After years of being a weakness, the NY Giants may have put together one of the best young secondary groups in the National Football League.
Don’t look now, but the NY Giants are quietly putting together a very good young secondary that has a chance of becoming one of the best in the National Football League. I recognize as I type this that what I am stating can be perceived as an extremely hot take.
In recent years, the Giants secondary group has been exposed as a glaring weakness. Week after week they seemingly were torched for big plays that often resulted in losses for Big Blue as their secondary looked like they couldn’t cover themselves with a blanket in bed.
Last offseason, the trend of porous secondaries looked like it would continue when general manager Dave Gettleman allowed All-Pro safety, Landon Collins, to walk to the division rival Washington Redskins during free agency.
However, things would quickly change as soon after the NY Giants would broker a trade that would send superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for former first-round pick Jabrill Peppers, a first-round pick and a third-round pick, which the team would use to select Dexter Lawrence and Oshane Ximines.
After adding the talented safety Peppers, the Giants would trade back up into the first round to acquire top cornerback prospect Deandre Baker out of the University of Georgia, select cornerback Julian Love out of Notre Dame in the fourth round, and cornerback Corey Ballentine out of Washburn in the sixth round. This was in addition to sacrificing their third-round pick in 2019 to select Sam Beal in the supplemental draft in 2018.
Despite investing a significant amount of draft capital on the secondary in 2019 and adding Peppers via trade, the Giants secondary would suffer growing pains during what was the first year of professional football for Baker, Love, Beal, and Ballentine and the first year with the team for Peppers.
As a result, the Gettleman and the NY Giants would add significant upgrades again this offseason, adding former Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry on a three-year $45 million contract. The team would continue to improve the secondary by adding the highest-rated safety prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft in Xavier McKinney out of Alabama, one of the top slot corner prospects in the draft in Darnay Holmes from UCLA, and Minnesota cornerback Chris Williamson in the seventh round.
On paper, the NY Giants secondary is loaded with elite talent. With experience and some coaching, they have the talent to become one of the best secondaries in the entire National Football League. While that seems bold, follow the reasoning.
The Giants now have an extremely solid one-two punch at cornerback in James Bradberry and Deandre Baker. Bradberry has experience as the top cornerback option in Carolina where he thrived despite regularly having to cover elite division rival wide receivers Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Mike Evans six times per year.
Baker was a first-team All-American in his final year at Georgia and was widely considered one of the best cover cornerbacks available in the 2019 NFL Draft.
While he struggled mightily during the first two-thirds of his rookie season, most of his struggles were due to the way he was being utilized by former defensive coordinator James Bettcher and former head coach Pat Shurmur, who had him playing well off the line of scrimmage, negating the physicality that allowed him to be so strong in coverage.
In the last six games of the season, Baker would hold opposing receivers to a 48.5% completion percentage, which ranked him among the elite cornerbacks in the NFL.
It became clear that when used correctly, Baker had the skill set to be the excellent cover cornerback that the Giants had hoped they were getting when they traded back into the first round to take him.
The combination of Bradberry and Baker should allow the NY Giants secondary to lock down receivers on the outside. Having two elite cover guys will negate much of the opposing team’s wide receiving threats and should put Big Blue in a much better position going forward.
The addition of Darnay Holmes gives the Giants a much-needed slot cornerback that they have been lacking for a number of years. At 5’10” and 195-pounds, Holmes has the size to be an effective slot cornerback. With his 4.48-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, he exhibited that he has the speed necessary to match up with shifty slot receivers.
As a result, Bradberry, Baker, and Holmes should be an effective combination at cornerback on the majority of snaps for New York. Sam Beal, Corey Ballentine, and Grant Haley showed that they can be effective depth pieces at the position should one of the starters become injured or need a breather. The Giants hope that the addition of Chris Williamson provides additional capable depth at corner.
Last season, Jabrill Peppers was fantastic in his Big Blue debut, statistically outperforming former safety Landon Collins when healthy. Peppers would record 76 total tackles, an interception, three forced fumbles, five pass deflections, and a defensive touchdown in just 11 games, proving that he can be a defensive playmaker for the GMEN going forward.
Julian Love got a late start on his rookie season with the NY Giants, after the team decided to convert him from the cornerback position that he had played at Notre Dame to the safety position.
Love would start the last five games of the season at safety for New York and would record 37 total tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble, showing why a number of draft experts felt he may have been the steal of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, Peppers and Love would not be able to start alongside one another, as Peppers would suffer a back injury that would cause him to miss the final five games of the season, just as Love was being promoted to the starting lineup. However, the duo showed enough promise to make fans of the NY Giants extremely optimistic about the future of the safety position.
That optimism skyrocketed even higher when the Giants were able to draft Xavier McKinney in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. McKinney was widely viewed as a top 10-15 talent and the top safety prospect in the draft.
With the addition of McKinney, the NY Giants now have three very athletic, rangy safeties who can lineup in a variety of different looks on new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s defense. All three are able to play both safety positions.
Peppers can play a hybrid safety/linebacker role, Love can play a hybrid safety/cornerback role, and McKinney has the ability to play a hybrid safety/linebacker/cornerback role as he did during his tenure at Alabama.
The new and improved NY Giants secondary now includes former first-round picks in Jabrill Peppers and Deandre Baker, a first-round talent selected in the second round in Xavier McKinney, a former second-round pick in James Bradberry, a guy who many had as a second-round talent in Julian Love, a top slot corner prospect in Darnay Holmes, and a number of solid depth players in Sam Beal, Corey Ballentine, Grant Haley, and Chris Williamson.
While I acknowledge it is too early to get extremely excited about a secondary that has yet to play a single snap together and is still very young, this team is loaded with top-end talent on paper.
If they can live up to the hype surrounding them, this young NY Giants secondary has the ability to become one of the best young secondaries in the NFL in short order.