New York Giants Football: The reasons behind Deandre Baker’s struggles

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Deandre Baker was the highest rated cornerback in the draft by most NFL experts, so why has he struggled so mightily with the New York Giants? The answer may have less to do with the ability of the rookie and more to do with how he is being utilized.

The New York Giants traded up in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft to select cornerback Deandre Baker, out of the University of Georgia, with the 30th-overall pick.  The rookie’s performance has been disastrous considering where he was selected in the draft and the amount of draft capital that the Giants spent to move up to get him. Currently, His Pro Football Focus grade of 37.8 stunningly ranks as the 115th best cornerback out of 116 eligible players.

Baker has been questioned about his struggles so far and he surprisingly admitted that he was having issues understanding the defensive scheme. He told reporters that he was having a problem comprehending the plays and the assignments of James Bettcher’s defensive scheme.

His lack of understanding has been on full display, as he was torched on a touchdown by Amari Cooper in the Monday Night Football game against the Dallas Cowboys. On that play, Baker lined up in zone coverage when the rest of the team was in man coverage, allowing Cooper to get over the top for an easy score.

Making matters worse is that he was beaten by Demaryius Thomas in the New York Jets game and then seemingly gave up on the play all together. As a result, Baker was called out on social media by former players such as Lawrence Tynes, for his lack of effort.

 

In addition, former Giants legend Carl Banks suggested that New York needs to bring in a veteran cornerback to mentor and tutor Baker. In the preseason, Janoris Jenkins had mentioned that he planned on playing the role of mentor to the gaggle of rookie cornerbacks that the Giants had recently drafted. However, Jenkins has had his own issues with quitting on plays and has been rumored to be a player that puts himself before the team, so the idea of him mentoring the younger players is not exactly appealing.

While examining his mediocre play this season, many are questioning why his play has been so bad. There are a number of reasons that play a role in his inability to find success so far as a rookie. The first is the fact that he suffered a sprain to his left knee in the preseason, limiting critical practice reps to prepare him to be the starting cornerback this season. Missing reps in a completely new defensive scheme would prove detrimental, especially to a rookie who is attempting to make proper adjustments to the speed and complexity of the NFL game versus the college game.

Perhaps the biggest issue as to why Baker has struggled, has less to do with the player and more to do with the scheme that he is being used in. Coming out of the University of Georgia, Baker was the Jim Thorpe Award recipient, as the top defensive back in college football. Scouting reports and expert analysis had Baker pegged as the best corner in the draft.

Baker thrived in the Georgia system, which mainly featured man-to-man and press zone coverage, allowing Baker to utilize the ability to be physical with a wide receiver immediately off the line of scrimmage. Baker does not possess elite speed, having ran a 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash, so he makes up for the lack of speed by jamming receivers at the line.

Due to the lack of elite speed, on of the few knocks against Deandre Baker prior to the draft, was that his game did not translate well to soft zone coverage, as he would be prone to being beat over the top on vertical routes, by speedy wide receivers. We have seen this exact scenario play out this season, as Baker has been beaten badly on vertical routes.

That leaves one to question why the Giants would move up to select Baker, if his game was predicated on being in the correct scheme, and that scheme was not one that James Bettcher’s defense was going to employ. By having him play in a soft zone, Bettcher is allowing wide receivers to get a ten yard head start on Baker, completely exposing him by not allowing him to utilize his best asset and showcase the sticky coverage that he was known for in college.

Pre-draft reviews highlighted the competitive nature of Baker, which suggests that perhaps his struggles are beginning to leave him demoralized and willing to quit on plays. Nothing in his collegiate past suggests a player who was anything other than hyper-competitive and a high motor player, so the recent performance is highly concerning.

As it stands, the return of Sam Beal from injury and the emergence of Corey Ballentine, threaten to cut into the playing time of Baker. Bettcher needs to move away from having Baker in off-man coverage and design plays for his scheme that allow him to be physical in the window of contact off the line of scrimmage. Perhaps, they also need to look into simplifying the playbook a bit, so that Baker is more comfortable in his role.

Everything prior to the season suggested that Deandre Baker had the makings of an elite cornerback in the NFL. Analysts touted his high football IQ, his strong route anticipation and his excellent coverage skills. However, the way he is currently being used has left him looking like a shell of the player he was in college, when he was arguably the best corner in the nation.

The Giants must act quickly to make adjustments to avoid wasting an elite talent at cornerback. It is criminal that they would move up to get a guy who’s game was so predicated on being in the right scheme and then use him in the one scheme that leaves him completely exploited. It has clearly damaged his confidence, something you never want to have happen to a rookie player.

Hopefully the team is able to rectify the situation quickly so that the damage is not irreparable.