WThere weren’t many people who believed Alabama safety Xavier McKinney would be available in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. But he was, and the New York Giants made him their first selection with the 36th overall pick.
In 2019, McKinney was a Second-Team All-American and First-Team All-SEC, and he led the Crimson Tide in tackles with 95. We all know GM Dave Gettleman has an affinity for SEC players, but McKinney presented very good value at 36 for New York. McKinney was used all over Nick Saban’s defense with Alabama, and showed a high level of football IQ. He can diagnose route combinations, anticipate plays, and takes good angles in run support. McKinney was used as an effective blitzer and also thrived in the “Money” spot as a nickle defender, who did well against tight ends in the slot.
He had 20 career passes defended and 5 interceptions during his tenure in Tuscaloosa. McKinney shows solid tracking ability and ball skills at the catch point, but could be a bit better at securing interceptions and putting himself in a better position to earn a pick.
I love his trigger coming downhill. He reads, reacts, and attacks aggressively on routes underneath to blow up receivers at the catch point. McKinney is a strong tackler, with a solid tackle radius. He latches on to ball carriers, wraps up, and rolls them to the deck. He plays with a lot of competitive toughness, and reportedly played through injuries.
There’s a ton to like about McKinney. His combine wasn’t great as he ran a 4.63 40-yard dash and never received a chance to run again due to the cancellation of the Alabama Pro Day. He was solid with his lower body explosive drills, but it wasn’t “game breaking,” especially when juxtaposed against Kyle Dugger and Jeremy Chinn. This certainly assisted his slide to Round 2, but McKinney’s instincts and all-around ability had him drafted one slot ahead of Dugger, who went to the New England Patriots at pick No. 37.
The Giants need a single-high safety. McKinney has played this role in college, but he’s not as fluid with his hips, when turning, and his range isn’t quick as Cal’s Ashtyn Davis or LSU’s Grant Delpit. McKinney gets a bit high, and has a very slight hitch in his hip turn when backpedaling. Nevertheless, McKinney is good at so many things, and doesn’t have any glaring liabilities in his game. McKinney is going to allow Patrick Graham to be so creative, and maybe Love will slide to the single high look. McKinney is good in the box, similar to Jabrill Peppers. The former Crimson Tide stud played 286 snaps in the box, 227 snaps at slot corner, and 271 at free safety, along with 38 snaps on the EDGE in 2019, according to PFF.
I thought the Giants may look into safeties with a bit more range than McKinney — safeties who can really excel in the single high role. McKinney can do it, but not to the level of some prospects left in the draft. With that being said, McKinney is a better overall safety than these other players. The best safety in the draft went off the board at 36, and the Giants were the beneficiary. His toughness, smarts, and overall competence will assist the Giants defense, and make it a stronger unit.