New York Giants: Olivier Vernon’s transition, one year later

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Kirk Cousins
LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Kirk Cousins /

One year after joining the New York Giants, a look at Olivier Vernon’s transition to becoming a force on the Big Blue defense.

The New York Giants made plenty of defensive splashes last offseason, Olivier Vernon being one of them. Big Blue locked down Vernon with a five-year, $85 million contract that included $52.5 million guaranteed. Along with the acquisitions of Janoris Jenkins and Damon Harrison, expectations were high for a defensive unit that ranked dead last in the NFL in 2015 with 6,725 yards allowed. Boy, did these signings pay dividends.

A transition period is difficult for anybody, athlete or not. Yet for a veteran player like Vernon, it seemed rather seamless in his trip from sunny Miami to blustery East Rutherford. Last offseason, Vernon spoke candidly about his transition to the Giants system and how the overall defensive unit was progressing together (via

"“The chemistry is building right now. It’s building blocks right now and you have to build that foundation. Have it keep going into training camp after these few weeks off and take it from there. Sky is the limit.”"

Knowing that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has a reputation for running unique plays, Vernon immediately began studying the playbook inside and out. Similar to many other veterans, Vernon did not want to be caught overthinking the play calls on the field. After all, any organization never wants to see one of their players looking flustered on the field. With the help of Spagnuolo’s explanations of the schemes and his study habits, Vernon was able to catch on quickly (via

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"“With Spags, he does a great job of being creative,” Vernon explained. “A lot of creativity in the play calling that he does. Guys like it, having some kind of swag to it. Spags does a good job of that and having everyone catch on and understand the defense and what’s going on.”"

Vernon definitely took to the creativity of Spags’ calls, leading the team with 8.5 sacks and rounding out the top five in most tackles in 2016. His first year with Big Blue was a definite improvement from his previous year in Miami, when he recorded 7.5 sacks. In his first year in the Giants defensive system, Vernon ranked 21st in sacks.

Not much has changed this year in terms of the Giants defensive personnel. Big Blue’s defensive line has remained the same, with the exception of Johnathan Hankins’ departure for the Colts. To fill that void, the Giants drafted Dalvin Tomlinson, who has been widely reported as “NFL ready” since draft day. Taking that into consideration, there is no reason that Vernon’s numbers will not continue to increase in 2017.

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Last season, he was still adjusting to the defensive scheme and his surrounding cast. This season, he has perfected the system and has the majority of his surrounding cast returning. Seeing Vernon notch double-digit sacks (11 sticks out to me) seems perfectly feasible when looking at that equation.

In all honesty, I would have projected higher numbers for him if it weren’t for the rise of Jason Pierre-Paul in 2016. JPP began to show glimpses of his old self last season after an adjustment year came close to derailing his career. In 2016, JPP finished with seven sacks — six more than the one he recorded in the eight games he played in 2015. This year will be a continuation of last and Giants fans will see a resurgent JPP, a guy who is much more involved in rushing and blitzing the passer.

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Vernon joined the Giants last season in July, making an enormous impact throughout the 2016 season as he was integral in massively improving the defense. In 2017, he looks to keep doing more of the same.