1. Vastly Improved Secondary
Much like the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, experts have pondered if an excellent secondary who can provide lockdown coverage leads to an improved pass rush, or does an excellent pass rush allow the secondary to be better in coverage. The answer is that both aspects have direct impacts on one another.
Last season the NY Giants secondary was awful. Big Blue ran out a defensive backfield that featured rookie cornerbacks Deandre Baker, Sam Beal, and Corey Ballentine, as well as a sophomore undrafted free agent in Grant Haley to play cornerback along with veteran cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
The results were not good as Baker, Beal, and Ballentine struggled. Baker struggled to learn the playbook and was often used in soft zone coverage, which did not properly utilize his strengths. Beal and Ballentine both had issues as they missed critical practice time in the preseason due to injury. Meanwhile, Jenkins seemed disinterested at times and would ultimately be cut by the team in week 15 after making insensitive comments to fans on social media.
At the safety position, newly acquired Jabrill Peppers played exceptionally until a season-ending back injury sidelined him. Meanwhile, 14-year veteran Antoine Bethea showed that his best years were behind him with a subpar performance. Fourth-round draft pick Julian Love started at safety only five games after converting from cornerback at Notre Dame but looked exceptional during his brief time opposite Bethea.
Despite the legal concerns that currently cloud Deandre Baker’s future with the team, there are still a number of reasons to believe that the Giants secondary will be vastly improved and take a major step forward this season.
The addition of James Bradberry, who admirably handled the task of matching up regularly against former division rivals Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, and Mike Evans, who are arguably three of the best wide receivers in the game currently, provides an indication that the cornerback play should be much better this year.
If Beal and Ballentine receive much-needed offseason work that they were denied due to their recovery from a hamstring injury that caused Beal to sit out until mid-November last year and a gunshot wound that claimed much of Ballentine’s preseason, there is reason to believe both could take steps forward.
If Baker’s legal issues don’t cause him to miss time or even be removed from the Giants roster, he looked to be in line to significantly improve. The last six games of the season last year, Baker improved upon the completion rate he allowed to opposing wideouts by lowering it from 70.4% in his first ten games to 48.5% in his last six games, which ranked among the elite corners in the league.
Jabrill Peppers showed that he can be an anchor in the defensive backfield, as he registered 76 total tackles, three forced fumbles, one interception, five pass deflections, and one defensive touchdown in just 11 games with the Giants last season.
If Deandre Baker is able to play for the GMEN this season, Julian Love will likely be a hybrid safety/cornerback for Patrick Graham’s defense. After excelling at cornerback at Notre Dame and then showing star potential in limited action at safety for the Giants last season, Love could be incredible in a hybrid role in this defense.
With 4.48-second 40-yard dash speed and eight interceptions as a three-year starter at UCLA, the Giants may have found the slot cornerback that they have needed for a while now in Darnay Holmes. The Giants have lacked a ball hawk with the speed to adequately cover slot receivers for a while, if Holmes can live up to expectations, the pass defense will greatly benefit.
Finally, the addition of Xavier McKinney may be the biggest addition to the secondary next to Jame Bradberry. During his time at Alabama, McKinney showed he could do it all. The past two seasons with the Crimson Tide he had a total of six sacks, 169 total tackles, five interceptions, a fumble recovery, and two touchdowns.
Former Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowl Champion defensive back and CBS Sports football analyst Bryant McFadden recently heaped high praise and expectations on McKinney:
If the NY Giants secondary is as improved as many believe it will be, it should allow the pass rushers extra time to get to the quarterback, something that they did not have the luxury of last season. Additionally, McKinney and Peppers have shown the ability to be excellent blitzers which should also help improve the Giants pass rush next season.