The New York Giants secondary was always going to be an adventure in 2020. Despite spending on cornerback James Bradberry and investing a second round pick on safety Xavier McKinney, the Giants are going to be relying on a largely inexperienced group of defensive backs. And while that could be a good thing in the long run, it still stands that secondary, and cornerback position in particular, has a notoriously sharp learning curve.
Advanced analytics service Pro Football Focus ranked the Giants 27th in their preview of the 32 NFL secondies, and that was before DeAndre Baker was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt list and Sam Beal opted out of the 2020 season. With the Giants’ presumptive second and third cornerbacks unavailable, they are left with Corey Ballentine, Grant Haley, Darnay Holmes, Chris Williamson, and Montre Hartage — and potentially Julian Love, though he was much more of a hybrid player last year.
As PFF states in their rankings, “DeAndre Baker struggled badly as a rookie and was beaten for eight touchdowns in total, though his future is somewhat up in the air, given the reported off-field troubles. ...
So, for as much as Baker struggled last year, the prospects of a season without him would not be good.”
The obvious move for the Giants is to sign free agent cornerback Logan Ryan. He is one of the top free agents still available and would have been a legitimate upgrade as a slot corner even before the loss of Baker and Beal. But what if the Giants don’t want to make the obvious move?
It’s likely that there are corners on the fringes of other rosters who would not only make the Giants’ roster, but would be upgrades to their cornerback position.
So here are five corners the Giants could pursue after final cutdowns.
1) Nik Needham (Miami Dolphins)
Needham was an incredibly pleasant surprise for the Dolphins last year as he developed from an unknown rookie out of UTEP into a surprisingly capable starter. However, as the Dolphins committed to their rebuild, slipped from starter to — at best — fourth on the Dolphins’ depth chart behind Byron Jones, Xavien Howard, and first round selection Noah Igbinoghene. Depth at the cornerback position is incredibly valuable, but that many additions at his position could find Needham on the outside looking in.
That could be an incredible windfal for the Giants, who not only need a starting outside corner, but one who can be up to speed quickly. Patrick Graham is obviously familiar with Needham after coaching him last year, and Needham is likely familiar with the Giants’ new defensive scheme. The fit might be so good that it might even make sense for Dave Gettleman to work a trade with the Dolphins rather than take chances. Graham’s scheme will likely lean hard on the secondary as he schemes blitzes, and securing the cornerback position needs to be priority. If the Giants can get a young player with upside like Needham for a reasonable price (such as a Day 3 draft pick), that’s a move they almost have to make.
2) Justin Hardee (New Orleans Saints)
The Saints probably don’t want to cut Hardee, and they might make a difficult decision elsewhere in order to keep him in the building. Hardee is a latecomer to the cornerback position after transitioning from wide receiver upon entering the NFL. However, he has intriguing size and athleticism at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and 4.36 speed. While Hardee has been developing as a reserve corner, if he makes the New Orleans roster, it will be as a special teams ace. Hardee likely sits at fifth or sixth on the Saints depth chart and he will be in a battle with veteran slot CB Patrick Robinson and S D.J. Swearinger for a roster spot.
If New Orleans decides they can’t spare a spot on a Win Now roster for Hardee, perhaps the Giants will be able to unlock his potential at corner.
3) Tim Harris (San Francisco 49ers)
Harris is something of a lottery ticket. He has intriguing upside with good size and speed (6-foot-1, 205 pounds, 4.45 second 40 yard dash), and produced in a good secondary at the University of Virginia. However, he second-year has struggled to stay on the field throughout his football career. So why should the Giants even consider him when they have concerns throughout their depth chart? Well, the fact that despite his injuries he earned enough trust from the 9ers’ coaching staff to get a starting job in the Super Bowl certainly speaks to his upside.
But despite that he still seems to be on the fringes of San Francisco’s talented cornerback position. If everyone is healthy, they might try to stash Harris on the practice squad in favor of a player with more versatility (Harris is strictly an outside corner), which presents an opportunity for the Giants.
4) Quenton Meeks (Los Angeles Chargers)
It was a surprise that Meeks went undrafted a year ago. He has an explosive lower body, but concerns over his speed (he ran a 4.54 at the Stanford pro day) and some hip tightness likely scared teams away. That being said, he has the length to play on the outside in a press-man or Cover 3 scheme at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. He also has good instincts, collecting three straight multi-interception seasons at Stanford. All told, he has 7 total picks to go with 17 passes defensed, 115 tackles, and a pair of defensive touchdowns.
Meeks is already on his second team in the NFL, originally signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted rookie before signing with the Chargers this off-season. The Chargers have a stacked secondary and while Meeks has definite upside, he could be on the outside looking in.
5) D’Angelo Ross (New England Patriots)
We couldn’t not have a Patriot on this list. Not with how good the Patriots’ secondary is and the Giants’ obvious connections to the Pats. I had a choice of two corners here, with Ross and undrafted rookie Myles Bryant. I decided to go with Ross because he is a second year player with whom Judge has some familiarity. Ross is an explosive athlete, but at 5-foot-9, 190 pounds he would likely line up in the slot for the Giants. Wile he wouldn’t be an immediate upgrade over Corey Ballentine or a replacement for Baker and Beal, Ross could help in an area where the Giants are struggling. Adding a slot corner would also take the duty away from Ballentine (who played poorly there a year ago) and Darnay Holmes, who was primarily an outside corner in college.
Ross also has special teams experience and reportedly made a number of plays camp last year before losing his rookie season to an injury.