New York Giants: The Underrated Benefit of Drafting a Cornerback

New York Giants, Patrick Surtain

As the 2021 NFL Draft swiftly approaches, the New York Giants are doing their best to make sure they get the No. 11 overall pick correct. Following a 2020 season that saw the team make strides towards competitiveness for the first time in years, it’s vital Big Blue makes the correct choice. Most mock drafts have suggested the team take an offensive-playmaker, a pass rusher, or an offensive lineman. While all of those options would greatly benefit the Giants, there’s one position that would kill two birds with one stone – cornerback.

The Underrated Benefit of Drafting a Cornerback at No. 11 Overall

The Role a Strong Secondary Plays in the Pass Rushing Game

On paper, a cornerback’s main duty is to defend against the opponent’s passing game. Whether that be via soft-zone, press-man, or any other scheme that Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham draws up, that is their job. A strong secondary-unit does more than just wreak havoc on opposing receivers and quarterbacks though. It allows the pass rush to get after the QB and forces the opponent to adjust their style of play. The Giants would reap the major benefits of this style of play by taking a defensive-back in round one this spring.

Following the 2019 season, the Giants knew they needed to improve their secondary. They allowed the fifth-most passing yards per game in the NFL and consistently failed to get off the field in crunch-time. To fix this issue they went out and signed James Bradberry. Bradberry outperformed all expectations in his first year with Big Blue in 2020, earning the first pro-bowl nod of his career. But it wasn’t only Bradberry who enjoyed a successful season – the entire Giants secondary improved significantly. The team allowed 26.2 less yards per game through the air and finished as the 17th-ranked unit in the league. Along with the improved pass defense came an uptick in pressure on the QB.

The Giants finished 2020 tied for the 11th-most sacks in the NFL with 40, 11 spots higher than their ranking in 2019. Despite not signing a dominant pass rusher in free agency last offseason, their pass rush improved. How? Strong play from the secondary. It’s not a coincidence both sections of the defense improved either. Almost all of the best passing defenses rushed the passer effectively in 2020.

The Correlation Between a Strong Passing Defense/Sacks

Of the six-best defenses against the pass in 2020, three of them finished in the top-six for sacks. On the other end of the rankings the correlation is relevant as well. Of the 10-worst pass defenses, five of them were in the bottom-10 for total sacks. A strong secondary allows the defensive line to produce something called a “coverage sack.” That is when a team forces the QB to hold onto the ball for an extended period of time, allowing the pass rushers to blow the play up.

The biggest example of a player benefitting from strong secondary play, and converting on “coverage sacks” is the Giants own Leonard Williams. In eight games with the team in 2019 Williams posted a measly 0.5 sacks. He did, however, register 11 hits on the QB. It was clear in 2019 that Williams needed only one more second to turn those hits into sacks. And when he received that extra second this past season, he made it count.

In 16 games with Big Blue in 2020 Williams was simply dominant. His 11.5 sacks led the team and were the 7th-most in the NFL. Nothing much about the former No. 6 overall pick changed heading into 2020. He was the same player but this time around had a group of high-football-IQ players behind him. He pounced on his secondary’s success and showed everyone why he was taken so high back in 2015.

Who Would be in Play at No. 11

If the Giants were to go the CB route in round one, which I strongly endorse, there are two players on the table: Patrick Surtain from Alabama and Caleb Farley out of Virginia Tech. Both are projected to be lockdown corners at the next level, and with good reason. Each played against top-tier competition while in college, possess nearly identical long, rangy frames, as well as a wealth of skill to play in almost any type of defense. They’re each projected to go in the top-15 of the draft this April.

Let’s say the Giants like Surtain a bit more because of coach Judge’s connection to Alabama, and take him at No. 11. He would immediately slide into CB2 opposite Bradberry. It’s fair to say the Giants would have one of, if not the best CB duo in the NFL with that pairing. It would be extremely difficult for an opposing to QB to find an open receiver each play, thus giving the d-line time to do their job.

There’s no need to draft an edge rusher at No. 11 overall or overpay for one in free agency this offseason. Continue to build up the secondary and the sack production will increase as a result. When there’s a chance to fill two positions of need with one player, you must take it.

New York Giants could target 2 cornerbacks with 11th overall pick

New York Giants, Patrick Surtain

While most are mocking offensive playmakers to the New York Giants with the 11th overall pick, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of them going defensive in the first round. In 2020, the Giants surprised everybody with a stellar defense, led by coordinator Patrick Graham. He installed a 3-4 scheme that relied on versatility and discipline. His players performed well above expectations, finishing as a top-10 unit in points per game allowed and represented one of the best run defenses in the NFL. Their main weakness was the secondary, or rather one spot in the defensive backfield.

The second cornerback position was a liability all season long, as the Giants started off with Corey Ballentine at CB2 and quickly moved on to Isaac Yiadom and Ryan Lewis. Yiadom ended up playing a majority of the snaps as the season progressed, but he remained a liability, and the Giants must do something to upgrade the position in 2021.

The team does have Sam Beal returning, and Julian Love did show a spark in the final two games of the season, but the Giants have an opportunity to grab a premium asset at the beginning of the 2021 NFL draft. They just have to figure out if it is more beneficial to add an offensive weapon or the final piece to the secondary, which would give them a premium defense capable of competing against some of the best teams in the league.

There are two top-tier CBs with fantastic potential that are worthy of being selected at 11, let’s take a look.

