The New York Giants have added a lot of young, eager NFL players to their secondary over the last few seasons. They’ve drafted, brought in free agents, undrafted rookies, and even added a player from the XFL, but the position has had unpropitious variables that have led to uncertainty with the second starting cornerback position.
DeAndre Baker has run into legal issues, Sam Beal opted out of the season due to COVID-19, and the Ross Cockrell signing actually never materialized. Despite the unfortunate events, the team still needs to determine a starter opposite of James Bradberry. They have several options but none seem ideal. Let’s go through some of the more realistic choices.
If I had to select one player to be my choice it would be Ballentine. A sixth-round selection out of Washburn, Ballentine had a turbulent start to his NFL career. On the night he was drafted, he was shot in the thigh and his best friend was killed.
The tragedy set Ballentine back in terms of his NFL career, and once healthy, he had to quickly assimilate into NFL life. It didn’t help that he was forced into an unnatural position in the slot. Ballentine struggled to man the nickel position, but he fits the boundary mold and that’s what he played in college. His struggles were more mental than physical:
As you can see, he has elite level lower body explosiveness, solid size/length, and above-average agility. These solid prerequisites to the position do not necessarily mean he’ll be successful outside, but this training camp/pre-season may be more normal than last year’s (no one would have ever thought normal and 2020 would be in the same sentence).
With a year under his belt, his superior athletic ability, and with his physicality in run support could lead to Ballentine receiving the first crack at being the second starting cornerback. He would need to become more decisive with reading the subtleties of receivers in man coverage; it seemed like he was a step or two behind in this area last year. But in a more natural position on the boundary, Ballentine may be able to limit that indecision and have more success in Graham’s man heavy scheme.
Things can get a bit tricky here with Love, who was a boundary cornerback at Notre Dame. James Bettcher and the former coaching staff shifted him to safety last season, a position that took him time to master behind Antoine Bethea, a 38-year-old starter. Love, a player who is sub-200 pounds, ended up playing most of his snaps in the box.
Love was a versatile second-level defender. He lined up 176 times in the box, 129 times as a slot cornerback, 77 times as a free safety, and only 8 times on the boundary. That last number is not a ringing endorsement for him to play boundary, but he did so successfully in college.
Love was able to slip to the Giants in the fourth round in part because his testing numbers were below average, but his play and technique were solid at Notre Dame. In his junior season, he had 63 tackles, 1 interception, and 16 passes defended, and in his sophomore year campaign, he had 68 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 20 passes defended.
He had a knack for finding the football in the air and does a good job disrupting receivers at the catch point. While he doesn’t have elite testing speed, he did show good athletic ability on tape in his rookie season. I think he’s a realistic option for the Giants, although I’d prefer something else.
I’m excited to see a three safety, smaller, yet still physical, lineup that can allow for more speed on the field. That would require Love, Jabrill Peppers, and second-round pick Xavier McKinney to be versatile second/third level defenders. I hope the Giants can utilize this approach still, but it seems to be dire times for the team who has had poor luck with this second cornerback position.
If anyone is low-key content with the current Giants’ cornerback position, it’s undrafted rookie free agent Chrisitan Angulo. He transferred to Hampton from Division I Cincinnati and played one season at the HBCU. In 13 games with Hampton, he had 18 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 14 pass breakups.
Angulo has solid size at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, with longer arms, but the difference in competition will be stark for the undrafted rookie. The young player failed to see the playing time he desired at Cincinnati, which led to his transfer. He did, however, run a lot of press man at Hampton, a coverage that not a lot of FCS teams are used to running.
The young player had a virtual pro day and performed well. He ran a 4.49 (puts him around 50th percentile), 40.5-inch vertical (puts him around 90th percentile), and a broad jump of 127 inches (10 feet, 7 inches, puts him around 85th percentile). He also reportedly benched 225 21 times which would put him around 92nd percentile). If these testing numbers are accurate, then his athletic profile, and especially his strength, are very intriguing at an NFL level.
Giants' DC Patrick Graham had this to say about Angulo,
“I think Christian has a unique skill set, his size and he can run. So right there, the ability to play with some size, instead of us getting some mismatches, he can help [match-up with bigger receivers]. The big thing for him is the size, the speed, and then his willingness to learn.
Obviously there’s going to be a transition coming up those first year in the league, but we’ll see how it plays out, working hard, being diligent, listening to coaching, and going out there and getting conditioning.”
