The safety duo of Jabrill Peppers and Xavier McKinney can be elite for the New York Giants:
On paper, New York Giants‘ safety Jabrill Peppers and 2020 2nd-round draft pick Xavier McKinney are very similar. Both are able to play up in the box and free safety on defense, attesting to their versatility and dynamic styles of play.
However, before this duo can reach its potential and play at an elite level, we must look at each individual player and how they fit into defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme.
While coaching the Miami defense in 2019, Graham blitzed on 35% of their snaps, which ranked seventh in frequency among all NFL teams. On third down, the unit blitzed 41% of the time, which was the third-highest rate. GRaham utilized linebackers and safeties significantly on blitzes and to drop back in coverage. Both Peppers and McKinney will be used heavily in that role and likely interchange to keep defenses on their toes.
Expect to a varying amount of players with their hand in the dirt at the line of scrimmage or standing tall, looking as if they’re going to blitz but actually dropping back into coverage. While Miami’s defense ranked among the worst in the league last season, Graham didn’t have much talent utilize. After trading Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dolphins were void of much quality at any position.
I anticipate seeing plenty of three safety looks with the McKinney, Peppers, and second-year player, Julian Love. The Giants will likely stick with a base 3-4 defense, which consists of two outside linebackers, three interior defensive linemen, a middle linebacker, and an inside linebacker.
For a majority of snaps, McKinney will likely be in the free safety spot while Peppers manning the box. However, Xavier can easily move up to the line of scrimmage and rush the passer, as he tallied three sacks as a junior for Alabama last season. His five tackles for a loss were also impressive, and his ability to create turnovers should indicate him being around the ball plenty. He caused four forced fumbles and intercepted three passes in 2019. The Giants haven’t had a capable safety like McKinney in years, and pairing him with Peppers, who also recorded three forced fumbles and one interception, could be extremely successful.
As for Peppers, his stats saw a major increase last season in five fewer games compared to 2018. He equaled or improved in every category at the strong safety position with the Giants, after moving from free safety spot with the Cleveland Browns two seasons ago. His special team snaps saw a major decrease with Big Blue (61% in 2018 to 3% in 2019), though, which could have played a part in his fatigue.
The hope is that Peppers can fully recover from a hip injury that ended his season prematurely. If McKinney can develop quickly and lock down the defensive backfield, it will give Jabrill more range and mobility to rush the passer and lockdown opposing tight ends. The Giants were burned far too often on deep plays in 2019, directly correlated to lackluster performances from Antoine Bethea at free safety and poor cornerback play.