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Darnay Holmes: 5 things to be excited about, and 2 to worry about

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Is Darnay Holmes the answer at nickel back?

Stanford v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The New York Giants added a feisty, competitive cornerback out of UCLA in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft when they selected Darney Holmes.

Holmes is uniquely mature and understands the value in a structured environment, which is one reason why he loves football. Chess is another activity that Holmes loves to engage in as he feels it keeps his mind sharp. It’s no surprise that Joe Judge, someone who comes from an environment that stresses attention to detail, would be attracted to a player like Holmes, who had the dedication to complete his degree a year early, while also partaking in activities of intellect and strategy.

Lest we forget that both Patrick Graham and Jason Garrett are Ivy Leaguers, with Graham earning his degree from Yale and Garrett from Princeton. I’m sure they understand a thing or two about loaded semesters, the chess games in the Giants locker room are going to be fierce.

When he wasn’t taking more than 30 credits a semester, Holmes was playing football. Holmes was strictly a boundary corner for the Bruins, which poses a problem for his NFL career. At 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, Holmes will struggle on the boundary, and will have to make a transition inside.

I remember Holmes down at the Senior Bowl and I thought he was an undersized player, who was competitive and looked adept in coverage, athletic enough to play nickel (even though it was his first exposure to the position), and very disruptive at the catchpoint and up the stem of routes. When the Giants drafted him, I dove right into his 2019 film, and I picked the worst game to watch - at Washington State. For perspective, Holmes surrendered five touchdowns in coverage in 2019, and three of them came against Washington State. Come to find out that he was dealing with an injury that forced him to miss the first two weeks of the games. The Cougar game was Week 4 and they really poured it onto Holmes, targeting him 10 times, completing seven. After that game, I tried some 2018 and 2017 film, when Holmes was healthy, and I found a lot of redeeming qualities about the player.

Below are five plays to get excited about, and a couple to be concerned with.

Play 1) UCLA @ Washington 2017

(Third quarter, 13:38, Second-and-7 )

On this play the former five-star recruit showed a high level of mental processing, advanced for a player who was just a freshman, as he sees the routes develop in front of him and notices that No. 11 on his own team fails to carry the running back wheel route from Myles Gaskin (No. 9) up the sideline. Holmes turns his hips on the tight end, releasing on the dig, but notices Gaskin leaking out uncovered. Holmes, while positioning his body well to attack the tight end, reads Jacob Browning’s eyes and throwing motion. Once Holmes sees Browning’s eyes go outside, he flips his hips and attacks the ball for the pick, while chirping at the running back. Holmes undercut the route, jumps up, and high points the ball to secure the interception. These plays were not frequent in his 2019 film, and I would imagine that it’s due to injury.

Play 2) Stanford @ UCLA 2018

(Third quarter, 12:19, first-and-20)

Holmes is matched up, on the numbers, against J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (19), a 2019 second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles. Again, Holmes is 5-9, 195 pounds, and Arcega-Whiteside happens to be 6-2, 225 pounds, and his game is predicated on winning contested catches and being physical ... at least it was at Stanford. Watch the top of the screen as Arcega-Whiteside attempts to create separation at the line of scrimmage with some physicality, but Holmes’ doesn’t budge. Holmes instead plays with great leverage, giving Arcega-Whiteside the outside release and forcing quarterback K.J. Costello to make a perfect throw. I love how Holmes just attaches to the inside hip of Arcega-Whiteside and he’s able to turn his body, not lose the physical battle, and locate the ball in the air, to not draw a penalty. Once Holmes is able to do that, he leaps up and knocks the ball out of the outside arm of Arcega-Whiteside. Holmes is easily in phase and puts himself in great position to make a play on the ball, while showing a lot of physicality and disruptiveness at the catch point.

Play 3) Stanford @ UCLA 2018

(Third quarter, 6:54, First-and-10)

This play looks similar to the one above, but there are slight differences, and it’s in the red-zone. Holmes line of scrimmage skills against Arcega-Whiteside here are so much better than the footwork he utilized in 2019, so it’s in his arsenal. Way too often in 2019 I saw Holmes false step or give wide receivers too much leverage, but this is great right here. It’s from a similar alignment as the previous clip, just inside the numbers. Holmes shows so much patience and discipline at the line of scrimmage, while being fluid in his backpedal. He doesn’t take any false steps inside and he opens his hips on the receiver, once Arcega-Whiteside commits outside. He’s able to flip his hips, get his front to face Costello, while putting his outside hip on the inside hip of Arcegea-Whiteside. Holmes then squeezes Arcega-Whiteside up and off the red-line to the sideline, while getting his head around to locate the ball and fighting through contact. This is perfect positioning from an undersize cornerback on a receiver that is 6-2, 225 pounds. Holmes overpowers a strong receiver at the catch point and is able to get his arm up to force a batted pass. This is what the Giants saw in Holmes that caused them to select him with the 110th pick. If Holmes’ 2019 was consistent with his 2018 tape, he would have been a Day 2 pick. If he was two inches taller and had longer arms, he could have been a Day 1 pick.

