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New York Giants Free Agency/Draft Preview: Safety is a Position in Transition

If Xavier McKinney departs via free agency, the Giants will have lost a starting safety in back-to-back years. But do they have enough talent to absorb the potential loss?

The New York Giants' safeties proved quite influential in 2023. Xavier McKinney, who played every defensive snap last season and set new career highs in tackles, and Jason Pinnock and Dane Belton were solid.

Pinnock stepped into Julian Love's spot after Love signed with Seattle last off-season and delivered a promising performance. In 16 games played, Pinnock posted career highs in tackles (85), passes defended (6), interceptions (2), and sacks (2).

Belton, who saw an increase in snaps when Pinnock suffered a foot injury toward the end of the season, matched his career high with interceptions (2) while posting career highs in combined tackles (33) and sacks (1.0) despite playing in fewer snaps (296) than he did in 2022 (390).  

Heading into this offseason, the Giants' safety group is facing a potential change. McKinney is a pending free agent whose return is far from certain. If he does leave, the assumption is Belton will get a chance to win that starting job, but the Giants will also likely add to the group.  

More Position Group Free Agency/Draft Previews

Quarterback | Running Back | Tight End | Interior Offensive Line | Wide Receivers | Offensive Tackle | Defensive Line | Inside Linebacker | Outside Linebacker | Cornerback

Personnel Recep

  • Under Contract: Jason Pinnock, Dane Belton, Gervarrius Owens
  • UFA: Xavier McKinney
  • RFA: N/A
  • ERFA: N/A

One of the Giants' biggest bright spots over the 2023 season was pending unrestricted free-agent safety Xavier McKinney. McKinney played every defensive snap and hit career highs in combined tackles (116), passes defended (11), and forced fumbles (2); it’s the little things the 24-year-old McKinney did that made him such a valuable asset to the defense.

Along with a career-high 26 stops last season, McKinney also finished the campaign with a 62.3 percent opponent completion rate (53 targets) and didn’t allow a single touchdown. McKinney’s year-end coverage rating was a career-best 52.1 in at least nine games.

Pinnock, who has one year remaining on his current contract, did a nice job as a first-time starter, playing in 1,011 before a foot injury at the end of the year cut short his season. Pinnock finished as the group leader in forced incompletions (6) and pass breakups (5).

Belton stepped in for Pinnock when he landed on IR with a foot injury and was solid in limited snaps. He showed a nose for the ball by adding two more interceptions, bringing his total over the last two years to four, besting McKinney's three and Pinnock's two over that same period.

Dec 31, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants safety Xavier McKinney (29) is introduced before a game against the Los Angeles Rams at MetLife Stadium.

Dec 31, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants safety Xavier McKinney (29) is introduced before a game against the Los Angeles Rams at MetLife Stadium.

Top 3 Questions to be Answered

Is Dane Belton ready for a starting role if McKinney leaves via free agency?

Belton's biggest skill is his ball-hawking ability, which has led him to haul in four interceptions in 32 games (412 total coverage snaps). His vision and anticipation grant him an edge when locating and pursuing balls in the air.

Belton packs a punch with imposing tackles and disruptive pass breakups. He thrives in short-zone coverages, where his ball skills come into play. His level of physicality would provide quite the spark for this unit if he can hold up to the physical demands of the position in a full-time role.

How will the safeties deployment be different under Shane Bowen?

The biggest change the safeties will have to get accustomed to under new defensive coordinator Shane Bowen is that he doesn’t nearly blitz as often as the former defensive coordinator, preferring to rush four whenever possible. That likely means fewer exotic blitzes for the safeties, who last year combined for 103 pass-rush snaps, to execute.

Where can Jason Pinnock improve his game?

Pinnock has one glaring concern he will have to clean up come the start of next season: missed tackles. Finishing second among all Giant safeties with seven (fifth on the team), Pinnock needs to improve that aspect of his game by taking smarter angles and wrapping up his opponents.

Draft or Free Agency?

Neither the Giants nor McKinney has closed the door on a return yet, but with time running out, it's pretty much a given that some team with more cap space will offer the safety a nice payday in line with what he seeks.

While the initial thought is that Belton would become the favorite to fill the vacancy if McKinney does depart, the Giants might want to address the position in both free agency and the draft.

Oct 21, 2023; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Hurricanes safety Kamren Kinchens (5) celebrates with teammates after catching an interception against the Clemson Tigers during the second quarter at Hard Rock Stadium.

Kamren Kinchens, Miami

Top 3 Draft Picks to Target

Tyler Nubin, Minnesota: Nubin is among the best safety prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft class, with the size and length that allows him to serve as a dominant asset in coverage. In his last two seasons, Nubin finished with nine interceptions and seven pass breakups. He’s projected to go in the second or third round.

Kamren Kinchens, Miami: Despite not being the same size as Nubin, Kinchens makes up for it with his elite foot skills and play recognition ability, making him a ball hawk in college. In his last two seasons at Miami, Kinchens finished with 11 interceptions and 11 pass breakups. The youngster, who could be there as late as the third round, looks like he'd be a good fit with the Giants.

Javon Bullard, Georgia: Bullard would make a great late-round option. His athleticism is at the forefront of his skill set and allows him to excel in both man and zone coverage. Bullard isn’t known for being a ball hawk, but despite this, he still tracks the ball very well, which, in turn, allows him to undercut routes at a high rate. 

Nov 12, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens safety Geno Stone (26) takes the field with a military service member before a game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.

Geno Stone

Top 3 Free Agents to Target

Geno Stone, Baltimore Ravens: One of the biggest breakout stars last season was that of 24-year-old pending free agent Geno Stone. The man was one of the best ball-hawking threats in the league, coming away with a career-high seven interceptions in 2023 (second in the NFL) while finishing with 68 combined tackles and nine pass breakups (both career highs).

Julian Blackmon, Indianapolis Colts: Twenty-five-year-old Julian Blackmon quietly had a solid season last year with the Colts. In 15 starts, he finished with career highs in combined tackles (88) and solo tackles (65), passes defended (8), interceptions (4), and fumble recoveries (2). Moreover, Blackmon didn’t concede a single touchdown on 46 targets.

Alohi Gilman, Los Angeles Chargers: Alohi Gilman is one of the stingiest and most underrated safety cover specialists on the market. In 14 starts last season, Gilman produced career-bests in combined tackles (73), passes defended (10), forced fumbles (3), interceptions (2), and reception percentage allowed (64.7).