Leading into the July 27 opening of Giants training camp, The Post will analyze 11 position groups based on personnel, strengths, weaknesses and key depth chart battles. Today’s look-in: Safeties.
A case can be made that this group of safeties will have more impact than any other on the roster and that the real challenge is getting four of them on the field for the bulk of the defensive snaps. There is youth, experience and versatility. The only real problem is the legitimate concern that there is no imposing thumper in the group and there may not be elite play-making ability. Most of these guys have real cornerback-type skills, and that is always a plus.
Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan, Xavier McKinney, Julian Love, Montre Hartage, Joshua Kalu.
Where to start with such a deep unit? Might as well lead off with the oldest player. Ryan made a staggeringly smooth and strong Giants debut in 2020, almost instantly emerging as a leader, spokesman, voice of reason and an athlete who had to be on the field.
Ryan, a cornerback his first seven NFL seasons with the Patriots and Titans, transitioned to free safety with aplomb and quickly became a trusted ally for defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. Ryan played 96 percent of the defensive snaps and had 94 tackles (64 solo), three forced fumbles and one interception. He played 512 snaps at free safety, 246 snaps in the box and 221 snaps at slot corner, allowing Peppers to settle into a more tailored role.
In 15 games, Peppers improved his consistency, while registering 91 tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks. Peppers is not the guy you want patrolling the deep half of the field all game, but he is a big factor when he can come downhill against the run.
The key to the entire operation might be McKinney, who broke his foot last summer and missed the first 10 games, putting him in catch-up mode as a rookie. He ended up playing 210 snaps, and got better and better. If he develops into the star the Giants believe he can be, look out.
Love is following in the Ryan mold. He’s a heady athlete who moved from corner to safety, and he was used for 66 percent of the snaps last season. How much that will decrease with McKinney back and healthy remains to be seen. Something to watch for: McKinney is reputed to have sideline-to-sideline range. If he is indeed that type of player, he might never come off the field.
This training camp will be more about crystallizing the rotation and roles for four players who figure to receive the most playing time and less about carving out roster spots. This is the second year in Graham’s system, and there is every reason to expect more advanced schemes and more intricate designs, especially given the football acumen of the safeties assembled within this defense. Graham wants many of his players to be able to serve as interchangeable pieces, and this group provides that luxury. McKinney went down and out in late August last year, so this will be his second NFL camp. It will be interesting to see how far he has come, given a full and healthy offseason.
Before we proclaim this group as one of the best in the league, it must be made clear none of these players has ever been named to a Pro Bowl. So there is no star-power here, unless McKinney develops into a marquee performer. Ryan was a more-than-solid cornerback before converting to safety and is one of the best leaders around. He is 30 years old, so giving him a breather from time to time and not having him on the field for every snap on defense would help, and McKinney’s ascension should allow the Giants to get Ryan some rest. With the improvement in talent at cornerback on the roster, these safeties are more than capable of commanding the back end of the defense.
Next up: Offensive line.