5. CB Deandre Baker
The massive improvement showed late last season by one of NY Giants fans’ favorite punching bags, Deandre Baker, may have gone unnoticed by many. Nonetheless, despite struggling mightily to begin his rookie campaign, as the season progressed, Baker showed flashes of why the Giants moved up into the first round to draft him.
While the blame for some of the struggles that Baker endured can be placed directly at his own feet due to his reported lack of attention to the game film and playbook studies. However, a lot more of the blame needs to be directed to former defensive coordinator James Bettcher and former head coach Pat Shurmer for their misuse of the talented cornerback.
Coming out of the University of Georgia, Baker was known as one of the best collegiate cornerbacks in the nation in press coverage situations and man coverage situations. His draft profile noted that he would be a scheme cornerback who would struggle in zone coverage and off-ball coverage due to his lack of elite speed.
In college, Baker excelled in coverage when he could use his physicality to neutralize the speed of opposing wide receivers by jamming them at the line of scrimmage. Inexplicably, Bettcher and Shurmur decided to use him in soft zone coverage lined up 10-yards away from opposing wideouts early on. By taking away his biggest strength, they set Baker up for failure in coverage.
After allowing 602 receiving yards and four touchdowns (as many as he gave up in four years as a starter at Georgia) on 38 completions through his first ten games, Baker would allow just 248 yards and two touchdowns on 16 completions through his last six games of the season.
The biggest improvement was in his completion percentage, which dropped from 70.4% through ten games to 48.5% in his last six, which is an excellent sign for the NY Giants.
It should be noted that Baker was forced to be the top cornerback for the Giants for the last few weeks of the season after Janoris Jenkins was released. The 48.5% completion percentage that he was able to put together the last third of the season was more indicative of the player that was a first-team All-American in his final year at Georgia.
The late-season improvement that the NY Giants saw from Baker isn’t the only reason to believe that 2020 could be a breakout year for the sophomore cornerback. He will likely be the number two cornerback on the roster next season with free-agent acquisition James Bradberry assuming the role as the team’s top cornerback.
This should take a lot of pressure off of Baker, as he will not be expected to match up against top opposing receivers.
The addition of Darnay Holmes and Chris Williamson to a cornerback group that already included Sam Beal, Corey Ballentine, and Grant Haley should provide the Giants would solid depth at the position, allowing the Giants to limit the snap count of Baker, keeping him fresh throughout the game.
Additionally, the safety group providing help over the top for Baker should be greatly improved with the return of a healthy Jabrill Peppers, the addition of Xavier McKinney, and Julian Love benefiting from another year of experience at safety after converting from cornerback during his rookie campaign. Having confidence that the safeties will have his back should prove beneficial to the play of Baker.
If Baker is able to break out in 2020 as expected, the NY Giants may surprise a lot of pundits with a vastly improved young secondary. It should be expected that many of the young players will take a giant step forward with another year under their belts.
With the improvement in talent around him, the increased likelihood that Joe Judge and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham will play to his strengths, and the fact that he will be more acclimated to the professional game, Baker is an ideal breakout candidate in 2020.