The New York Giants want to be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. That is true of every franchise, but it is especially so for the Giants, who suffered a disastrous and humiliating fall from grace after a 2016 season that saw them reach the play-offs.
For no other position group was that fall more precipitous than for the secondary.
Buoyed by the addition of Janoris Jenkins, a solid rookie campaign by Eli Apple, and a historic season from Landon Collins, the Giants fielded one of the most feared secondaries in the NFL. The combination of Jenkins, Apple, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Collins, and Andrew Adams proved to be the next-best thing to “Shut Down,” and allowed Steve Spagnuolo to field an aggressive defense.
In 2017, injuries, friction with the coaching staff and fissures in the locker room brought the proud unit to its knees.
But has the Giants’ secondary gotten better in 2018?
2017 Starters - Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (slot/nickel)
Backups - Ross Cockrell, Donte Deayon, Michael Hunter, Brandon Dixon
2018 Starters - Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, William Gay (nickel)
Backups - Donte Deayon, Brandon Dixon, Riley Curtis, B.W. Webb, Jeremiah McKinnon, Teddy Williams, Tim Scott, Orion Stewart
2017 Starters - Landon Collins, Darian Thompson
Backups - Andrew Adams, Nat Berhe
2018 Starters - Landon Collins, Darian Thompson
Backups - Andrew Adams, Thomas Michael
The question of whether or not the Giants’ secondary has improved has two parts, and they are not mutually exclusive.
From the personnel perspective, it is impossible to say that the Giants are at the same level they were entering Week 1 of the 2017 season. DRC had proven himself to be a versatile player, capable of shut-down play, and Cockrell would prove to be an excellent value for a seventh-round pick when he took on a larger role.
Replacing DRC is William Gay, who is a year older and never had anything like Rodgers-Cromartie’s physical tools. He should be expected to lend a veteran presence to the locker room, but it is unclear how much the Giants will be able to depend on him. Replacing Cockrell is Donte Deayon and a gaggle of low-cost free agents. Considering that the nickel player is a starter in today’s NFL, it’s little wonder why Ed Valentine, Dan Pizzuta, and myself identified the cornerback position as the biggest remaining hole on the Giants’ roster.
The importance of defensive backs can’t be overestimated. They are players who directly effect the passing game on four fronts -- from preventing plays from being made, giving pass rusher time to make plays, generating turnovers on their own, and as blitzers. But, curiously, Dave Gettleman has never shown much interest in the secondary. The Giants signed Antrel Rolle when he was the Giants’ Pro Personnel director, and Gettleman used a pair of high draft picks (second- and third-round picks in 2015) on corners as the Carolina Panthers’ GM. But other than those investments, he rarely seemed to take interest in the secondary.
*Note: Because the signings are not yet official, I haven’t counted UDFAs Grant Haley (CB, Penn State), Aaron Davis (DB, Georgia), or Sean Chandler (S, Temple), all of whom could be factors.
However, as scary as the Giants’ lack of depth on the back end of their defense has become, it is also entirely likely that they will improve in 2018.
It is impossible for anyone outside of the Giants’ locker room to say exactly what went on in 2017. But from the outside looking in, things were not pretty. Each of the Giants’ top corners were suspended by Ben McAdoo as well as infighting on top of players thrown under the bus while trying to play through injury. Anyone who has ever worked for a bad boss knows that poor (or a lack of) leadership at the top has a caustic effect on everyone under them — how it can reduce even the most professional worker to depressed apathy.
The move from McAdoo, who seemed to be consumed by the offense and have little time for interaction with the defense, to Pat Shurmur could be the deciding factor.
Shurmur’s insistence upon developing a relationship with all of his players could help get the most out of Jenkins and Apple, both of whom will be indispensable to whatever success the Giants have this season.
So, on paper the Giants’ secondary, and cornerback position in particular, has taken a step backwards in 2018. However, if coaching improves as we hope, the secondary is more likely to play up to the level they showed in 2016. Of course, the concerns at slot corner and behind the starters could rear their ugly heads if attrition begins to set in.