Twenty miles separated Jeremy Chinn from the place where he was nobody to the spot where he was trying to be somebody.
The late-rising safety out of Southern Illinois had the chance to showcase his skills at the 2020 NFL Combine two weeks ago. Despite growing up just 25 minutes away in Fishers, Ind., Chinn stayed at a hotel during the combine.
“Growing up watching the NFL Combine, to finally be a part of it is definitely a dream come true,” Chinn said. “At the same time, it’s also a business trip. There’s a lot that I’m here to do instead of just touring the NFL Combine. I’m here for business.”
The former Saluki cannot afford to be complacent as he is still proving to people that he should — and can — be a household name. The numbers speak for themselves, though. After immediately picking off three passes during his freshman year, he was named a starter at Southern Illinois and remained there all four years. He finished his collegiate career with 13 interceptions, including a career-best of four during his senior season, and 181 solo tackles.
The New York Giants have some decisions to make about the safety position this offseason and it is still unclear whether they will be looking for someone new. Last year, the Giants had starters Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea while Julian Love, Michael Thomas, and Sean Chandler served as backups. Our own Ed Valentine detailed each player and what we can expect the Giants to do but a new coaching staff leaves roster changes harder to predict.
That uncertainty aside, as Chinn’s draft stock slowly starts to rise following his stellar Senior Bowl performance and NFL Combine exploits, the Giants may find themselves considering the late bloomer, who, despite being the nephew of soon-to-be Hall of Famer Steve Atwater, will be the first person to tell you he has a lot to prove.
“I was under-recruited,” Chinn said. “Just getting an offer, that’s something I had to work for. After I got that offer, from day one, continue to work just to make something of that offer and to be able to get here today. Definitely a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication went into that and it’s still going into it today.”
The 220-pound safety boasts a chiseled, athletic frame just under 6-foot-3. The way he completed drills in Indianapolis proved that he has a valuable combination of speed and intellect. He scored a 30 on the league’s Wonderlic test. The average is about a 20. He said that his biggest accomplishment after being drafted is graduating with a degree in Exercise Science.
Perhaps Chinn’s greatest asset though is the chip he carries on his shoulder. The safety has just three college offers out of high school, none of which were from FBS schools. He hopes to join the group of Carson Wentz and Dallas Goedert as FBS players who made real impact at the NFL level.
“I’m grateful just to have this opportunity to be on this stage,” Chinn said.
Chinn has modeled his play after some of the players who have already made it to the show. He said that though he looks up to Derwin James and Jamal Adams, and he specifically admires Tyrann Mathieu’s versatility.
“You see him all around the field,” Chinn said. “You see him up high. You see him covering the slot. You see him outside at corner. At college, I did a lot of those things as well. He just has a natural play-making ability.”
Chinn demonstrated his versatility first-hand during his early years at Southern Illinois. He played cornerback in high school and started at corner when arriving to SIU. The team moved him to safety over the summer of his freshman year though and he did not find the transition too challenging. Then, when he was asked to play corner again during his junior year, he made the shift gracefully.
“I still have the corner mentality in a way, the corner footwork,” Chinn said. “Going up to safety, I had the size to play it. When I got back to corner, it was natural.”
With the direction the game is going, Chinn said that he believes his versatility is one of his most important assets. The secondary is constantly changing and Chinn has experience playing up high, close to the box and outside corner - a fact that should only further attract team’s attention.
Chinn showcased his skill-fullness at the Senior Bowl, where he played outsider corner.
“I just want to show that I can play anywhere on the defense,” Chinn said. “Just anyway I can show that I stand out. I’m a football player.”
Chinn’s proven tendency to make game-changing plays also makes him a weapon in the secondary. He said that he prides himself on getting the ball and forcing takeaways.
“When I see the ball in the air, I’m a receiver at that point,” Chinn said. “I was a running back in high school, so I miss touching the ball. Any way I can touch it, I’m going to get it.”
It is in the intangible part of his athletic ability, however, that Chinn wants to show coaches. He feels confident that his film speaks for itself. Beginning with the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, he has focused more on showing the type of player and teammate he can be off the field.
“You can’t really tell a person’s personality necessarily from film,” Chinn said. “Just being myself around these coaches, let them know what type of person I am, how much I love the game and how coachable I am.”
Yet, when asked what is not being said about Chinn’s game at this moment, he said, “I’m not sure what people are saying about my game right now as far as me.”
As the draft date nears closer and closer, teams are sure to be saying more about the underrated safety out of Southern Illinois. In the meantime though, Chinn will continue to work as though he still has everything to prove.