Did the New York Giants find their answer at CB2 in week 17?

New York Giants, Julian Love

The New York Giants started the 2020 season with Corey Ballentine as their second corner alongside James Bradberry, who they signed during the off-season on a three-year deal. Bradberry ended up becoming a Pro Bowl level corner, who has dominated on a weekly basis for the Giants since exchanging his light blue jersey for a dark blue one.

However, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham still had a major problem opposite Bradberry, as he moved on from Ballentine after just one week. Ballentine earned 92% of defensive snaps in week one against Pittsburgh, and that number jumped to 45% in week two and fell to a measly 3% in week three. After that week three loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Giants barely used him at all, designating him to practice squad duties. They eventually cut him in week nine, and he latched on with the New York Jets.

After the Ballantine experiment failed, Graham moved onto Ryan Lewis, a former undrafted free agent who originally signed with the Buffalo Bills in 2018. He played in just five games this season following the replacement of Corey, but an injury derailed his campaign and once again created motion at CB2. Luckily, general manager Dave Gettleman allocated a seventh-round pick from 2021 for former third-round pick Isaac Yiadom, who made his way over from the Denver Broncos just before the regular season began.

Isaac really took hold in week eight, after Lewis picked up an injury. He had some ups and downs, with a season-high 77.2 coverage grade, per PFF against the Arizona Cardinals in week 14. However, his inconsistencies posed a significant problem, and after giving up two touchdowns in consecutive weeks against Cleveland and Baltimore, coordinator Graham elected to make another change. This is when second-year player Julian love finally earned the opportunity to test his talents at corner, his natural position.

Love was a fantastic corner at Notre Dame during his college years but made the transition to safety with the Giants in 2019 under James Bettcher. It took until week 17 of the second season to finally play the majority of reps as the number two corner. He finished with a 65.8 overall coverage grade, allowing 51 yards on four catches, but a majority came in the second half with Dallas trying to take a pass-centric road to victory.

The success Love enjoyed against Dallas poses a serious question, should he be considered as an option opposite Bradberry in 2021?

Realistically, the sample size is too small to guarantee Love the position moving forward, but he has the skillset and fundamentals down from his years at Notre Dame. I trust him more than Yiadom or any other practice squad players the Giants could possibly muster unless they allocate a solid draft choice toward upgrading the position.

The best-case scenario would be to find a solid corner who can compete with Love for the starting spot. It was encouraging to see him return to his natural state, and he looked like a good fit at the position. He understands Graham’s scheme well at this point, so the transition was seamless, and the hiccups were few and far between.

One thing he does have to work on is catching the football, as he dropped an interception while covering Amari Cooper on an out route in the second half. These are all things that can be worked on, but he has the natural instincts to be an adequate boundary corner.

New York Giants: Julian Love likely to fill in at outside cornerback in Week 15

New York Giants, Julian Love

The New York Giants‘ cornerback position is in a dire circumstance at the moment. Elite cornerback James Bradberry has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and will be out on Sunday night. Additionally, starting slot cornerback Darnay Holmes was out last week and is expected to be out again this week, as he has not practiced this week.

This leaves the Giants with few options at cornerback. Isaac Yiadom is healthy and will continue to start on the outside. But on the opposite side of Yiadom is a huge question mark. The Giants are likely to move rookie safety Xavier McKinney inside to play slot cornerback this week. However, the second outside cornerback position might also be played by a safety.

The Giants have a few talented safeties who could shift outside to cornerback this week. One intriguing option is second-year safety, Julian Love. The Giants drafted Julian Love in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft and he has been an excellent depth piece for them since last season.

Julian Love at outside cornerback

When the New York Giants drafted Julian Love last offseason, he was actually designated as a cornerback. Love played the cornerback position in college at Notre Dame. He occasionally played safety at the collegiate level but moved to the back end full-time once he was in the NFL.

Love is not the fastest guy by any means, which is why he is a better fit on the back end. But with few options outside this week, Julian Love could move back to his collegiate position against the Cleveland Browns.