Two CBs, the New York Giants, can target at 11:

1.) Patrick Surtain

One fantastic option for the Giants if they elect to go to CB is Patrick Surtain out of Alabama. Playing in a pro-style defense has prepared Surtain for the NFL, and that 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, he has great size and reach for a corner.

As a former 5 star recruit, he has elite athleticism and upside, and it runs in his DNA. He’s not the most aggressive player, utilizing finesse and a conservative approach is to his game.

Patrick’s primary weakness revolves around his deep speed when quarterbacks are throwing go-routes. If you he solve those issues and stack receivers properly, he can alleviate any concerns, but as of now, it is something that teams will have to work around at the next level. Having a solid deep safety would be helpful, and the Giants have Xavier McKinney preparing to take a larger role in 2021, and having experience with Surtain at Alabama, they could be a dynamic duo.

The Giants play a ton of zone defense, but that was primarily due to their weakness at CB2 in 2020. Patrick Graham played predominantly cover-1 while acting as the DC for the Miami Dolphins in 2019, which focuses on man coverage. Acquiring Surtain would allow him to go back to his roots, and with dangerous man-cover corners like Bradberry and Surtain in the secondary, it would allow the Giants to utilize more blitzers on passing downs.

2.) Caleb Farley

Another target is Caleb Farley out of Virginia tech. At 6-foot-2 and 197 pounds, Farley is a speedster corner that has unbelievable tracking speed. For defenses that are worried about getting beat over the top, Farley is the perfect fit, but he hasn’t had much diversity in his game. Farley has barely played in the slot and aligns on the left side for a majority of his snaps. In addition, injuries have taken their toll in the past, which represents a potential liability in the NFL.

Farley projects as an elite man-coverage corner with exciting tangible traits, but his actual film isn’t full of examples of why those traits will translate. Surtain is a more developed and fundamental option, but Farley has a higher ceiling.

New York Giants: Xavier McKinney high on Alabama teammates as prospects

New York Giants, Devonta Smith

There’s a connection between the New York Giants to Alabama through head coach Joe Judge and multiple players, and it might grow further with this coming draft. That’s because there’s a number of players from the national champion Crimson Tide that might end up as Giants.

That includes a pair of receivers as well as another player in the secondary that could join ex-Alabama and current Giants safety Xavier McKinney once again.

The big name being thrown around in connection with the Giants is Devonta Smith. The wide receiver won the Heisman this season and, while he left the field injured, had three touchdowns in the National Championship. Smith has been mocked to the Giants before, but it’s debatable whether he’ll fall enough for the Giants to take him at number eleven.

Another name at receiver to memorize is Jaylen Waddle. The receiver is another member of the Alabama offense and while he missed time with injury and only played in 6 games for his junior season, he still registered 591 yards and 4 touchdowns. This class of receivers has been called a deep one. If the Giants don’t get Smith, it’s possible they end up with a player like Waddle.

As a former college teammate of both, McKinney is confident about their prospects in the league.

What did McKinney have to say?

“They’re talented as everybody can see. Those are guys that work hard. They do what they need to do for the team to be able to help the team win. That’s what I like a lot about those two guys just being out there playing with them. When we played those harder games, they always showed up to play,” McKinney said of the two Alabama receivers headed to the draft. “Like I said, they’re talented guys and I can’t wait to see how things go on the next level for them.”

The Giants have a need at the position after Sterling Shepard hasn’t been enough as their sole number one receiver and Darius Slayton hasn’t stepped up to the plate either. In fact, Slayton somewhat regressed since his first year.

He did have slightly more yards, but only 3 touchdowns compared to 8. He was targeted more but the ball didn’t get to him more than it did last season, with only two more receptions compared to 2019. And with Slayton having more of a role in the offense and starting more games compared to 2019, those stats don’t look good on him.

Few believed at first that Devonta Smith will be available at the time the Giants pick. However, his injury in the national championship may change that. If other teams are more wary, the Giants might be able to fill their need for less than Smith’s true value.

A player in the secondary for the Giants

Another player from Alabama that might be on the radar for the Giants is Patrick Surtain. Surtain is on the defensive side of the ball rather than the offense, specifically playing the cornerback position. Like many players to come out of Alabama, he has a reputation for discipline and holds the accomplishment of not allowing more than 60 yards in coverage in a single game last season.

The Giants have one high level cornerback in James Bradberry, but the secondary would receive a big boost from having another one playing on the other side of him. That player could be Surtain, who is predicted to be one of the first corners off the board.

“That’s another one of those guys where he comes to work every day, he prepares how he should and he’s another talented corner,” McKinney said about his former teammate in the secondary. “It’s a guy that I love to play with when we were at ‘Bama. I thought he did a lot of things well. He’s a really talented corner. He’s one of the best technicianists that I’ve gotten to actually witness at corner. That’s my guy.”

Of course, some Giants fans might be nervous about drafting a cornerback in the first round given the team’s track record. The Giants will have some regrets at the position from taking Eli Apple and DeAndre Baker in the first round and having both those players off the team within a relatively short time span. In the case of Baker, he was only on the team for one year before the Giants moved on from him.

But with this prospect coming out of Alabama, a team known for it Patriots-like system and discipline, it seems less likely the Giants will find such problems with Surtain. After all, we’ve seen the products of that system work out for the Giants so far. When McKinney, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Joe Judge can all trace roots back to there, it must be doing something right.