After a July 4th fireworks accident cost him his right index finger and the portion of two others, many believed the career of New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was over. But not only did he make a “miracle” return in 2015, he’ll now be heavily relied upon entering 2016.
When the New York Giants open training camp in late July, all eyes will be on their rookies and free agent additions. But an equally interesting storyline will be the return of two-time Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the team at the onset of free agency.
A year removed from a horrific accident that could have cost him his life, Pierre-Paul will return to the football field with a healed hand, no monstrous oven mitt and a new role. He’ll no longer be a singular force at the right defensive end spot, instead shifting over to the left side and allowing prized free agent addition, Olivier Vernon, to take over his former territory.
But Pierre-Paul’s new role won’t simply be relegated to the opposite side of the defensive line. Rather, as ESPN’s Dan Graziano reports, he’ll likely be used across the entirety of the line, sometimes playing left defensive end and sometimes playing defensive tackle.
That sort of versatility has become a staple of Steve Spagnuolo-coached defenses and proved its worth in Super Bowl XLII by way of Justin Tuck. And while Pierre-Paul’s hand may add a new wrinkle to that fabric, it’s not something he envisions slowing him down.
“Seven years in, I’ve played both sides,” Pierre-Paul said during the team’s mini-camp. “I’ll be on the right, I’ll be on the left. I’ve played both, so it’s really not a big problem.
“I am the player I used to be. Just a couple injuries here and there, but I’m all right. I’ll be better than I was.”
Limited by the large mitt on his hand a season ago, Pierre-Paul recorded only a single sack (of Cam Newton) upon his return. But that lone statistic really doesn’t tell the story of how effective JPP was or how effective he could be this coming season — particularly when you consider he can no longer be consistently double-teamed.
While Pierre-Paul struggled to bring down quarterbacks because of his lack of grip, he didn’t necessarily struggle in getting to them. In his eight games (502 defensive snaps) last season, Pierre-Paul was credited with 24 quarterback hurries which was good for 12th-best in the league. Comparatively, Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt was credited with 26 quarterback hurries over his 16 games (1,001 defensive snaps).
Breaking that down further, only eight defensive linemen were credited with more quarterback hurries than Pierre-Paul, while none with 400 or more defensive snaps had a higher percentage of quarterback hurries.
On a per-game basis, Pierre-Paul averaged three quarterback hurries which, again, topped the NFL. And if those numbers were to be pro-rated over a 16-game schedule, JPP would have finished the season with 48 quarterback hurries, second only to Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston who closed the 2015 campaign with 51.
Thanks in large part to an offseason hand surgery aimed at improving his grip strength, Pierre-Paul can now turn those quarterback hurries into some sacks. He’ll no longer be limited by his mitt, no longer be limited by double-teams on the right side and no longer be limited by bones breaking through his skin.
At the end of the day (royalties to Antrel Rolle), it’s not just going to be lip service from Pierre-Paul. When he says he’s going to be better than he ever was, he means it. And he’ll be hell-bent on proving it.
And that begs the question: are you down with JPP?