Play 4) UCLA @ Washington 2017

(Fourth quarter, 8:14, First-and-10)

Look at the speed, burst, and explosiveness from Holmes above. This is a wing back end around, with an H-Back lead blocking along with a receiver. Holmes sees the play and outruns the block to make a hard tackle on the ball carrier. Holmes, from the near hash, puts his foot in the ground and explodes outside and through traffic, using his speed to avoid the block and the engaged block with the tight end and his teammate. Holmes looks like a missile here. Salvon Ahmed (26) may have been able to turn the corner, had Holmes gone inside. Holmes is not afraid of contact, which I love to see, especially with an undersized cornerback. It’s one reason why I love Grant Haley, who is pound for pound one of the best tacklers on the Giants, but who struggles with recovery speed. Holmes doesn’t, when healthy.

Play 5) Arizona @ UCLA 2018

(Second quarter, 9:34, First-and-10)

Pure hustle and recovery speed right here. An easy touchdown run by J.J. Taylor (21) turns into a fumble recovery for UCLA. Holmes is playing off man coverage and, I believe, Holmes was meant to be the contain defender outside, which means his job is to not allow anyone outside. UCLA’s overhang defender comes downhill and takes on the receiver’s block, which provides the gigantic alley since the UCLA linebacker couldn’t make the tackle in the backfield as the fill defender. Holmes takes the outside, but no one is there to fill the alley correctly, so Taylor is off to the races.

I love how Holmes doesn’t give up on the play and is able to outpace Taylor, who has a few steps on him. With only 8 yards left, Holmes closes the gap and punches the ball loose, while finding it in the end zone for a touchback. Incredible competitive toughness and will power, and I’m sure coach Judge loved to see this kind of effort and motor.

Things to work on

Play 1) UCLA @ Washington State 2019

(First quarter, 13:02, First-and-10)

Holmes was abused at the line of scrimmage against Washington State. He showed little patience and took false steps that put him way out of position, while totally whiffing with his hands, as we see above. With no safety help over top, Holmes is head up on the wide receiver to the field in the 2x1 set in 22 personnel. Holmes opens his hips outside, as he whiffs on contact, which gives the wide receiver nothing but space between the hash, through the numbers, and to the side line. This is such an easy pitch and catch for the quarterback and receiver. Holmes puts himself into position to not recover, since there was nothing but space for the receiver to operate within. It was a very good release at the line of scrimmage that was enhanced by Holmes’ poor technique.

Holmes was burned on another touchdown like this in the Washington State game. He allowed the receiver to win at the line of scrimmage by allowing Holmes to commit early, which provided the receiver space and leverage outside. Holmes also allowed the receiver to stack on-top of him on that specific rep. It was not a good showing for Holmes in this game. We’ll see the third touchdown he surrendered below.

Play 2) UCLA @ Washington State 2019

(Third quarter, 6:52, First-and-goal)

Holmes is playing in off man coverage just inside the numbers at the goal line. He’s lined up to the field and UCLA brings a end/tackle stunt to the boundary side, the same side as Holmes. Since Holmes is 6 yards off the ball, inside the numbers, it gives Denzel Patmon (12) a free release, with tons of space to operate. This is such an easy read for both Patmon and quarterback Anthony Gordon. This may have been a free access type of play by the backside receiver (Pattmon) and Gordon. Free access is similar to a choice route. It means a receiver (typically the backside one) and the quarterback see the coverage and have a sign for what route a receiver will execute. The quarterback will give the receiver a specific sign depending on the leverage, coverage, and depth of the cornerback and the receiver will run the route. I don’t know why Holmes is so far off the ball, but it’s bad positioning for those types of plays, an easy out route or flat out will result in a touchdown; there’s way too much space out there for those types of quick game routes. Holmes just looks like he’s a step behind here. I don’t know if Holmes was coached to be this far off the line of scrimmage in this situation.

Final thoughts

Holmes’ 2019 tape was worse than his 2018 tape, and the Pro Football Focus grades concur. Maybe Holmes’ injury was significant enough to hamper his effectiveness in 2019, but even then he still wasn’t terrible (outside of the Washington State game). He conceded 26 catches on 51 targets (51 percent) for 331 yards and 5 touchdowns, again 3 being in the Washington State game. Holmes had 4 passes defensed and 5 penalties in 2019, so he wasn’t getting to the catch point as often as 2018, where he doubled his pass breakups. I look at it like this — the Giants added a feisty slot corner who can compete to start right away on Day 3 of the draft.

The slot was the Giants’ biggest deep vulnerability last season as offensive coordinators repeatedly targeted Haley’s lack of athletic ability deep and the Giants response was to move a sixth-round, pure boundary corner, to try and patch up that deficiency. Corey Ballentine may be fine, but not in the slot. Now, in 2020, the Giants can either rotate Haley, Darnay Holmes, Chris Williamson or Dravon Askew-Henry, or one of the four could just win the job outright. If none of that materializes, they have Julian Love and Xavier McKinney who can also play big slots and tight ends effectively from that position.

Either way, the addition of Holmes adds more NFL bodies to the position. I wish he was a bit bigger, sure, but he has quality tape in his past, is a good athlete, and has good ball skills. I have faith that secondary coach Jerome Henderson and assistant coach Anthony Blevins can help Holmes clean up some inconsistencies with his game. Maybe a year healthy will make all the difference for Holmes to return to his 2018 form. Nevertheless, Dave Gettleman said you can never have too many cornerbacks and that rings true in a passing league, with this position group that suffers way too many injuries.