Most of the beat reporters are predicting that Julian Love will play outside cornerback in Week 15. Upon being drafted, Julian Love had this to say about his alignment on the defense:

My skillset allows me to play outside or inside. Wherever they need me I’m going to compete. – Julian Love via the Giants on Twitter

According to Pro Football Focus, Julian Love played 8 total snaps at wide cornerback in his rookie season. This season, he has played only 6 snaps out wide. The majority of Julian’s snaps have come at free safety this season (453 snaps).

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com stated that “Love’s cover talent, intelligence, and ball skills give him a good shot at succeeding outside or from the slot,” prior to the NFL Draft. Finally, Giants fans might actually get to see Julian Love put those skills to use on the outside.

New York Giants moving toward benching Julian Love?

New York Giants, Julian Love

One of Patrick Graham’s best attributes is making adjustments to improve his unit. The New York Giants’ defense has been stellar through four weeks, despite an anomaly in week three against the San Francisco 49ers where the offense simply couldn’t stay on the field. A lopsided time of possession metric indicates that the defense was simply overwhelmed and broke toward the end of the third quarter.

Nonetheless, the defense still ranks 13th in overall points allowed and fifth in yards allowed per game. New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is a major reason for their recent success, despite many going into the year, thinking it would be a weakness.

Graham has made several changes to his roster in recent weeks, including factoring out Devante Downs at linebacker, benching cornerback Corey Ballentine, and taking reps away from starting free safety Julian Love.

Love start of the season at free safety, with Antoine Bethea leaving the team in free agency after the 2019 season. Up to this point, he has played in 81% of defensive snaps, but that is quickly decreasing with the return of Adrian Colbert, according to North Jersey Media Group’s Zack Rosenblatt.

Colbert is a former San Francisco 49ers cornerback and also has experience with the Miami Dolphins. His experience in Graham’s scheme should help the unit moving forward.

The Giants made a strange move in week 4, though, scheming Julian Love out of their game-plan and inserting Adrien Colbert at free safety to help fill the void of Jabrill Peppers. Love only played in 17 of 60 total defensive snaps. Per PFF, Colbert finished the contest with a 76.4 tackling grade and played five snaps in the box.

“He’s a guy who comes to work every day, plays with a high motor,” Judge said. “I think he’s making some plays for us. He’s been flying around with high energy, he’s good for the defense out there, he’s good for the team just being a good team player.”

Colbert is likely to earn a majority of the reps on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys in week five. Colbert can sit back in the deep secondary and operate at his ideal position with Peppers slated to return to his normal role at strong safety.

In this scenario, Love will return to his utility-man role and fill needs as Graham sees fit.

New York Giants Injuries: Jabrill Peppers out and Julian Love questionable

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers

The New York Giants have already been hit hard enough by injuries this season, but luck isn’t letting up on them. Jabrill Peppers has been questionable ever since his injury in the most recent loss, but after not participating on Friday practice he has been ruled out entirely.

The blow comes harder for the Giants considering the preseason injury to Xavier McKinney. With both the projected starting safeties from before the season sitting out, the team is in an awkward spot at the position going into a matchup with the Rams, who scored more than 30 points in each of their last two games.

Peppers isn’t the only player in the secondary that might miss time against the Rams. The secondary is pretty banged up in general and defensive back Julian Love may also be out. Love’s status is only questionable, but it doesn’t look good that he hasn’t been confirmed as healthy yet.

“We plan on having him practice. We’ll see how he’s moving around. He practiced well for us yesterday. We’ll see him out there today on the practice field,” Joe Judge said about Love before practice on Friday. But despite having limited participation in practice, nothing has been confirmed about Love being ready for Sunday’s game.

Love and Peppers are currently listed on ESPN’s depth chart as the starting safeties for the Giants. With potentially both of them out, it’s not a good outlook for the team. The Giants will have to get creative and experiment with the position, but even if they get an acceptable performance, it will be at the cost of taking talent away from the cornerback spot.

New York Giants: Logan Ryan Should Be On Big Blue’s Radar

New York Giants, Logan Ryan

The New York Giants have had a spate of bad luck in their young, talented secondary. First, DeAndre Baker, a potential starter at cornerback this season, got himself jammed up down in Florida in an assault/robbery incident that resulted in him getting indicted and then placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.

