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CB Darnay Holmes: The Good, the Great, and the Ugly

Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes had a solid first season playing primarily in the slot despite having had limited college snaps at that position. Where did he excel and where does he still have room to grow? Nick Falato breaks down the tape.

The New York Giants selected Darnay Holmes, a former five-star recruit who played his college ball at UCLA, in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Holmes is an undersized but incredibly athletic boundary cornerback who played the 2019 season with an ankle injury that hindered his overall effectiveness.

Holmes is listed at 5’10" tall, but he has a solid 198-pound frame. His size, and movement skills, relegate him to a more nickel/overhang type of role. He played in 442 snaps in the 2020 season while recording 25 tackles and 9 STOPS. He allowed 41 catches on 52 targets for 406 yards, with zero touchdowns.

He also broke up three passes and intercepted a pass that popped into the air. Holmes did get a bit grabby throughout the season and was flagged five times.

In man coverage, Holmes allowed 11 catches on 19 targets for 142 yards and 29 catches on 30 targets for 261 yards--most of which came on dump-offs or Holmes being put into conflict. His decisiveness could be a bit better, but that’s not uncommon for young players, especially ones operating the slot.

Dave Gettleman and the Giants understand the importance of building a secondary that can tackle and cover. It’s a common New England tactic to which Joe Judge and Patrick Graham subscribe. In the 2021 off-season, Big Blue continued to add to their already stout secondary by drafting Aaron Robinson in the third round and Rodarius Williams in the sixth.

They also shored up the outside cornerback position, opposite of James Bradberry, by bringing in 25-year-old, recently released cornerback Adoree Jackson from the Titans.

Logan Ryan, a veteran safety on the team, spoke very highly about Jackson, his former teammate. There’s more competition for Holmes to find the field now, but there’s still a good amount of talent that can have a role on this defense. Let’s investigate that in this edition of the Good, the Great, and the Ugly.

(Darnay Holmes is No. 30)

The Good: Coverage Potential

CeeDee Lamb (88) had his way with the Giants in both the games he faced the team, but Holmes held his own quite often against the other talented rookie. Dallas motions Lamb from the tight BUNCH to the opposite side of the field to run a flag route into space against man coverage--a very difficult assignment for Holmes.

The young cornerback sees the outside release off the line of scrimmage, stays disciplined enough by slightly opening his hips, and then glues to the inside hip of Lamb as he breaks on the seven route around the in breaking route by Michael Gallup (13).

Lamp takes a wide-angle in an attempt to force Holmes wide and up into the end zone, but Holmes sticks on his hips, uses subtle contact, and keeps up with the receiver. Then, as the ball is airborne, Holmes attacks the catch point violently and earns an incomplete pass.

This is a 3x1 set with Lamb as the number two receiver towards the bottom of the screen. Holmes gets a bit impatient on the release of Lamb, and the young cornerback opens his hips prematurely, giving Lamb an easy path inside on the slant.

Holmes focuses on Lamb’s movements and drives off his outside foot to close width on the inside break of the receiver. Holmes has fluid hips, good short-area quickness, and the burst to get to the catch point after a slight mistake. The catch is not made because Holmes uses his outside arm to knock the pass away while controlling the hip of Lamb with his other arm in a manner that won’t merit a flag.

Holmes is responsible for the number three receiver who runs to the flat upon chipping Jabaal Sheard (No. 91). He sets up inside at the chip because it looks like an inside release--this is straight man coverage and doesn’t appear to be match. Due to the assignments being dictated before the snap, Holmes has to follow Greg Ward Jr (No. 84) outside and into a ton of space from between the hashes.

Ward Jr. has the leverage on the route, and Holmes has to cover a lot of ground. Holmes plays very aggressively and attacks the catch point after showing very impressive acceleration and an advantageous angle to disrupt the play for the Eagles. Carson Wentz (11) could have thrown a better ball, but it was still a very nice play from the young corner.

Tyler Boyd (83) runs a quick spot route that enters the frame from the left side of your screen. Darnay Holmes stays square to Boyd, allowing him to keep tabs on quarterback Brandon Allen’s (No. 8) eyes. 

Once Boyd breaks back to the quarterback, Holmes flashes his eyes at Allen and sees the wind-up. Holmes breaks down and explodes through the catch point to force the ball up in the air where Niko Lalos (No. 57) is there to intercept the pass. I love how he stays patient and square on this play while using that inside arm to play through the catch point and the outside warm to control the receiver.

The Great: Plays Bigger Than His Size

Whether it’s on dump-offs or in run support, Holmes isn’t afraid to get his nose a bit dirty against physical running backs. His discipline in run support isn’t as great as his ability to break down in space--he had over a 20% missed tackle rate, according to Pro Football Focus--but the skills and toughness will be evident throughout this section.

Here he attacks Leonard Fournette (No. 28) near the sidelines with a good shoulder to the running back’s legs. There is no attempt to try and just force him out of bounds; Holmes attacks aggressively and stops Fournette before he can pick up extra yards. 

Holmes breaks down, stays square, cuts the angle off, and then attacks. His open-field tackling ability in these clips are excellent representations of how to hit low if you’re an undersized defensive player.

