It was clear from early in the 2018 season that the New York Giants would need an upgrade for the free safety position. They signed veteran Antoine Bethea early in free agency, and while he is familiar with James Bettcher’s scheme, versatile, and has played well, he will be 35 years old when the season starts. Even if Bethea continues to play well, he is not a long-term answer for the free safety position.
The Giants could have a hard time finding a free safety that checks the various boxes they require from the position, but there is one prospect who might just do that.
Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has emerged as one of the top safety prospects in the entire draft and
- Athletic, rangy safety. Able to play any spot in the defensive secondary.
- Active communicator before the snap.
- High football IQ with fast processing. Reacts quickly to wrinkles in the offense.
- Good feet and hips in man coverage.
- Good awareness in zone coverage.
- Physical player and a reliable tackler.
- Good closing burst.
- Frequently used as a blitzer.
- Very high motor.
- Needs to improve hand usage taking on cut blocks.
- Didn’t play a deep zone often in Florida’s defense.
- Aggression can occasionally work against him.
What They’re Saying
“Chauncey Gardner-Johnson projects as a true game changing defender at the NFL level. Gardner-Johnson has been featured in the nickel and as pressure safety with the most frequency, both areas that he can play at a high level. With elite short area explosiveness and aggressiveness, Gardner-Johnson creates a ton of splash plays by driving forward and playing in attack mode. His role as a deep iso-defender is one that will need time and patience.”
- Kyle Crabbs (The Draft Network - Scouting Report)
Does He Fit The Giants?
Not only does Gardner-Johnson fit what the Giants want to do on defense, if James Bettcher custom-built a safety he would probably come up with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
It was clear after watching the Giants shuffle through free safety candidates in 2018 (before settling on Curtis Riley) that they wanted a safety with a cornerback’s skillset. That makes a lot of sense for a defense that wants to be blitz-happy while using a variety of looks to disguise from where the pressure is coming. Gardner-Johnson’s ability and versatility make him a fantastic fit for the role (or roles) the Giants want their free safety to play.
Gardner-Johnson profiles like Antrel Rolle as a safety who can play man coverage as a slot defender, pseudo-linebacker, free safety, be physical run defender, or a weapon in the pass rush, as well as a leader on the field.
There are few flaws in his game, mostly related to his aggression coming downhill to make a play. He can get hung up on blocks or tripped up by cut blocks, but improve hand usage will help with that. He can also get in trouble biting on double-moves, but a bit more patience will help -- though teams would be wise to not try to temper his edge too much.
The only question is whether or not Dave Gettleman is willing to use the 37th, or even 17th, overall pick on a safety.