Then, third-year cornerback Sam Beal decided to opt out of playing this year due to coronavirus concerns. Now, this week comes the new that stud rookie safety Xavier McKinney broke a bone in his left foot that required surgery and will miss at least three months.

The solutions could come from within, but common sense says it probably shouldn’t.

“Any injury to our roster is a hit to us because we care about every player on our roster,” said head coach Joe Judge. “But it’s our responsibility to have everyone developed and make sure the next man is ready to go.”

At safety, that next man is Julian Love, a fourth round pick out of Notre Dame in last year’s NFL Draft who started at safety the last four games of the 2019 season. The Giants could simply hand the job back to Love and be done with it, but again, common sense says they could do better.

That is why the Giants should probably pursue former Rutgers and New England Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan, who is still available in free agency. Ryan is well known to head coach Joe Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post writes the Giants can certainly fit Ryan into their plans.

“A career 85-game starter, Ryan played 395 special teams snaps over his first three years with Judge as a special teams coach for the Patriots. Judge favors cross-training positions, and Ryan, 29, can play in the box, roam deep or lock into a one-on-one slot matchup.

The Giants’ reasoning for staying pat makes sense: With the NFL salary cap potentially dropping by 11.6 percent to $175 million per team in 2021, there is value in rolling over unused 2020 space (currently $25.6 million) to soften the blow when the team is more competitive. Ryan was willing to take a one-year, $10 million contract to return to the Tennessee Titans and initially wanted at least that annual salary to change teams.”

The Giants are apparently weighing their options. The salary cap will be going down in 2021 and they have a lot of mouths to feed. Evan Engram, Dalvin Tomlinson, Leonard Williams headline the list of players who will be free agents next year. With less cap room to play around with, they have to be smart with how they deploy their resources.

The rollover will go a long way in helping pay those young stars. McKinney will be back next year. So will Beal most likely and who knows about Baker. Using $10 million of that on Ryan, who could be seen as a band-aid for one year, may not be the direction the Giants feel like going.

In the interim, they appear to be content will sticking with Love next to Jabrill Peppers and free agent James Bradberry at one corner. They still have to fill the opening at the other corner and at slot corner. Rookie Darnay Holmes will likely win one of those spots with the other going to any number of the candidates in camp: Montre Hartage, Corey Ballentine, Chris Williamson, Grant Haley, Jarren Williams, Dravon Askew-Henry, KeiVarae Russell, Brandon Williams and Prince Smith.

None of those players would bring the stability that Ryan brings. Not that anyone can see, anyway. They are in a corner, no pun intended, and the only way out may be to spend.

 

New York Giants: Free Agent Safeties Who Could Fill In For McKinney

New York Giants, Antoine Bethea

The New York Giants suffered a huge loss today. Rookie safety Xavier McKinney has suffered a broken foot that will keep him sidelined for months. McKinney was one of the most exciting rookies on the Giants. He was primed to play a major role as a starter in the Giants’ new defense.

Now, with McKinney sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Giants have a huge hole to fill on the back end. Julian Love is likely to start at free safety now, but the depth is lacking in the Giants’ secondary.

Logan Ryan

Many Giants fans have been crying out for their team to sign free agent cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan had an up-and-down season with the Titans in 2019, but he put together a pretty spectacular statistical season.

Ryan is a former member of the Patriots as well, so he is familiar with Joe Judge. Logan could easily slide in as the starter in the slot cornerback position,  but he has experience playing on the outside as well, and even at safety.

If the Giants were to sign Logan Ryan, it would not be cheap. Ryan is reportedly seeking a contract worth more than $10 million. But his versatility would allow the Giants to gain depth at more than one position. Ryan could fill in at safety, slot cornerback, or outside cornerback, depending on where the Giants need him most.

Tony Jefferson

If the Giants want to get a pure safety, there are some veteran options they could take a look at. Tony Jefferson is one of those options. Jefferson is twenty-eight-years-old now and is a free agent after spending the last three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.

One area of concern, though, is Jefferson’s injury history. Tony suffered a torn ACL in the fifth game of the 2019 season, sidelining him for the rest of the year. This was a huge loss in the Ravens’ secondary, as Jefferson was on the field for nearly every single defensive snap in Baltimore.

