Giants’ rookie corner could steal the starting slot job

Sep 30, 2023; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats defensive back Andru Phillips (23) (New York Giants) celebrates an incomplete pass intended for Florida Gators wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (1) during the second quarter at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports, new york giants
Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are gearing up to field an extremely inexperienced secondary this upcoming season. Deonte Banks will continue to be the team’s top option on the outside, but the competition for the CB2 spot is wide open, with Cor’Dale Flott and Nick McCloud as the primary contenders.

The Giants Are Leaning on Inexperience

The Giants recently signed veteran Tre Herndon to a minimum contract. However, his performance has been inconsistent throughout his career, suggesting that he should not be considered a starting-level player at this stage. Additionally, the Giants drafted Andru Phillips from Kentucky in the third round, positioning him in the nickel spot, which marks a significant transition.

Tennessee wide receiver Squirrel White (10) is tackled by Kentucky defensive back Andru Phillips (23) during a football game between Kentucky and Tennessee at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.
Credit: Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Phillips, a 22-year-old rookie, played 653 snaps last season at Kentucky, accumulating 44 tackles and conceding 435 yards in coverage. He allowed three touchdowns and achieved four pass breakups, with a reception rate of 68.5%. Although Phillips had some standout games, he notably struggled in a game against Missouri, where he gave up 85 yards and a touchdown. His missed tackle rate of 22.6% raises concerns, especially since he will be playing in the slot, where tackling efficiency is crucial.

Potential and Transition

Despite these concerns, the Giants are optimistic about Phillips’s potential. He was one of the standout interviewees at the combine, prompting the Giants to bet on his intellect and physical upside. Given that Phillips only has two years of substantial game experience and was not an ideal fit in Kentucky’s defensive scheme, his transition to the Giants could be more favorable.

Shane Bowen, who prefers zone over man coverage, could be a beneficial influence for Phillips. His pre-snap understanding of the opposing offense and his ability to be in the right position are key assets. Phillips has shown he can stick to routes well; however, his lack of physicality on contested catches makes the inside position more suitable for him, where he can anticipate and undercut routes effectively.

The Road Ahead for Phillips

The Giants are likely impressed with his reaction timing, which should help him manage faster receivers in the slot and aid his transition. Ultimately, Phillips’s development will hinge on his experience—the more he plays, the better he is expected to become.

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