New York Giants 2020 Position Review: Safeties

It's been a long time, but the Giants safeties quietly developed into a team strength this season with still more room to grow.
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The last time the New York Giants had three really good safeties was in 2011 when Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, and Deon Grant roamed the box and the deep part of the field for a team that went on to win the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl championship.

Fast forward to 2021, where the Giants once again have three very promising safeties that, if they stay healthy, could end up being just as good, if not better, than the Phillips-Rolle-Grant trio.

Those three safeties are Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, and Xavier McKinney, a group that has found their way to the Giants through different avenues.

Peppers, the senior member of the group, was part of the 2019 trade with the Cleveland Browns for Odell Beckham Jr. After an injury-shortened and pedestrian first season with the Giants, Peppers, and the best season of his four-year pro career in 2020.

McKinney was the Giants’ second-round draft pick out of Alabama, a versatile defender who many scouts and draft analysts viewed as a poor man’s Isaiah Simmons, Simmons of course going to the Cardinals in the first round of the draft.

Unfortunately, McKinney suffered a broken foot late in training camp, the injury requiring surgery, and missing the first 11 games of his rookie season. But in the short span, he was on the field, McKinney looked to be every bit the player the Giants imagined he’d be.

Ryan, the oldest of the group, came to the Giants after McKinney suffered his injury. Much like Grant back in the day, Ryan has been a godsend on and off the field as a leader, a mentor, and a pretty good football player still capable of making the plays that the Giants defensive secondary hadn’t seen a whole lot of in years past from their deep defenders.

Of course, it remains to be seen if history is going to repeat itself regarding the safety trio and their influence over a potential Super Bowl championship run. But there’s no question that Ryan, Peppers, and McKinney's is as good of a trio as the Giants have had since 2011.

Logan Ryan (PFF Grade: 64.1)
2020 Stats: 92 Tackles, 1 Sack, 4 QB Hits, 1 INT, 9 Pass Breakups, 3 Forced Fumbles, 2 Fumble Recoveries

For a guy who missed all of training camp and who was also in the process of making a position switch, Logan Ryan ended up being the steal of free agency, and it wasn't even close.

Ryan continued to show sound instincts and anticipation and played a smart, alert game in which he diagnosed what was unfolding before him before the play did unfold. This often got him into the right position to make plays, and he had quite a few big plays at that, perhaps none more significant than his game-ending interception against Washington in the second meeting.

If there was one area where Ryan's game lacked, it was in his tackling. Per Pro Football Focus, Ryan's 14 missed tackles led the Giants safeties (and tied him with cornerback James Bradberry for the team lead in this category).

Off the field, Ryan was the very definition of a team leader and a guy whose teammates and coaches couldn't speak highly enough.

Ryan proved to be so valuable that the Giants wasted no time in ensuring that their defensive leader wouldn't get close to free agency again. The Giants signed Ryan to a three-year contract extension worth $30 million with $20 million guaranteed.

Jabrill Peppers (PFF Grade: 64.7)
2020 Stats: 89 Tackles, 2.5 Sacks, 8 Tackles for Loss, 3 QB Hits, 1 INT, 11 Pass Breakups, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Fumble Recovery

Peppers appeared in 15 games for the Giants this year--he missed the one game with an ankle injury. He recorded personal highs in tackles and tackles for a loss. Peppers, per PFF, also led the Giants safeties in stops and seemed more at home in Patrick Graham's scheme than he did the year prior in James Bettcher's.

A strong downhill safety, Peppers finished third on the team in tackles but also recorded 13 missed tackles, which was second on the team. Interestingly, Graham had Peppers in coverage (529 snaps) more than he had been the year prior (372 snaps).

Peppers remains inconsistent in coverage, particularly with some of the angles he'd take, and he led the defensive backs in missed tackles. (His NFL rating of 94.1 rose from the 78.8 he recorded in his first season as a Giant.)

Peppers also contributed as the team's primary punt returner, returning 15 punts for 187 yards (12.5 yards per punt).

Xavier McKinney

Xavier McKinney during a Giants training camp practice.

Xavier McKinney (PFF Grade: 70.0)
2020 Stats: 24 Tackles, 1 Tackle For Loss, 1 INT, 1 Pass Breakup

For those who were upset with the Giants for passing on Isaiah Simmons, McKinney's skill set should ease the sting of that decision in no time.

McKinney stepped into the lineup following his injury and, right away, had a bunch of roles to fill. He 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.

Give McKinney a full year to get his feet underneath him, and he's going to be something special as part of that projected starting safety trio.

Adrian Colbert (PFF Grade: 56.3)
2020 Stats: 10 Tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss

Adrian Colbert followed defensive coordinator Patrick Graham from Miami to the Giants, making a quick detour with the Chiefs during the early part of the 2020 training camp period.

While not a flashy player, he brought some value in his production, particularly on special teams where he played gunner until a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve in early November.

Colbert appeared on defense in four games, getting over 100 total snaps and making two starts (in Weeks 4 and 5 against the Rams and Cowboys, respectively).

He returned from injured reserve in time for the Giants Week 15 game against the Browns, getting six snaps on defense but not recording any stats in that game.

Colbert, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, might be worth re-signing on a one-year minimum deal considering his special teams value and that he can also play cornerback.

Nate Ebner (PFF Grade: 41.2)
2020 Stats: 2 Tackles, 1 Pass Breakup

Signed to a one-year deal, Ebner, one of the stars on head coach Joe Judge's Patriots special teams units, was brought over from the Patriots to fill the same role for Judge in New York.

Unlike in New England, where Ebner rarely saw snaps on defense, the Giants deployed him on a handful of occasions, mainly when they needed to plug someone in for someone in need of a breather or due to injury.

Unfortunately, he wasn't very solid on the small sampling size he received in coverage. Playing a total of 39 defensive snaps spread over six games, Ebner allowed all three pass targets to be completed for 41 yards, 21 of which came after the catch, a 118.8 NFL rating.

On special teams, he recorded six tackles, four solo.

Off-Season Outlook

The safety position is one of the few positions that general manager Dave Gettleman doesn’t have to worry about, given the depth.

However, it probably won’t hurt to add some developmental talent for potential practice squad roles to keep the pipeline flowing.

Expect big things from the Giant safeties in 2021 as this group is poised for bigger and better things.

Other 2020 New York Giants Position Unit Reviews

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