Prior to the start of the 2020 season, the New York Giants were extremely excited to insert second-round safety Xavier McKinney into their defense. With a new scheme and personnel across-the-board, the Giants finally committed to the rebuild, as head coach Joe Judge took control and began to lay the foundation for the future.
McKinney was expected to be a focal point for the defense this year but unfortunately suffered a foot fracture earlier in training camp. He has missed every game leading up to week 11, but there is hope that he can see the field in week 12 against the Cincinnati Bengals. This would be the perfect opportunity for him to gain some essential reps against a lackluster offense that just lost star quarterback Joe Burrow. However, easing him into action is a priority, in hopes that he doesnâ€™t reaggravate the injury.
In 2019, McKinney recorded seven turnovers, including four forced fumbles, three interceptions, 5.5 tackles for a loss, and 3.0 sacks. With this type of production, the defense is gaining a true playmaker, and they are finally ready to roll out a three-headed monster at safety that will hopefully exercise Patrick Grahamâ€™s scheme to perfection.
How the New York Giants will use their trio of safeties:
Graham tends to focus on cover 1 defense with a healthy blend of man coverage, but he’s adaptable. This year, with a lackluster CB2, heâ€™s been forced to utilize more soft zone to keep the ball in front of his players and mitigate big plays downfield. This has worked well, despite the passing defense ranking 24th in the league. The rest of the defense has been stellar, ranking sixth and stopping the run and 12th in points allowed per game.
The big question is, where will McKinney play when he returns?
Most believe he will rotate with Julian Love at free safety, but it seems as if Logan Ryan better suits the position, and McKinney could move down to strong safety and play alongside Jabrill Peppers in a money-backer role, a position established by James Bettcher.
In fact, this trio of safeties is capable of doing many different things, as all three can play strong safety, free safety, and a blend of both. Creating confusion for opposing quarterbacks and keeping the offenses honest is exactly how they should be utilizing McKinney, Peppers, and Ryan.
Peppers has been solid this year, playing strong safety but has had trouble in coverage at times. Heâ€™s allowed 339 total yards and one touchdown, which is the most yardage he has allowed since his inception into the NFL in 2017. However, he has been solid against the run, posting 50 combined tackles and four tackles for a loss through nine games.
This is why I suggest McKinney potentially moving to the strong safety position, where he can cover at a more efficient rate and utilize his aggressiveness against the run.
Ryan, who believes he can be the best safety in the NFL, has been a godsend for the Giants this season. After they lost McKinney, management elected to sign Ryan as a supplement. He has been the glue that holds the defense together, communication-wise, and has a playmaker. He had a timely interception against Washington two weeks ago and has been average across-the-board. That is the most the Giants could hope for it in a new scheme, but he has once again been successful in many different categories.
Ryan has lined up as a strong safety, free safety, and cornerback this season but has spent the last three games in a deeper portion of the field. That is why I expect McKinney to rotate down to strong safety if he earns any reps in week 12.