New York Giants Safeties Preview: Rebuilding – Sports Illustrated

The New York Giants have a new defensive coordinator in the uber-aggressive Wink Martindale, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. In Martindale’s primarily man coverage scheme, safeties are required to be more versatile than in most defenses.
With a defense as reliant on quality safety play as the Giants will be in 2022, the focus should be on having at least one guy that can be “the guy” in that safety room. Fortunately for the Giants, there’s already a player on the roster who has shown he can be that guy. He looks like he isn’t done developing yet: Xavier McKinney – the third-year safety out of Alabama.
McKinney was asked to be one of the most versatile defenders in the NFL in 2021 under former Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, and he’ll likely be asked to do even more under Martindale. McKinney projects to play a role similar to what Chuck Clark did with the Ravens in 2021, rotating between deep safety, in the box, and in the slot, and occasionally stepping up as an edge rusher.
McKinney will be asked to often play the deep safety role when the Giants call cover-1, given his proven ability to be a ball-hawk. In 2021, McKinney wasn’t asked to play man coverage often, just 21.8 percent of his coverage snaps, but that number should climb dramatically in 2022. When asked to play man defense, McKinney was targeted seven times, allowing six catches for just 35 yards with no touchdowns.
A major focal point of the 2022 Giants defense also has to focus on positional turnover. McKinney and Julian Love are the only safeties currently on the Giants roster that played for the team last season. Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers are gone, to the Buccaneers and Patriots, respectively.
Julian Love stepping up is arguably more important than McKinney’s progress with the amount of roster turnover at safety. McKinney is a player that can become an elite NFL safety. and Love is capable of being a serviceable starter. Still, with added responsibility, it will be interesting to see how he develops.
For most of his career, Love has played a role that kept him closer to the line of scrimmage, but in 2022 he will likely be asked to play more of a deep safety role to allow McKinney to operate in man coverage underneath more.
Adding Henry Black to the safety room could also help ease this transition, as Black worked primarily as a box safety and nickel defender in 2021 with the Packers. The biggest issue for Black is trying to project someone who played 282 defensive snaps last season to take on a larger role.
One of the most interesting things to look for in this Giants safety room is how the young players perform. The Giants have six safeties on roster right now. Three of them are rookies in fourth-round pick Dane Belton and undrafted free agents Yusuf Corker and Trenton Thompson.
Belton is the favorite of that bunch to become an early contributor, but at least one more of Corker and Thompson will likely make the Giants roster in 2022. The argument could be made for both Thompson and Corker to make the roster or for either to make the roster over the other.
The Giants should be looking for more players capable of being more consistent as a deep safety, which would favor Yusuf Corker. With this new Martindale defense, however, adding safeties that could play man coverage should be a priority. Thompson played man coverage on 28.1 percent of his coverage snaps in 2021, compared to Corker’s 14 percent.
Julian Love (4 Years): Coming out of Notre Dame, Love was a favorite amongst evaluators for being an outside corner that was technically sound and could project well to a nickel or safety role. He’s improved year after year and is now getting his opportunity to be a focal point of the defense.
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Xavier McKinney (3 Years): At Alabama, McKinney was one of the best safeties in college football, and in the NFL, he appears to be on his way to being elite. McKinney will be a leader of the Giants defense this season and could find himself in a position for an early contract extension.
Henry Black (3 Years): After spending two seasons in Green Bay following a successful college career at Baylor, Black hopes to take on an expanded role with the Giants. Black is a willing and able tackler around the line of scrimmage that could operate well with Wink Martindale’s defense.
Dane Belton (Rookie): Meet the man that could take over the Jabrill Peppers role. Belton played the Cash position at Iowa, a safety-linebacker hybrid living around the line of scrimmage. Belton could eventually replace Love should he not re-sign with the Giants.
Yusuf Corker (Rookie): Corker might be one of the best undrafted free agent signings for the 2022 offseason. The Giants need people who can play deep safety, and that’s where Corker has most of his experience, which could earn him some early playing time.
Trenton Thompson (Rookie): One of the most important parts of being an undrafted free agent is finding a home that is a scheme fit. That’s exactly what Thompson did after the 2022 NFL Draft. Thompson is a man-cover safety coming to a team that will play primarily Cover 0 and Cover 1, which could help Thompson maximize his value to this coaching staff.
Best case scenario: In an ideal world, Xavier McKinney takes the next step to become a top-five safety in the NFL this season, and Julian Love makes the most of his opportunity to be a complementary safety. Between Dane Belton, Yusuf Corker, and Trenton Thompson, if one or two of them can show some promise to develop into consistent contributors, the Giants could be in good shape for future success.
Worst case scenario: The Giants defense is changing for what everyone hopes is for the better, but it’s possible in this new system that McKinney struggles to perform in man coverage consistently at the high level we’ve seen so far with added reps. Love will likely play the most snaps of his career if he stays healthy. If both safeties struggle to find their footing in a new, more aggressive defense, 2022 will be a long season.
Sleeper: The Giants new front office and coaching staff had made great use of undrafted free agency, and safety is no different. The addition of Yusuf Corker could be a great value add for the Giants' secondary with his ability to work from multiple spots on the defense, especially deep safety, which would allow both McKinney and Love to work closer to the line of scrimmage.
On the bubble: While the hope is that he can take on a larger role with the Giants, Henry Black could be the odd man out in 2022. Black is still young, at 25 years old, but the entirety of the Giants safety room is young.
There are four new safeties on the Giants roster, and with three of them being rookies, the Giants might decide to have the rookies be their depth safeties to complement McKinney and Love. It’s also possible that the Giants decide to keep Black on the practice squad, but if any players don’t make the team or practice squad, it will likely be Black.
Not only do the Giants have one of the best young safety groups in the NFL with McKinney leading the way, but they potentially have his partner of the future in Love, who will spend this upcoming season proving if he can be a true second safety alongside McKinney.
Whether or not Love could prove that, the future is something to be excited about with the three rookies on the roster. With top talent and the potential to have a high-quality second option, the Giants should feel great about their safety room for 2022 and beyond.
Brandon Olsen is the founder of Whole Nine Sports, specializing in NFL Draft coverage, and is the host of the Locked On Gators Podcast.  

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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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