The New York Giants‘ secondary dealt with peaks and valleys in 2019. There were some big-plays mixed in with plenty of rookie mistakes and persistent struggles against top offenses. New York invested a lot of draft capital into its secondary in 2019 and doubled down this offseason.
The Giants made a big splash-signing at cornerback in free agency. They then followed that up by drafting a potential day-one starter at slot cornerback this past weekend. The New York Giants’ secondary is now loaded with young, versatile talents. The potential is there for the Giants to have one of the best young secondaries in the NFL in 2020.
The Versatile Safeties
Jabrill Peppers, Julian Love, and Xavier McKinney combine to create arguably the most versatile safety group in the NFL. Each of the players in this trio can line up in at least three different positions. Julian Love has played slot cornerback, deep free safety, and in-the-box strong safety. Jabrill Peppers is primarily an in-the-box strong safety but has also played linebacker and deep safety. In college, Xavier McKinney played over 200 snaps at three different positions; 323 snaps in the box, 227 in the slot, and 271 deep (PFF).
Thie trio of versatile safeties will allow Patrick Graham to be very creative with his defense. Having three different safeties that can each play three different positions efficiently will keep opposing offenses guessing. Typically there are only two safeties on the field at a time, but with this trio, Giants fans can expect to see plenty of three-safety looks.
Young, Talented Outside Cornerbacks
The Giants have invested heavily in their secondary over the past two years. They spent a first-round pick on DeAndre Baker last year. Baker struggled for much of his rookie season but seemed to show significant signs of improvement towards the end of the year. In 2020, DeAndre will start on the outside again and hopefully build on a promising finish to the 2019 season.
Starting opposite of Baker as the Giants’ primary cornerback will be newly signed free agent James Bradberry. Bradberry, coming from Carolina, is no stranger to following top-tier receiving talent. Bradberry shadowed the likes of Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Michael Thomas twice a year as a member of the Panthers. He will instantly join the Giants’ secondary as the best coverage man and take on the most challenging tasks for the defense week to week.
DeAndre Baker and James Bradberry will man the outside cornerback positions. But who will play the slot/nickel cornerback position? There will be a competition to see who gets that starting role but expect to see a rotation in this position.
Nickel Cornerback Competition
Last year, the slot cornerback position was manned by Grant Haley and Corey Ballentine. Haley struggled immensely in coverage but demonstrated impressive open-field tackling. Ballentine, a sixth-round draft pick from 2019, was not ready to perform and struggled considerably. But he showed a lot of promise last preseason, so hopefully, Ballentine can take a step forward and improve in 2020.
The latest addition to the slot cornerback position is 2020 fourth-round pick, Darnay Holmes, out of UCLA. Holmes played on the outside in college, but his limited size will move him into the slot at the professional level. Holmes did try out nickel cornerback at the Senior Bowl this year, and he said he loved it. Analysts pointed out that he excelled in that new role in Mobile.
The Giants have plenty of depth at the slot cornerback position. But who will be the starter at the nickel? As I stated earlier, expect to see rotation. Since day one, Joe Judge has made it clear: players will play to their strengths. They will not be asked to do things at which they are not proficient. These three slot cornerbacks all have different skillsets that can be applied in various ways.
Maximizing Potential Through Rotations
For example, Grant Haley struggles in coverage but is a solid open-field tackler. This is why the Giants can use Haley in goal-line or short-yardage packages. Third-and-goal, fourth-and-two, Grant Haley can go in there and make a clutch tackle to keep the defense short of the line to gain.
On the flip side, in long-yardage situations and obvious passing-downs, Darnay Holmes’s speed and athleticism will come into play. He has the speed to keep up with quicker receivers going deep and the coverage ability to stick with slot receivers on deep-breaking routes.
The Giants’ two-year investment into the secondary is paying off. They have the versatility and flexibility to move their players around and put them in the best situations possible to make an impact. Giants fans should be ecstatic about the foundation that has been laid out for the future of the defense.