Jefferson was formerly a strong safety, playing in the box and making an impact in the run game. But he moved over to free safety last year. He could be a solid depth piece at either the free safety or strong safety position for the Giants, depending on where Julian Love lines up.

Antoine Bethea

The Giants could bring back a familiar face. It might not go over too well with the fanbase, but general manager Dave Gettleman could look to bring back the Giants’ starting safety from 2019, Antoine Bethea.

Bethea started all sixteen games for the Giants in 2019. He totaled 110 combined tackles, one interception, and six passes defended. But Bethea was very inconsistent for the Giants and struggled at times in coverage. He is also thirty-six-years-old, so he is not a spring chicken at this point in his career. Antoine would not at all be a long-term answer at the safety position. He would have to be signed on a one-year deal. But Gettleman’s familiarity with Bethea could entice him to re-sign the veteran.

Do the New York Giants have a 3-headed monster on defense?

New York Giants, Xavier McKinney, Jabrill Peppers

What the New York Giants are trying to achieve on defense does not happen in one off-season. General manager Dave Gettleman instituted a full roster rebuild after the 2018 season, trading away Odell Beckham Jr. and allocating a ton of draft capital toward rebuilding the secondary.

While the rebuild hasn’t shown many positive signs, youth agendas don’t normally translate to wins in the NFL. However, going into the second year of the rebuild, improvement should be on the horizon.

A big part of the team’s mantra on defense is versatility and creativity. Hiring defensive coordinator Patrick Graham will guarantee a reliance on man coverage and a schemed pass rush.

The secondary remains the biggest concern, after starting cornerback DeAndre Baker was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List and reserve option Sam Beal opted out of the 2020 season. The safeties represent the unit with the most potential in the backfield, and head coach Joe Judge has high expectations for them on a weekly basis.

“Versatility’s a huge part of all of our systems – offense, defense and the kicking game,” Judge said. “Our defense is going to be multiple. That’s both by base scheme, it’s also going to be based by game plan, who the opponent is. You’re going to see four to six DBs on the field at certain times.

New York Giants’ three-headed monster:

1.) Xavier McKinney

When the New York Giants drafted Xavier McKinney with their second-round pick, nobody knew much about him. He was the number one rated safety on the board, but the Giants had a ton of other needs at the time. Nonetheless, he has a specific mold that allows him to transition from free to strong safety when called upon. He is fantastic in cover-1 defense and can move up to the line of scrimmage and play against the run. The biggest concern is tackling technique, but he understands his rookie season will be full of hiccups and developmental mistakes.

Nonetheless, his adaptation to the NFL has been more seamless than anticipated.

The former Alabama defender is familiar with the way head coach Joe Judge runs his team:

“When (coach Joe Judge) discussed some of his rules and how he wanted things to be handled and how we wanted us to be as a team, it was almost like a mirror version of how it was at Bama for me,” McKinney said. “As far as that, it was an easy adjustment for me. I’ve already been in this type of system. It wasn’t that hard of a transition.

According to Pro Football Focus, Xavier lined up as a strong safety on 323 snaps, free safety on 271, and slot corner on 227 in 2019 with the Crimson Tide.

Julian Love had a glowing review regarding McKinney:

“When Xavier was drafted, I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s great firepower for us,’ ” Love said. “I had heard about him, I know how he is as a person, as a player, how he prepares. I think that’s what we needed around here.”

2.) Jabrill Peppers

Jabrill Peppers had one of his best seasons in 2019, despite missing the final five games of the year with a hip injury. Making the permanent transition to strong safety has allowed him to play closer to the line of scrimmage and utilize his instincts to react.

A look at his stats (2017 & 2019 at SS):

2017 stats: 13 games — 58 combined tackles, 1 TFL, 0 QB hits, 3 PD, 0 FF, 1 INT

2019 stats: 11 games — 76 combined tackles, 5 TFL, 2 QB hits, 5 PD, 3 FF, 1 INT

He is better when aggressive then staying deep in the secondary as a ball hawk. I expect him to lock down opposing tight ends and provide coverage the Giants have lacked at the position in recent years.

