The New York Giants cornerback position took more twists and turns in 2020 than San Francisco’s famed Lombard Street.
At the crux of the issue was finding a cornerback to start opposite of free-agent signing James Bradberry, a gem of a pickup by general manager Dave Gettleman, who had turned to his one-time draft pick when the two were in Carolina, to shore up the back end of the defense.
But let’s take a look at the quest to find a solid No. 2 cornerback. Initially, the Giants hoped that 2019 first-round pick DeAndre Baker would be that guy.
However, Baker fell upon some challenging times when he was accused of having committed armed robbery. With his NFL future in limbo at the time, the Giants eventually released Baker at the start of September, and not long after, the cornerback was eventually exonerated of all charges brought against him.
Before that, third-year corner Sam Beal, whom the team drafted in the third round of the 2018 supplemental draft, to opt-out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Thus with no Baker or Beal, the adventure began.
The Giants turned to Corey Ballentine, their sixth-round draft pick from 2019. When Ballentine struggled on defense and then kickoff returns—and he was eventually cut—he was replaced by Isaac Yiadom, a player the Giants acquired via trade from Denver at the start of the season.
Yiadom had his issues as well, especially in zone coverage, and was replaced by Ryan Lewis, who finished the season on injured reserve with a hamstring ailment after he started three games between Weeks 5-7.
The Giants then went back to Yiadom before finishing the year with Julian Love, a college cornerback that they had mostly played at safety.
Love proved to be the most effective of the lot, but it’s unclear if he showed enough to dissuade opinions that a second starting cornerback should be one of the Giants' top priorities.
So where do the Giants go from here? Well, if Gettleman is as committed to fortifying the pass rush as he claims, adding another cornerback to this group sure as heck won’t hurt and could end up being the missing ingredient that takes what was otherwise a good unit to the next level.
Note: 2020 stats are per the Giants.
James Bradberry (PFF Grade: 79.8)
2020 Stats: 53 tackles, 3 INTs, 18 PBUs, 2 FF, 1 FR
How good was James Bradberry, one of the Giants biggest free-agent signings in the off-season?
Really good, as in the best coverage man in the back end of the defense, and as in a guy who reduced the impact of some of the game's top receivers to no more than just a ripple rather than a splash.
Bradberry recorded a career-high 18 pass breakups in 15 games (he missed one game due to COVID-19). He allowed a career-best 56.5% of all pass targets against him to be completed and registered a career-best 70.1 NFL Rating.
Tall, rangy, and physical, Bradberry did it all, whether it was in press coverage or zone. His physicality served him well in run defense, which is a very underrated yet important part of his game, his 53 tackle third-most by a Giants defensive back this year.
Bradberry was voted to his first career Pro Bowl this season, a much-deserved honor by a guy who rarely left the field and who seemed to play with a growing and steady confidence every week.
Darnay Holmes (PFF Grade: 79.8)
2020 Stats: 30 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 1 INT, 5 PBUs, 1 FR
Holmes, the Giants' fourth-round pick in 2020, moved right in as the primary slot cornerback. In 307 coverage snaps, he didn't allow a touchdown, which is the good news.
The bad news is that he didn't come up with as many big plays as one might have liked, like interceptions and pass breakups, though to be fair, he did deal with a late-season injury that likely slowed down the momentum he had built up.
Holmes needs to continue working on his angles and focus on being less grabby out there, as he drew five penalties in coverage this year, most of those coming when he was beaten. Credit though goes to Holmes, who, despite his smallish size, played a fearless game typical of what you'd see from a larger cornerback.
Holmes will likely get the chance to defend his job as the slot cornerback, but if he's to keep it for the long term, he'll need to produce more pass breakups and interceptions.
Isaac Yiadom (PFF Grade: 79.8)
2020 Stats: 45 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 QB Hit, 5 PBUs
Acquired via trade with the Broncos at the start of the season for a seventh-round pick, Yiadom was fine when asked to play press coverage for most of the game.
