New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman knew coming into his first season with the Giants that he wasn’t going to be able to fix everything that was wrong with the franchise.
So he rolled the dice in some areas, such as at safety. Unfortunately for Gettleman and the Giants, their gamble at this position didn’t pay off.
2018 roster: Landon Collins, Curtis Riley, Michael Thomas, Sean Chandler, Kamrin Moore, Kenny Ladler
The Giants gave up on oft-injured Darian Thompson, their third-round pick from 2016, which wasn’t a surprise.
What was a surprise at this position was that Andrew Adams, who as a rookie had played well in place of Thompson but who didn’t get much of a chance in his second season once Thompson returned to full health, was sent packing as part of the final cuts in training camp.
The move made little sense at the time, and it certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that Adams finished with four interceptions, tying him for fourth league-wide with seven other players (including Curtis Riley of the Giants).
The Giants never did provide a solid explanation as to why they moved on from Adams, but one theory that had been floating around was that he not only was more of a box safety, he didn’t do quite as good of a job as Riley in making the calls on the back end of the defense.
Speaking of Riley, that’s about all he really had going for him. A young journeyman who converted from corner to safety this year, Riley looked every bit the player who was learning the position on the fly.
He was only targeted 23 times in coverage, allowing 13 receptions for 165 yards, the previously mentioned four interceptions and a pass breakup. But where Riley’s performance struggled was in taking proper angles to the ball carrier.
Per Pro Football Focus, Riley allowed 95 of the 165 yards thrown against him (58 percent) after the catch, which usually meant he was either taking poor angles or just not wrapping up properly on his tackles.
And speaking of tackling, Riley led the Giants in missed tackles with 23 and it wasn’t even close. His poor angles continued even in those cases where he was the designated deep help on a play.
Often, Riley would either be late in getting over or completely whiff on a chance to stop a receiver in his tracks.
The final straw for the Giants came in Week 17 when Riley made what looked like a half-hearted tackle attempt. He was immediately yanked from the game by head coach Pat Shurmur and replaced by youngster Sean Chandler, who has some talent but who still needs polish to his game.
Veteran Michael Thomas, who, by the way, proved to be the Giants best free-agent signing of 2018 for his special teams play and leadership alone.
As a safety, Thomas didn’t fare that much better than Riley as he was targeted more — he allowed 63.6 percent of the pass targets against him to be completed for 180 yards, 74 after the catch and one touchdown, while picking off two balls and logging two pass breakups.
Thomas, who came in for the injured Landon Collins, didn’t quite play on the same level as his younger teammate, largely because Collins was being asked to do so much, but Thomas didn’t really embarrass himself out there.
Speaking of Collins, who will be an UFA this offseason, once the Giants decided not to trade him, they often enough had him playing that Deon Grant pseudo linebacker type of role. Collins’ numbers might have lacked in the big-play department, but a look at the film showed that opponents were mostly staying away from his side of the field out of respect.
2019 look ahead
The first item of business of the Giants agenda is to get Collins signed to a reasonably priced multi-year deal. Like Odell Beckham Jr. before him, Collins is coming off a season ending injury (shoulder).
This is the second time in as many years that Collins was unable to complete a 16-game season, so it will be interesting to see if the Giants decide to franchise him or apply the transition tag instead.
Equally as important will be getting a quality free safety to line up alongside of Collins. For as good as the Giants defensive co-captain has been, imagine how much better he would be with a quality partner alongside of him, like a Tyrann Mathieu or an Earl Thomas.
The problem is that the Giants might not want to invest heavily in both their safeties, which if true, means they’ll probably plug a second-tier free agent into the spot given that this year’s draft class isn’t said to be a good one for teams in need of a safety.
Thomas will be back as a depth player and Chandler will probably get another chance to grow into the NFL level position. Beyond that, the Giants will probably add some new depth both in free agency and after the draft in hopes of uncovering a hidden gem who can fortify the position for years to come.