This is another physical one against Antonio Gibson (No. 24), who receives the check-down and attempts to make Holmes miss near the sideline. However, Holmes does an exceptional job putting himself into a position to limit Gibson’s space while attacking with authority--he wasn’t going to allow Gibson the opportunity to juke. This is a good, low, open-field tackle from Holmes.

Another dump off to a Buccaneers’ running back, this time Ronald Jones II. Holmes has a far way to go to get downhill and make this tackle in space. There’s plenty of time for Jones II to make a move and force a missed tackle, but Holmes sets up to the running back’s inside, squeezes him slightly towards the sideline, and then dives low and wraps up Jones with good form and solid strength.

Holmes does something similar to Dalton Schultz (No. 86) in the play above. He comes in with a good angle to force the tight end inside but doesn’t allow him to spin outside his own containment. Schultz attempts the spin, and Holmes whacks both of his legs and forces the tight end to fall for a minimal gain on the play.

Here is a different type of physical tackle after Holmes allowed the catch near the sideline. Ward Jr. attempts to shimmy Holmes by the sideline with very little leverage, and Holmes uses the good mechanics to cut the angle and break down before contact, which keeps him spry and allows him to adjust to the receiver’s path. Then Holmes shows that desired competitive toughness to try and rip the football out, and he puts the receiver down to the deck.

This is solid awareness and eyes from Holmes, who is over the BUNCH set to the field, but he has curl/flat responsibilities to that side. Both the number three and number one receivers run vertical routes, and it’s not Holmes's responsibility to cover these routes, so he’s looking for the crosser from the opposite side of the field.

He sees the mesh concept and starts to move downhill on an open Logan Thomas (No. 82). Once Holmes sees Alex Smith (No. 11) look in that direction, he begins to fly downhill and then nails Thomas once the catch is made to force a third and short.

The Ugly: Loses Positioning in Coverage

Playing the nickel is very difficult and younger players, like Holmes, tend to lose assignments if the play breaks down or if there’s a certain double move that forces commitment. 

Holmes does a solid job cutting the angle of Tyler Lockett (No. 16) off; Lockett attempts to maneuver inside, but Holmes gets grabby and physically tries to stop him, drawing a flag. Then he allows Lockett to squeak around and back to his desired route, where Holmes loses him. The spatial awareness of Holmes here is not great.

This is another sub-par rep from Holmes against Lockett on this one. It’s a 3rd-and-5, and Holmes is over Lockett at the number two spot in the 3x1 formation. Holmes keeps his eyes upon Russell Wilson (No. 3) and loses Lockett once the receiver’s route starts to break vertically. 

Holmes gains some depth on his drop to match Lockett, but the savvy receiver just undercuts his coverage and breaks towards the middle of the field. It was a big moment in the game, and Holmes lost his responsibility.

After being beaten off the line of scrimmage by Greg Ward Jr from the number three spot, Holmes was flagged on this play. Holmes commits his hips inside poorly; it just wasn’t a great move from the rookie.

Holmes gets caught reaching outside, his feet get away from him, and he has little to no leverage or momentum to keep up with Ward’s release. He is then caught running with his back turned towards the quarterback but tries to play through the catch point and earns himself a flag. There has to be more discipline from Holmes on plays like this one.

CeeDee Lamb is at the number two spot to the bottom of the screen, and Holmes is covering him. Lamb releases inside and stacks on Holmes, forcing Holmes to angle his path inside to limit the throwing window a bit, but Lamb breaks the route off and turns back towards the quarterback.

Holmes is a bit late to see the sinking of Lamb’s hips, so his momentum is carried well past the route, and Lamb is open for more than a second. It’s not an egregious mistake, but one that isn’t a well-executed play. It put Holmes in a more scrambling panic type of mode, rather than the calm play he typically shows when he’s not under duress. I do love how he can stop quickly and change direction well.

Final Thoughts

The Giants added more talent to their secondary to help build competition with players like Darnay Holmes. It is not a referendum on Holmes, a physical player who can be a bit inconsistent with his tackling, but he has the will, and he’s not scared despite his smaller stature.

His athleticism allows him to play solidly in man coverage, but he may need a bit more consistent discipline at the line of scrimmage to combat receiver’s releases. Holmes can be an essential piece to the Giants' defense in 2021, or he could be a bit role player.

The training camp battle with Robinson will be something fun to watch throughout August--let the better player win the job, but we’ll see both of them on the field in different packages. 


More "Good, Great & Ugly" Breakdowns

WR Kelvin Benjamin | RB Devontae Booker | RB Corey Clement | OLB Lorenzo Carter | CB Isaac Yiadom | TE Kaden Smith | WR Kenny Golladay | TE Levine Toilolo | Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo | DT Danny Shelton | OL Zach Fulton | CB Adoree' Jackson | TE Evan Engram | S Jabrill Peppers | S Xavier McKinney | ILB Reggie Ragland | WR John Ross | TE Kyle Rudolph | OLB Oshane Ximines | LB Carter Coughlin | IDL Dexter Lawrence II | WR Darius Slayton | LB Cam Brown | DL Leonard Williams | OL Will Hernandez | IDL Austin Johnson | IDL B.J. Hill | WR Sterling Shepard | ILB Blake Martinez | DB Logan Ryan | C Nick Gates | OT Matt Peart

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