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Johnathan Hankins a quiet cornerstone of Giants' defense

Johnathan Hankins, left, celebrates his fourth-quarter sack against

Johnathan Hankins, left, celebrates his fourth-quarter sack against the Atlanta Falcons with teammate Antrel Rolle at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Jason Pierre-Paul leads the Giants with 9.5 sacks, and that's the way it should be. He's their most decorated, most talented defensive end and, in case you haven't noticed, he's in a contract year. He's racked up 6.0 of those sacks in the last three games.

But who has the second-most sacks this season? That's a tougher, less obvious question. And the answer is, in some ways, the least obvious player on the team.

Second-year defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, one of the quiet cornerstones of the defense, has the second-most sacks this season with 7.0, including 2.5 in Sunday's win over Washington. That's the most sacks by a Giants defensive tackle in a season since Keith Hamilton had 10.0 in 2000.

While Hankins may go largely unnoticed by the public, the coaches have had an eye on him since they used a second-round pick on him last year. He spent most of 2013 playing behind Linval Joseph, but when Joseph signed with the Vikings in the offseason, Hankins stepped right in. He's started all 14 games.

"I think Johnathan's been steady for us," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said last week. "It's deceiving when you watch him because you just think he's a big man that can't rush the passer. I think he does have pass-rush ability. I think he can push the pocket for us very well."

He showed that on Sunday. Heading into Week 15 he was ranked as the fifth-best defensive tackle in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Pro Bowlers Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Marcell Dareus were ahead of him. Rookie Aaron Donald was ahead of them all.

Hankins may be adept at getting to quarterbacks, but he has to hold the line against the run too.

"I think Johnathan does a good job with the center as well as the three-technique pressing the guards," Fewell said. "Last year he was a spot player for us. Then when we started to use him and use him a lot more when we had an injury, we found out that he can play any position on that defensive line, which he showed us in college."

Now he's showing it in the NFL. He's just not very showy about doing it.

New York Sports