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How Drafting DT Dalvin Tomlison in Round Two Was a No-Brainer

It’s funny how the Giants draft, in the mind of many well-informed fans and pundits, hinged on the second round pick of 3 tech defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlison, who was picked to replace the departed Johnathan Hankins.  The reason many fans and pundits feel that way is they felt the biggest need for the Giants was a starting caliber offensive lineman, preferably a tackle, to bolster what was a less than ideal offensive line last season.  So when the Giants drafted Tomlison at pick 55, that meant they passed on the last two offensive tackle prospects with year one starter potential in Dion Dawkins and Taylor Moton.  Beyond those two picks what remained was projects and maybe a possible starting guard prospect. 

The reasoned approach by these fans and pundits was that they could draft a starting offensive lineman in round 2 and then come back and draft the defensive tackle in round 3 or maybe even later.  There would have been considerable praise had the Giants drafted OT/OG Dion Dawkins in round 2 and came back in round 3 and drafted Hankins replacement.  Shaun O’Hara, who infamously railed against this year’s Giants draft, certainly would have been a happier camper.  Dawkins could have added some potential competition to Ereck Flowers and as a fall back offer a nice upgrade to John Jerry who’s pass blocking was adequate but who was a liability in his run blocking, which is pretty important for the right guard position.

So why did Jerry Reese and company choose Tomlinson in the second round?  Why do I feel that such a decision was so sound that I would I would call it a “no-brainer”?   The answer to those questions involves the nature of the Giants defense, Johnathan Hankins and what his role was in that defense.   It also involves what options were available to replace him.  

Former general manager Mike Lombardi is fond of saying being a GM isn’t about collecting talent; it’s about building a team.   I think a perfect example of that would be the NY Giants defense.   In the case of the Giants defense, that team is built on a strong run stopping defensive line (the entire Giants defensive line was the best or near the best in the league in terms of stopping the run) and a very good defensive secondary.  The stout defensive line prevented opposing offenses from getting the 4-6 yards a carry that they wanted.   By shutting down a consistent running game, the opposing quarterbacks were forced to challenge the Giants defensive secondaries with longer passes.   To make things worse for opposing quarterbacks those obvious passing downs that they were being forced into allowed Spagnolo the luxury of dialing up all sorts of exotic blitzes and pressure packages.   It was this strong line and strong secondary that was at the heart of the Giants very successful defense last season.

Johnathan Hankins was a key element of the aforementioned defensive line.   Hankins is a bit of a tweener.   Hankins isn’t quite strong enough or big enough to be a full-time one-tech defensive tackle who’s role is to take on double teams and not give ground.   Hankins is also a bit bigger, and slower, than the traditional three-tech defensive tackle who’s role is to penetrate into the backfield and disrupt the quarterback and running game while he is back there.   Hankins could provide some pressure by collapsing the pocket, and he was much stronger against the run than your traditional three techs DT as he couldn’t be moved to provide a running lane for opposing runners.  This fit what Spagnolo was trying to do perfectly.

More proof of just how much the Giants valued Hankins, consider how much cap money will be tied up in the defensive line next season.  In the 2018 season, the Giants will have $44 million tied up in Snacks, Vernon and JPP.   That is an outsized allocation of funds to just one positional area of the team and I suspect may be the most in the NFL.  Despite these circumstances, the Giants offered Hankins a deal that averaged out to $7 million a year and would have pushed the Giants defensive line allocation past $50 million and pushed the team into a less than ideal salary cap situation.   It’s pretty clear to me that the Giants offer to Hankins was more than just not wanting to “waste” a draft pick finding a replacement but was also an indication that they viewed him as a valuable piece of the defense.  The reason for needing to replace Hankins via the draft is that Bromley has never stepped up in terms of becoming Hankin’s heir apparent.  In fact, it was pointed out by Inside Football’s Pat Traina that Bromley’s snap counts decreased as the last season wore on.   The only other proven defensive tackle on the roster is Robert Thomas who’s primary role was to be the backup to Snacks Harrison at the one tech. 

So that brings us back to the draft and how Jerry Reese could find a player that could fill Hankin’s role and ensure that the team’s defense didn’t take a significant step backward.   As Giants draft expert Ceri Dovey said, this wasn’t a particularly strong defensive tackle draft class.  It was made even worse for the Giants as many of the defensive tackle prospects had questions about their effort either on the field or in practice or working out.   There are few things I would say absolutely about how Jerry Reese drafts, but one of them is that Jerry Reese does not draft lazy players.  In ten years of drafting, there have only been a couple of times Jerry Reese was willing to draft a player with just a hint of laziness and none of those picks ever worked out.  Take out guys that were lacking in strength to hold up against the run as well as Hankins, and there were few options left. 

Once you eliminated the guys that lacked the strength to hold up to the run and those with worth ethic issues you were left with really only two prospects to fill the role.  Dalvin Tomlison was the ideal choice.  Tomlison is a near clone of the younger Hankins before he put on bad weight after his rookie season, who was stout against the run while still providing a bit of a threat to opposing QBs.   In fact, they are so similar if you look in the PFF scouting guide the player they compared Tomlison to was the Johnathan Hankins.  I would add that based on scouting reports Tomlison may be a bit smarter and more hard working that Hankins, so you could argue that Tomlison has the potential to be even better than Hankins.  As a bonus, he came from one of the top college programs, especially on defense, in the nation in the form of Alabama.  There are concerns with his prior torn ACLs on both knees, but it appears that most NFL teams had cleared him on that issue. 

I did say two prospects so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Michigan’s, Ryan Glasgow.  He was projected to go a couple of rounds later than Tomlinson and could almost be called a poor man’s Jonathan Hankins.  Ryan shares many similar traits to Tomilson in terms of hard working and high character and similar measurables.  Ryan even had three more tackles for loss than Tomlinson.   So one might wonder why Ryan was considered a lesser prospect and that would be answered in total tackle counts.   Tomilson had 122 tackles (39 solo + 83 assists) versus Glasgow’s 77 tackles (38 solo + 39 assists).  It’s my opinion that this production indicator shows that Tomlison was the superior run defender.   So while I suspect if the Giants had failed to draft Tomlinson in round two he would have been the team’s backup plan in round 3.  They couldn’t wait for round 4 as Glasgow was drafted two picks before the Giants picked in round four by the Bengals.  The thing that concerns me about Glasgow is that he could prove to be more like Markus Kuhn, a try hard but doesn’t quite get it done DT, rather than a Johnathan Hankins.  Plus there was no plan C so if the Giants missed in their efforts to draft Glasgow they would have been left scrambling.   There were no Hankins run stopping defensive tackle veterans left in the veteran free agency pool.

So when you consider the case I laid out I think most would agree if the Giants didn’t want to risk their championship caliber defense, Tomlinson was their man.   No doubt Reese knew he would be exposed to strong criticism when he passed on the last offensive tackle prospects that were considered starter worthy, but his job isn’t to avoid criticism but rather to win games.  As any Giants fan knows, defense wins championships.   

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