We have reached safety, the final unit in our position-by-position analysis of the New York Giants as we careen toward the roster-building portion the 2020 NFL offseason. It’s a position that was a mixed bag for the Giants in 2019, and how they approach stocking it in 2020 will be interesting.
Let’s take a closer look.
Starters: Jabrill Peppers, Antoine Bethea
Reserves: Julian Love, Michael Thomas (free agent), Sean Chandler
Antoine Bethea — Brought in to quarterback the back end of James Bettcher’s defense and help mentor the Giants’ young defensive backs, Bethea did those things. At 35 years of age and in his 14th NFL season he started all 16 games and led the Giants with 110 tackles, which was pretty amazing.
Problem was, the Giants under Bettcher were often asking Bethea to function as a single-high safety. That’s a chore that requires range and athleticism that Bethea just doesn’t have at this stage of his career, and it showed. Bethea is a good tackler, but there were times he just couldn’t get into position to make plays. In coverage, his 133.8 passer rating against was second-worst among 34 qualifying safeties, per Pro Football Focus.
Bethea is under contract for next season, but the Giants can save all but $125,000 of the $2.875 million he is due to count under the salary cap should they cut him. Odds are they will do just that.
Jabrill Peppers — With the emphasis the new Giants coaching staff appears to be putting on positional and scheme versatility it is going to be interesting to see how they use Peppers. He played 448 of 717 snaps in the box last season, but also 92 in the slot and 117 at free safety. Peppers didn’t exactly make Giants fans forget Landon Collins, the man he replaced, but he did play well. The only thing really missing from Peppers’ game are splash plays as he had only one interceptions and five tackles for loss.
Julian Love — Did the Giants coaching staff do a great job developing Love and finally unleash him the second half of the season when he was ready? Or, did they not recognize how good he was and leave a player who could help their struggling defense gathering splinters on the bench for too long?
Whatever the case, Love was excellent when he finally got his chance the final six games. Drafted as a slot corner, the Giants appeared to be converting Love to free safety. Yet, that’s not how he was used. In 408 defensive snaps, the 195-pounder played 176 in the box, 129 in the slot and only 77 at deep safety.
Since most of his playing time came after Peppers was hurt, and in the position Peppers would usually occupy, it’s fair to wonder how the two fare together. Could Love be headed for regular slot duty in 2020 or will he be at safety? Or both? All I know for sure is he has to be on the field.
Michael Thomas — It’s going to be interesting to see if the Joe Judge Giants bring back Thomas, a 2018 Pro Bowl special teams player, dependable reserve safety and an excellent veteran presence in the locker room. Thomas doesn’t possess the speed to be relied on a lot as a deep safety, but he can play in the box and the slot, Thomas told me at the end of the season that he would love to be back with the Giants. Here’s one vote hoping that happens.
Sean Chandler — If anyone has the right to be bummed when news broke that Matt Rhule would coach the Carolina Panthers rather than the Giants it would be Chandler. That’s because the former undrafted free agent played for Rhule at Temple, and that connection might have increased Chandler’s shot at sticking on the Giants’ 2020 roster. Chandler’s been little more than a special teams player and emergency safety for two seasons. He played only 30 defensive snaps in 2019.
Is this a position of need in 2020?
That depends. How do the Giants see Love? Do they want to bring Thomas back? Do Judge and Graham want to make a run at free agent Devin McCourty for a Bethea-like role? Like so many things with the Giants, a first-time head coach and a new defensive coordinator bring a lot of unknowns.