“I see energy (in Peppers),” Head Coach Joe Judge told reporters last week. “You hear him before you see him. You know when he’s in the room. He’s a lively guy, he brings a lot of energy to the team, a lot of energy to the locker room. You can tell he’s a football guy. He loves ball. He flies around. You can tell if guys are on the field, whether it’s conditioning, whether it’s the limited version of practice we had this morning, you can tell football guys. He’s definitely a ball guy.”

3.) Julian Love

One player who has been standing out during padded practices is second-year defensive back, Julian Love. Despite playing predominantly cornerback at Notre Dame during college, he has made the transition to safety and has taken well to the position. The New York Giants are trying to utilize him as a utility player who can fill multiple roles and play based on matchups.

“There’s just a learning curve, so you’ve seen him improve every day,” coach Joe Judge said. “He’s been more vocal. That’s important in his role, being the signal-caller in the deep part of the field.

“He has the athletic ability that we’re going to play him in a different variety of spots based on the matchups. You see him play up in some man-coverage sometimes. We’re going to move him around as needed.”

Having a player like Love that can fill-in and start in specific scenarios is exciting. Pairing him with McKinney and Peppers should give the defense creativity but hasn’t been present for a long time. With a simpler and more fundamental style scheme under Graham, Love can maximize his talents and contribute to a team that desperately needs a semblance of improvement.

New York Giants: What makes Julian Love such an exciting player on defense?

New York Giants, Julian Love

When the New York Giants drafted Julian Love in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL draft, most saw him as purely a cornerback. However, in his rookie season, Love played multiple positions, starting at strong safety after Jabrill peppers went down with a hip injury in week 12.

Similar to baseball, the Giants have developed Love like a utility player. His ability to play multiple positions and fill in due to injury makes him valuable.

The New York Giants should be excited about Love:

The issue, Love isn’t a depth player; he has the talent to be a starter. The former Fighting Irish corner played 97% of the Giants’ defensive snaps in the final five games of the campaign. He racked up 35 tackles, five tackles for a loss, one quarterback hit, one interception, three passes defended, and one forced fumble.

According to PFF, Love was the ninth-best safety in the box over the final six weeks of the 2019 season. He allowed just 19 yards on 80 coverage snaps. In an ESM exclusive interview with him this summer, he detailed how he would often move too close to the line of scrimmage as a free safety. It was clear that his rookie campaign was used as a developmental one, allowing him to gain his sea legs at multiple positions. This gives the Giants starting level talent behind players like Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, slot CB, and CB2.

With corners DeAndre Baker and Sam Beal set to miss the 2020 season, Love could compete for a starting role at CB2. His 4.55 40-yard dash at the Combine was a bit slow for a boundary corner, which convinced the Giants to develop him elsewhere. However, he played primarily corner at Notre Dame, so he has the experience to fill in if need be.

ESPN released a list of their top 25 young prospects, in which Love made the cut.

ESPN’s Rivers McCown stated regarding Love:  

“One of the youngest players on the list, Love was an easy middle-of-the-field pick for the Giants in the middle rounds of the draft, and one of the few players who showed Dave Gettleman recognizes that the passing game exists. Love essentially didn’t break the lineup until Week 12 but played almost all the Giants snaps from Week 13 to the end of the season. Over that span, we have Love credited with 21 targets into his coverage, of which he allowed just 72 yards and one touchdown. He moved from cornerback to strong safety to replace the injured Jabrill Peppers.

Coming out of Notre Dame in 2019, Love was regarded as a very safe fit as an NFL slot corner with great coverage instincts. The combine caused his draft stock some damage because he ran a 4.55 40-yard dash, just under the 4.6 mark that draftniks generally consider a corner too slow. That was the main grievance that took him out of the top two rounds despite breaking up 39 passes in his final two seasons for the Irish.

With the selection of Xavier McKinney in the second round, the Giants have the makings of a good nickel or dime set with Love, McKinney and Peppers. We don’t exactly know what Love is going to technically be called, be it safety or corner, but he’s going to play in the middle of the field and he’s going to cause havoc.”

