Could fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes be the answer to the New York Giants’ years-long search for a quality slot cornerback?
The Giants really haven’t had any stability in the slot since Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (along with Trevin Wade in 2016 and Ross Cockrell in 2017) handled that job much of his final two seasons with the team.
Let’s take a closer look at whether or not Holmes could provide the solution.
How he got here
Holmes started 33 of the 35 games he played in during three seasons at UCLA. He was twice selected Honorable Mention All-Pac 12. Holmes had a good career with the Bruins, but maybe. not what might have been hoped for from a five-star recruit who was the No. 3-ranked cornerback in the country (behind Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade) coming out of high school.
Here is what Dane Brugler of The Athletic wrote about Holmes in his 2020 NFL Draft Guide:
A three-year starter at UCLA, Holmes was the left cornerback in defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro’s 3-4 base scheme, playing mostly man coverage. He packed a lot into three years (earned his degree and started double-digit games each season), but his junior season fell short of the high expectations (top-50 prospect) by NFL scouts entering 2019. While he put together some impressive highlights in college, Holmes lacks ideal height/length and has plenty of ugly reps on tape where he looks lost and out of control. The word “late” (late to react, late to drive, etc.) showed up too often in my notes and he is a better athlete than refined cornerback right now. Overall, Holmes checks several critical boxes with his athleticism, aggressiveness and ball skills, but his NFL ceiling is dependent on whether or not he can develop his play recognition and lower body technique, projecting as a high-upside gamble in the mid rounds.
In the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast below, Joe Piechowski of The Mighty Bruin tells us that he believes Holmes’ UCLA career was negatively impacted by poor coaching and poor defensive play around him, and says he believes there is potential for Holmes to be a better NFL player than he was a collegiate one.
When the Giants drafted him, coach Joe Judge said he “is definitely a guy that jumps out at you.”
In our post-draft Holmes film study, our Nick Falato called Holmes a “fiesty, competitive cornerback.” He also wrote:
“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. ...
“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.”
As we have indicated all along, Holmes is expected to compete for the slot cornerback. GM Dave Gettleman said when the Giants selected Holmes that he “will come in and compete for that spot right away.”
Holmes will have plenty of company. That group might include Grant Haley, Julian Love, Corey Ballentine, Dravon Askew-Henry, Rashaan Gaulden and perhaps seventh-round pick Chris Williamson. As things unfold, it’s likely there are times when safety Xavier McKinney, the Giants’ second-round pick, finds himself in the slot.
NFL analyst Bucky Brooks believes Holmes will outperform his status as the 110th player selected:
The best nickel corner in the 2020 class possesses a unique set of skills that should enable him to shine immediately in the league. Holmes’ combination of speed, agility, intelligence, competitiveness and toughness are ideal for the slot corner position, which is viewed as the 12th starting spot on defenses in today’s game. The UCLA product has the capacity to cover shifty receivers in tight quarters and also understands how to maintain his leverage, to maximize the help available to him from linebackers and safeties. Holmes’ high football IQ and his overall awareness of coverage would make him ideally suited for the slot corner role in a multi-faceted scheme that demands a lot from the nickel back. Given Holmes’ toughness, tackling and competitive spirit, the move inside could help him become a game-changer at the next level.
If Falato is right that health impacted Holmes’ play in 2019, and Piechowski is right that lack of quality coaching impact his development at UCLA, the Giants might have found the solution to their slot cornerback quandary.