New York Giants: How will Xavier McKinney fit into the defense?

New York Giants, Xavier McKinney, Jabrill Peppers

After the conclusion of the 2020 NFL draft, the New York Giants were confident they would have a solid secondary with free-agent signing James Bradberry and landing safety Xavier McKinney in the second round. Adding these two players constituted as major upgrades at both spots, as the Giants previously had Janoris Jenkins and Antoine Bethea.

Bradberry has been an elite corner since joining the Giants, earning better coverage grades than Jalen Ramsey and Stephon Gilmore. In fact, without Bradberry’s services, the Giants’ defense wouldn’t be ranked in the top 10 in points allowed per game.

The secondary has struggled a bit, allowing the 23rd most yards, but Bradberry has been stellar in coverage, holding down his side of the field and assignments efficiently.

The one player that still hasn’t made his NFL debut yet is McKinney, who suffered a fractured foot during training camp before the regular season began. This was a deafening blow to the defense, forcing management to sign a replacement, which eventually ended up being Logan Ryan.

While the Giants were hoping they didn’t have to acquire a player like Ryan, he has been a focal point on defense and one of the communicative leaders they needed to help the young players gel. Through 10 weeks, Logan has a 63.9 overall grade, recording 59 total tackles, four QB hits, 1.0 sack, seven passes defended, one INT, and a 60.5% completion rate against. He’s also allowed just one score.

Overall, Ryan has been a blessing for Patrick Graham’s unit and could, in fact, earn an extension because of his play. His permanent transition to safety has boded well so far, but the Giants will have to make a decision when McKinney returns in the coming weeks.

The former Alabama product is a student of the game who understands his role and dominates in cover 1 defense. He is capable of moving up to play against the run but also drop into deep coverage to limit big plays downfield.

The understanding of Graham’s defense and how they switch will be essential in his adaptation to the NFL, and I believe the Giants will rotate McKinney and Julian Love for the time being.

Love has filled the free safety spot in the absence of Xavier, posting a 49.5 overall grade, per PFF. He has been about average in the coverage department but performed well as a tackler. He’s a solid run defender but hasn’t allowed a reception the past few weeks in coverage.

Despite not being hit with any completed receptions, the Giants have been gashed and the deeper portion of the field due to inadequate coverage on the back-end. McKinney has great range in-game speed, so it is possible that his injection into the defense will help mitigate those concerns.

Of course, it is important to temper expectations for McKinney, who did have some tackling issues in college and ran a poor 40-yard dash time. Cramping did affect that result, but coming off a serious foot injury will also be problematic to the start of his career in-game.

Nonetheless, I expect to see a rotation between Love and McKinney awk free safety, as they simply can’t afford to take Ryan or Jabrill Peppers off the field.