New York Giants: 3 players on the roster to supplement loss of Sam Beal at cornerback

New York Giants, Julian Love

The New York Giants lost one of their cornerbacks on Wednesday, as third-year player Sam Beal opted out of the 2020 season. While we don’t know what personal issues might have been the cause, Beal will lose out on a fantastic opportunity to gain some lost ground after spending the last two seasons predominantly injured.

Of course, we wish him well and hope his family isn’t affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, his departure opens the door for multiple players to lock down the CB2 spot.

Let’s take a look at three players on the roster the New York Giants could elevate:

1.) Darnay Holmes

When entering the NFL, most penciled Darnay Holmes in as the Giants’ starting nickel corner. Interestingly, Holmes never played slot corner in college, he only earned a few reps during the Senior Bowl. After being coined the best nickel corner in the draft by analysts, without ever seeing live reps there, the Giants shouldn’t feel the need to stick him at the position immediately. With Beal and DeAndre Baker likely missing the 2020 campaign, Holmes should be given the opportunity to compete at CB2.

Holmes has a similar frame to former Giant Janoris Jenkins (5-foot-10, 195-pounds), so the idea that he is too small is completely untrue. Holmes is a competitive athlete who has a great character. His leadership mentality and great tangible traits make him a primed player to take a stab at the void position. However, I believe he should compete in the slot as well.

In 2019, he played on a high ankle sprain with UCLA. His toughness and grit are at the forefront of his positive qualities, and I believe he has the drive to earn an opportunity at CB2 and at nickle.

With that being said, he is still somewhat of a raw prospect that needs some refinement. Adapting to NFL size and speed is not an easy task, as Sterling Shepard showed him a few weeks ago during a training session. Shepard’s quick-twitch abilities were too much for Holmes, who was left tracking Shepard a few steps behind. Camp should give him ample experience and reps against NFL talent, which will prove to be essential in his progress toward becoming a starter.

New York Giants: ESPN predicts Julian Love to be breakout player for Big Blue

New York Giants, Julian Love

The New York Giants are doing interesting things with Julian Love in the secondary. Similar to baseball, having a utility player allows teams to supplement positions that I’ve been hit by injury or inadequate play. The same is happening with Love, as he is being groomed to play strong safety, free safety, and cornerback.

Having the ability to play three positions in the NFL makes him extremely valuable, and while I don’t think he will be acting as an every play starter, his impact can be significant.

The New York Giants watched a player blossom:

In 2019, Love earned his first opportunities when starting strong safety Jabrill peppers went down in week 12. After hurting his hip on a punt return, Peppers was forced to miss the rest of the season, allowing Love to showcase his skills. In his first game against the Chicago Bears, Julian earned his first career interception.

According to Giants.com, love played in at least 97% of the Giants’ defensive snaps in the final five games of the 2019 season. He looked comfortable playing close to the line of scrimmage against the run and dropping back into coverage.

The former Notre Dame product entered the NFL as a cornerback forward player, but he has adapted quickly to the different positions in the secondary. He finished his rookie season with 35 combined tackles, five tackles for loss, one quarterback hit, one interception, three passes defended, and one forced fumble. PFF ranked love as the number 13 defensive back on its top 50 NFL rookie rankings list. He was the ninth-best safety in the box post-Peppers and only allowed 18 yards in coverage.

ESPN was another outlet that named love as a potential breakout player in 2020.

As ESPN’s Rivers McCown writes, “One of the youngest players on the list, Love was an easy middle-of-the-field pick for the Giants in the middle rounds of the draft, and one of the few players who showed Dave Gettleman recognizes that the passing game exists. Love essentially didn’t break the lineup until Week 12 but played almost all the Giants snaps from Week 13 to the end of the season. Over that span, we have Love credited with 21 targets into his coverage, of which he allowed just 72 yards and one touchdown. He moved from cornerback to strong safety to replace the injured Jabrill Peppers.

Overall, the Giants secure a steal in Love as a fourth-round pick in 2019. He has a crucial role to play on the Giants, and with injuries such a big part of the game, he will be there to supplement any losses. He is an excellent player, and we are just starting to see the type of potential he holds moving forward.