NY Giants’ Darnay Holmes struggling with position switch in NFL

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 14: Benny Snell Jr. #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball past the defense of Darnay Holmes #30 of the New York Giants during the first half at MetLife Stadium on September 14, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 14: Benny Snell Jr. #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball past the defense of Darnay Holmes #30 of the New York Giants during the first half at MetLife Stadium on September 14, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

NY Giants rookie cornerback was an excellent outside corner in college, but he’s struggled to make the switch into the slot at the NFL level.

When the NY Giants landed cornerback Darnay Holmes in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, he was considered by many experts to be one of the biggest steals in the entire draft — and for good reason.

Coming out of high school, Holmes was a five-star recruit and rated as the 13th best player overall by Scout.com and the best cornerback in the entire country.

Although he did most of his damage as a receiver in high school (he reeled in 64 passes for 1,214 yards and 14 TD’s as a senior), Holmes played both ways and was only recruited as a cornerback.

That turned out to be the right decision as he went on to have a very productive career at UCLA, starting 33 of a possible 35 games during his three-year career with the Bruins in which he led the team in picks all three seasons.

In those 35 games, Holmes racked up 120 tackles, 8 interceptions (two of which he returned for TD’s), 17 pass defenses, and a forced fumble; he also returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

Despite probably needed another year of seasoning at the college level, Holmes decided to try his luck with the NFL Draft and slipped all the way down to the fourth round. The main reason for his slip was his height, as ‘experts’ considered him to be too small to be an effective boundary cornerback in the NFL like he played in college.

Even though he ripped up the NFL Combine and got a heap of praise from NFL legend Deion Sanders, it wasn’t enough to justify Holmes leaving school early (although in hindsight it ended up being the right move due to COVID-19 and the state of the Pac-12 and college football).

Via Matt Joye on Twitter:

He was projected to be a slot cornerback in the NFL despite never playing the position and the NY Giants began playing him there during training camp immediately.

Holmes was the talk of training camp, as he reportedly looked fantastic while making the transition to nickel corner, but training camp is a whole different ballgame from an NFL Sunday.

While you would think if a player can master the boundary cornerback position that they could easily slide inside and be a solid slot cornerback, that’s simply not the case as there is a lot of nuance that goes into learning the position.

The types of routes a slot defender covers are much different as well as the coverages they are asked to play.

So far during his first three games with the NY Giants, Darnay Holmes has struggled mightily adjusting to his new position in the NFL.

Pro Football Focus has given him a putrid overall grade of 32.1 and a coverage grade of just 36.7 for his play so far. Playing in about half of the team’s overall defensive snaps, Holmes has been routinely picked on, most notably in the NY Giants’ season opener against Juju Smith-Shuster and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

However, I’m not mad at Holmes in the least bit as he is a 22-year-old rookie that had no preseason experience. The coaching staff has simply not put him in a position to succeed, consistentely lining him up in 1-1 coverage with no help over the top.

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It was maddening watching defensive coordinator Patrick Graham trot Holmes out there to attempt to cover Smith-Shuster play after play only to see the same result.

Clearly, Holmes needs more time to develop before he’s able to be a cornerback that can be relied on at the NFL level.

Part of the problem here is that the NY Giants came into the 2020 season with two less cornerbacks than they expected after 2019 first-round pick DeAndre Baker was arrested and then released, while former third-round pick Sam Beal opted out due to COVID-19 concerns.

This put the team in a precarious situation as there weren’t many options to go with during training camp besides Holmes.

Do the NY Giants have any other options?

One of my biggest complaints so far this season is that the coaching staff has made zero adjustments while there is a perfectly easy one sitting right in front of them in the form of Logan Ryan.

The veteran, versatile defensive back was signed late in the offseason to bulk up the secondary and has played most of his career at cornerback. In fact, he played over 99% of his snaps at corner with the Titans just last year.

Over half of those snaps came out of the slot, so for the life of me, I cannot understand why Ryan has not played more slot cornerback as the team has used him exclusively at the safety position.

If the NY Giants wanted to give Holmes the first crack out of the gates because Ryan is more of a stop-gap player and they consider Holmes a long-term answer in the slot then I’m perfectly fine with that.

But, from the first half of the first game of the season it’s been clear Holmes is not ready, and struggling so much early on could have a negative effect on him in the long run.

At this point, the NY Giants are 0-3 and should start looking to get all of their younger guys experience in what appears to be a lost season, but who’s to say Big Blue couldn’t have won one of those first two games if Ryan had been playing in the slot?

Even just one more third-down stop at a pivital juncture in either one of those games could have made a massive difference.

Hopefully, this is just a case of a rookie learning curve and Holmes is able to live up to the training camp hype down the road, but for now, the team needs to try something different while they are still technically alvie in 2020.

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No one is running away with the NFC East as Washington and the Cowboys are tied for first place with just a win a piece, so Joe Judge should be pushing every button he can to get the best players on the field while this team is still in striking distance in the division (which won’t be for much longer at this rate).

Unfortunately, that’s going to mean less snaps for Darnay Holmes until the NY Giants’ season is really over.