Angulo’s opportunity to make the roster drastically improved with the departure of Baker and Beal. Now it’s on him to prove his worth and attempt to work his way up the depth chart. No better way to prove yourself than to thrive at practice on defense and with special teams drills. The Giants desperately need a player to step up, I guess we’ll see if it could be Angulo.
The former top cornerback 5-star recruit from California played boundary cornerback throughout his collegiate career. It’s within the realm of possibility that he can do it in the NFL, but I have my doubts and it’s not due to just his lack of height.
Plenty of shorter cornerbacks have had success on the boundary in the NFL: Brent Grimes, Alterraun Verner, Kareem Jackson, Antoine Winfield Sr, and Malcolm Butler all come to mind. The difference-maker for me is arm length, especially in a system that runs a lot of press-man.
I’m not worried about his athletic ability, and he has solid weight for a smaller cornerback, but 25 ½” arms concern me. It’s in the 2nd percentile for cornerbacks. I think he deserves consideration at the boundary, mainly due to the circumstances that the Giants are in, but the arm length may render him to the nickel role.
Hartage played in Graham’s system last year in Miami, but he wasn’t being utilized much on the boundary at all. Hartage was an undrafted rookie out of Northwestern in 2019. The Dolphins picked him up towards the end of the season and he learned the defense quicker than most; he has high football intelligence and he could assist Giants’ players with the system in 2020.
He played the vast majority of his snaps as a free safety and then most of the rest in the box, as an apex defender against bigger offensive personnel. He also played some in the slot too. He has coverage skills, but he’s not a great athlete.
His lack of athletic ability puts doubt on his ability to play the boundary. I think Hartage has a chance to make the team, and could potentially be in line for defensive snaps if one of the safeties get injured, but I’m not optimistic about him playing outside in Graham’s system when Graham only used him 3 times there last season.
The former Florida Gator that transferred to the Minnesota Golden Gophers had a much better season in 2019 when he was playing the slot. His first year rowing the boat was a struggle on the boundary, so there’s doubt that he can adapt to that role in the NFL.
He’s a former 3-star recruit that fell to the 7th round and did not receive an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine, but Dave Gettleman liked what he saw from the player in 2019. He had 56 tackles, 4 for a loss, 2.5 sacks, a pick, and 3 passes defended. He’s a solid overall athlete who plays aggressively in run support, but I don’t envision him being utilized on the boundary in the NFL.
This idea has been floated on Twitter and the Giants may be at a point to consider all options and put the best 11 defenders on the field. Peppers was a 2014 247 Sports All-American and was an All-American defensive player of the year in 2013 as a cornerback at Don Bosco Prep, before transferring to Paramus Catholic before his Junior Season.
Peppers was a phenomenal overall athlete that dominated New Jersey high school athletics before going to Michigan and playing for Don Brown’s famous man coverage, aggressive, style of defense. At Michigan, Peppers played a linebacker/safety hybrid role, as well as a kick returner, who was also an offensive weapon.
(While Peppers typically plays as a box safety, this is how he stacks up at cornerback)
I don’t want to do him a disservice and fail to mention him, for it should be considered an option. However, I don’t feel like it will materialize and he is best suited as a hybrid second-level defender who thrives in the alley. He hasn’t played much on the boundary since high school, but he has excellent athletic ability, reportedly a rare work ethic, and he’s only 24 years old, so anything is possible, but it would take a lot of honing in on the nuances of the position.
Veteran free agent
The Ross Cockrell 2.0 experiment isn’t happening for New York, but there are several other boundary cornerback free agents that may be worth looking at if they’re willing to be had on the cheap:
- Morris Claiborne 30
- Dre Kirckpatrick 30
- Trumaine Johnson 30
- Kayvon Webster 29
- Cordrea Tankersley 26
The Giants also brought in Jarren Williams (Albany) and Prince Smith (UNH); two players who will look to add depth to the back-end of the roster. It would be a long shot to think they’ll be starting week one. I also think Dravon Askew-Henry could be considered for the role, despite not having a lot of experience on the boundary. He has good size, length, and physicality, and he’s been training with his cousin Darrelle Revis in the offseason. Maybe, just maybe, he’s learned a thing or two about cornerback.
Who should start the second cornerback position?
This poll is closed
A veteran free agent