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Position preview: Breaking down New York Giants’ cornerback situation

NFL: New York Giants-OTA
Eli Apple (28) defends wide receiver Geremy Davis during OTAs.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

When you think about the New York Giants revamped defense, most of the attention seems to focused on two spots. The front four, where the Giants spent an immense amount of money, and safety, where they are hoping they have the answer at free safety.

Cornerback, though, is another spot where the Giants will be much different in 2016 than they were a year ago. Let’s continue our position previews in advance of training camp by looking at the changes here.

The Big Three

That, of course, would be holdover Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, high-priced free agent Janoris Jenkins and first-round pick Eli Apple.

Jenkins is the big gamble. Rather than maintain the status quo with 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara, the Giants rolled the dice by saying goodbye to Prince and giving Jenkins a five-year, $62.5 million contract with $28.8 million guaranteed. This is a high-risk, high-reward gamble by GM Jerry Reese and the Giants.

It remains instructive to go back and look at how Pro Football Focus reacted when the Giants signed Jenkins:

This is a boom-or-bust move for the Giants. From a financial perspective, this is a big gamble on a cornerback who has not proven himself to be among the top tier of corners. Jenkins has consistently been a corner equally adept at creating impact plays for both his team and the opposition.

Since Jenkins entered the league in 2012, only Buster Skrine (25) and Patrick Peterson (23) have surrendered more than Jenkins' 22 touchdowns, while only four corners (Antonio Cromartie, Brandon Carr, Cary Williams and Tramon Williams) have allowed more plays of 20-plus yards than Jenkins (39). On the positive side, Jenkins will make big plays for his own team as well; his 10 career interceptions are tied for the 12th-most since he entered the league, and his 34 passes defensed are tied for the seventh-most.

There are not only questions about how good the 27-year-old Jenkins is, but there are questions about how well he will handle the New York/New Jersey spotlight. of the three players the Giants gave mega-contracts to — Jenkins, Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon — Jenkins might be the most likely to bust.

If Jenkins lives up to his contract, that’s a huge upgrade for the Giants. If he doesn’t, that’s a lot of money down the drain.

Apple is the future. The question is, how well will he handle the present? Aplle played only two years of college football at Ohio State. He’s immensely talented, but he’s an inexperienced 21-year-old with a tendency to clutch and grab, and teams are certain to test him often.

“I expect that, just to see how I’m going to react to things and see if I’m actually the real deal. I expect that and I’m looking forward to it,” Apple said in the spring.

So, who is in the slot? If Rodgers-Cromartie, Jenkins and Apple are all going to be on the field at the same time one of them will have to man the slot. That isn’t a natural spot for any of the three, and best guess is the Giants will continue to evaluate which guy can handle it best during training camp.

The rest of the field

Trevin Wade seems like almost a lock to make the final roster. He played reasonably well for the Giants a year as their primary slot corner, and can also fill in on the outside. There doesn’t seem to be any legitimate reason why his job would be in jeopardy.

Leon McFadden and Tramain Jacobs, though, could be on the roster bubble. Both are journeyman players acquired in-season last year, and neither inspires a ton of confidence.

Watch out for the kids. McFadden and Jacobs should be looking over their shoulders at undrafted free agents Donte Deayon and (Boise State) and Matt Smalley (Lafayette). Deayon, despite being only 5-foot-9, 158 pounds, was impressive in the spring. Smalley is a speedster who Dave-Te Thomas of NFL Draft Report is high on.

Don’t be surprised if the Giants add a veteran cornerback at some point before the season starts. The Giants flirted with Jerraud Powers and Leon Hall (who remains unsigned) during the offseason. As impressive as Deayon was in the spring, it still seems like adding a veteran corner, especially one who could help in the slot, would be a good idea.

Roster prediction — Rodgers-Cromartie, Jenkins, Apple, Wade, Deayon

Better or worse than last year?

On paper, this group is better than last year. Jenkins is more talented and durable than Amukamara. Apple is more talented than McBride or Hosley. Rodgers-Cromartie played well in 2015. Wade is a capable fourth corner.

There is, however, also a lot of risk here. If Jenkins goes sideways, Apple struggles as a rookie and DRC shows signs of decline, this group could be problematic.