Giants safety Xavier McKinney was drafted in the second round last year, a pick that was an exciting one given the young man's skill set, his production at Alabama, and his potential fit for the Giants defense.
Alas, a broken foot suffered in training camp cost him the first half of his rookie season. But to his credit, McKinney remained as involved as possible behind the scenes, keeping up with the mental aspect of the game in learning the defense.
Although he was hesitant at first when he did return to the field, the then-rookie was still productive enough to create intrigue.
In six games played (four starts), McKinney delivered 25 total tackles, one tackle-for-loss, and one interception (he probably should have had at least one more, but it was wiped out due to a penalty).
Interestingly, the Giants had McKinney take most of his snaps in the slot while Darnay Holmes dealt with a knee ailment. McKinney, who also worked at free safety, finished with a 40.4 coverage grade, allowing seven out of 10 pass targets against him to be completed for zero touchdowns, zero pass breakups, and the interception mentioned above.
Fully healthy and with some much-needed NFL experience under his belt, the possibilities are endless for this former Alabama defensive star who looked so promising in the various roles he was given to fill.
What He Brings
An ongoing issue for the Giants defensive secondary was having a solid "last line of defense"--a safety capable of playing the deep end of the field and being quick enough to help cornerbacks.
The Giants, looking to remedy this, added McKinney, a versatile defensive back capable of filing multiple roles in the defensive secondary thanks to his college pedigree in Nick Saban's complex Crimson Tide defense.
Among those roles he played at Alabama (and which he'll either play for the Giants if he hasn't already) include free safety, box or strong safety, slot defender, and the “STAR” or “MONEY” linebacker.
McKinney demonstrated fine instincts, particularly in sniffing out screens, and had a knack for making the proper reads of where the quarterback was going with the ball and then breaking just as the receiver made his break.
He also showed himself to be a strong communicator in the defensive secondary. He played a key role in communicating the defensive call to the rest of the secondary and making adjustments based on the offense.
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But wait, there's more to love about this second-year player. For one, McKinney can play a variety of zone coverages, both deep and close to the line of scrimmage.
He is a willing run defender who triggers downhill very quickly and doesn't hesitate to get his hands dirty in run support.
He also shows intriguing upside as a blitzer, with very good timing and anticipation regarding finding and exploiting rushing lanes.
Is McKinney the most gifted safety out there? No. On tape, his limited long speed and range will probably keep people from confusing his abilities with former Seahawks great Earl Thomas or Ravens Hall of Famer Ed Reed.
But McKinney is athletic enough to be functional in a variety of coverages. Given his size (6'1" and 205 pounds), football IQ, and versatility, the Giants have themselves a solid young defensive back that without question upgrades a position that wasn't always a strength for this team.
McKinney is in the second year of his four-year rookie contract. He's due to count for $1.9 million against this year's salary cap.
Don't get caught up in who starts for the Giants, especially in the defensive backfield, as that will change every week based on the opponent.
With that said, don't be surprised if McKinney sees close to 60% of the defensive snaps playing in a variety of different roles and sub-packages for a defense that projects to be even more multiple this coming season than it was last year.
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