie), David Moa, Elerson Smith (Rookie)

- Key Additions/Losses: Re-signed Williams, signed Shelton, lost Dalvin Tomlinson to Vikings via free agency

- Top 2020 Performer: Leonard Williams – 57 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 30 quarterback hits

What the D-Line has going for them

First of all, re-signing Williams was the main priority for New York this offseason and the deal was inked. That was a big box checked off after he had such an amazing season under Patrick Grahams lead on defense, proving he can be a disruptive force every time the ball is snapped.

However, losing Tomlinson wasn’t easy for Big Blue. He was a stud in the run game, setting the edge on the interior and busting through blocks to make quick tackles. He was also a defensive leader after getting drafted in the second round by the Giants out of Alabama four years ago. But his new home is in Minnesota with the Vikings – a casualty in free agency for New York.

The veteran Shelton also comes in and serves as the favorite at nose tackle, with Lawrence most likely taking over for Tomlinson on one of the interior edges. And they still have solid depth with Hill and Johnson highlighting that group.

Key Concern: Lawrence’s transition

Lawrence has been great since he was taken in the first round two seasons ago, especially being lined up at that nose tackle spot. But with Tomlinson gone now, Lawrence is going to have to step up and take on his role – at least from the onset.

The Giants have liked what they’ve seen from the Clemson product in the run game, as he’s extremely hard to block one-on-one, which leads to mismatches all over the place on the line. Now lined up on the edge with Shelton in place, Lawrence may actually be able to add more to his game, say, in pass rush situations. He has a few sacks under his belt, and despite his massive size, he is pretty quick getting into the backfield when he wants.

The Giants will hope Tomlinson’s loss won’t be too noticeable with Lawrence moving over now.

Player who must step up in 2021: Leonard Williams

Congrats, Leonard. You got the deal you were searching for, and it’s well deserved after the 2020 campaign.

Now it’s really time to put your money where you production is.

Dave Gettleman believed Williams earned his contract, and the stats prove it. But for it to be worth the Giants’ while, Williams is going to need to have the same type of season on the stat sheet that he did last year to live up to it.

And frankly, the Giants are a much better team when he is producing those types of plays. With no clear pass rush on the outside just yet, Williams is the only consistent form of pressure New York has going into training camp. And since he’s a leader on defense as well, he’s going to have to step up if this unit wishes to take that next step after a solid 2020 season.

New York Giants defensive end Leonard Williams (99) sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (14) in the second half. The Giants defeat the Cowboys, 23-19, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, January 3, 2021, in East Rutherford.
New York Giants defensive end Leonard Williams (99) sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (14) in the second half. The Giants defeat the Cowboys, 23-19, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, January 3, 2021, in East Rutherford.

Biggest Camp Battle: Danny Shelton vs. B.J. Hill vs. Austin Johnson

Shelton has the experience but he’s the new kid on the block compared to these other Giants who learned Graham’s scheme already.

With Williams and Lawrence set as starters on the depth chart, I guess the only position up for grabs would be at nose tackle. Shelton is bigger than his competition, but Hill and Johnson provide quickness along with solid force up front.

It will be fun to watch these three battle it out once July rolls around.

2021 Outlook

Gettleman has been confident in his interior defensive line for some time now, and that’s especially true now that the Williams trade looks good for him.

This unit is extremely effective in stopping run-first offenses and making quarterbacks do most of the work on game day. Williams also made it so those quarterbacks didn’t have a comfortable pocket, and that should continue with players like Azeez Ojulari on the outside rushing off the edge to free up some space.

The Tomlinson loss will be a talking point early on, but Lawrence’s experience could quickly end that conversation before it gets off the ground.

This season, the defensive interior has Williams coming back to lead and has depth that can provide quality snaps. That’s all the Giants could’ve asked for, which is why Graham shouldn’t be too worried about this group’s production once Week 1 comes around.