Zone coverage, however, was another story, and in fact, might have been the reason why the Broncos gave up on Yiadom, a third-round draft pick, after only two seasons when they switched this past year to more of a zone-based concept.
Yiadom took over the starting role for Corey Ballentine, who was cut midway through the year. But when Yiadom's inconsistent play and struggles were too much, the coaches replaced him with Ryan Lewis.
When Lewis went on injured reserve, Yiadom was reinserted into the lineup and appeared to have finally settled into his role. Unfortunately, Yiadom's play began to slide downhill.
Per Pro Football Focus, five of his eight missed tackles came from Weeks 3 on, and he allowed two receiving touchdowns over that same period while posting just two pass breakups and no interceptions.
Despite his struggles, Yiadom's size and raw skills make it worth bringing him to training camp next summer to compete.
Julian Love (PFF Grade: 79.8)
2020 Stats: 61 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBUs
The best way to describe Julian Love's NFL career thus far is to compare it with a piece of exercise equipment designed to do one thing but which ends up as a coat rack.
Love, a college cornerback who was touted coming out of Notre Dame in 2019 as a draft-day steal, spent most of his first two NFL seasons playing not at cornerback, the position at which he caught the attention of scouts but at safety, a position he had to learn.
But with the on-going struggles at the other cornerback spot opposite of Bradberry, the coaching staff, in the teams final three games, finally decided to remove the coats and deploy Love as he was meant to be, which is as a perimeter cornerback. Love earned some of his highest coverage grades from Pro Football Focus.
Did Love show enough to quell any current concerns about that other cornerback spot given his small sample size?
Probably not, at least in terms of his speed and with some inconsistencies in his tackling, which is why the team is likely to add to that spot in the draft as late as Day 3 to compete with Love and whoever else from the cornerback group the Giants retain for next year.
Madre Harper (PFF Grade: 79.8)
2020 Stats: 2 tackles (defense)
The Giants thought so highly of Madre Harper that they signed him from the Las Vegas Raiders practice squad and gave him a signing bonus on top of it to make sure they got their man.
Harper went undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois, where he started 15 games his junior and senior season following his transfer from Oklahoma State, who had suspended and dismissed from the program in 2017 for a violation of team rules.
The NFL Network's scouting report on Harper quoted an unnamed executive as saying Harper had poor film. Still, he has measurables teams seek, among them range and athleticism, to go along with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical leap.
Harper, who has appeared in nine games for the Giants, mostly on special teams, was placed on injured reserve on December 12 with a knee injury after contributing just two defensive tackles, and three tackles, and one fumble recovery on special teams.
He was activated off IR for the Giants' Week 17 regular-season finale against Dallas but was inactive for that game.
Ryan Lewis (PFF Grade: 79.8)
2020 Stats: 12 tackles, 1 Pass Breakup
When Yiadom faltered, the Giants promoted Lewis to the starting lineup for the Week 5 game at Dallas. Lewis delivered a solid showing that earned praise from defensive coordinator Patrick Graham for his play against the Cowboys.
"I couldn’t be prouder of how RyLew played (against the Cowboys)," Graham said the following week after the Giants narrowly lost to Dallas. "I thought RyLew did a good job for us. We always say it’s day to day with the competition, but Ryan did a good job on Sunday for us."
Lewis, the nephew of former NFL defensive back and one-time Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, has seen his career turn him into a journeyman after he went undrafted out of Pittsburgh.
Despite having posted decent numbers at his pro day that included a 4.37 40-yard dash time, a 35-inch vertical, a 128-inch broad jump, and a 6.87-second three-cone time.
Injuries and consistency issues continued to plague Lewis and did so during his time with the Giants, as he finished the season on injured reserve after suffering a hamstring strain.
That the Giants had a revolving door at the second cornerback spot should be as clear of a sign as any that they desperately need to upgrade the talent at this spot.
Other 2020 New York Giants Position Unit Reviews
- New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Safeties
- New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Inside Linebackers
- New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Outside Linebackers
- New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Defensive Line
- New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Offensive Line
- New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Receivers
- New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Tight Ends
- New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Running Backs
- New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Quarterbacks
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