Don ‘Wink’ Martindale worked wonders with the New York Giants’ defense at times in 2022, but his schemes succeeded largely thanks to the talent at his disposal. Specifically, two players the defensive coordinator believes have Hall of Fame potential.
Martindale identified All-Pro nose tackle Dexter Lawrence II and second-year edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux as starters without “ceilings” for their careers. Speaking to Steve Serby of the New York Post, Martindale was asked about Lawrence targeting a place in Canton: “I wouldn’t put anything past him. I think Dex, and I think Kayvon (Thibodeaux), second-year player, I don’t think they have ceilings. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I think that any goal that he has, I think that’s great that he’s talking about that.”
Lawrence, who recently signed a new contract, quickly stated his ambition to be enshrined at the end of a decorated career: My ultimate goal is to be legendary, to be a Hall of Famer. I want to be a Hall of Famer.”
It’s a lofty aim, but if Lawrence can string together seven to 10 seasons like his banner campaign in ’22, he’ll definitely be in the conversation for the Hall. It’s a different story for last year’s fifth-overall pick Thibodeaux, who flashed the potential for greatness as a rookie, but needs to add more to his stat sheet in Year 2.
All-Pro Ready for Bigger Things
Lawrence was downright destructive at times last season, en route to career-high tallies of 7.5 sacks and 36 pressures, per Pro Football Reference. Two of his sacks came against the Chicago Bears in Week 4, a game in which No. 97 rarely gave Justin Fields a moment of peace inside the pocket, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.
This wasn’t the only time Lawrence kept pace with the best defensive tackles in the NFL, ultimately earning his pay on a par with the premier players at his position, per Ralph Vacchiano of Fox Sports.
It’s exciting to think Lawrence could be even better this year. He’ll be helped by any progress from Thibodeaux, as well as the arrival of some new faces up front.
The newcomers include Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson. They will be tasked with fixing a soft run defense that surrendered a whopping 5.2 yards per carry, tied with the Detroit Lions for second most in the league, fewer than only the Los Angeles Chargers.
Martindale called on his revamped defense to “make a big jump” against the run, and Lawrence can play a key role with Nunez-Roches, Robinson and Williams helping occupy double teams.
Becoming more of a force on the ground is how Lawrence can improve his production, but it’s a different story for Thibodeaux.
Second-Year Standout Needs More Splash Plays
Translating pressures into sacks is the next step for Thibodeaux. He completed the process on just four occasions a season ago, despite being blitzed 49 times.
Thibodeaux was also the catalyst during Week 15’s 20-12 win over the Washington Commanders, a key victory on the road to the playoffs. He logged another strip-sack and recovered the fumble for a touchdown, in addition to making three tackles for loss and delivering another QB hit, per Pro Football Reference.
The Giants need more games like this from Thibodeaux. Performances like this are also commonplace for Hall-of-Famers.
That’s how Andy Robustelli, Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahand set a standard every would-be great pass-rusher for the Giants must meet. Lawrence is also striving to reach the standards of the past, set by Arnie Weinmeister.
If either Lawrence or Thibodeaux come close to emulating the greats of Giants’ history, Martindale will oversee a defense able to remain among the toughest in the league for the next decade.