Joe Judge hired Patrick Graham from the Miami Dolphins to be his defensive coordinator when he was assembling his New York Giants coaching prior to the 2020 season. Both Judge and Graham have significant coaching ties to the New England Patriots - a team that typically runs the most man coverage.
As the Dolphins defensive coordinator in 2019, Graham ran the third-fewest amount of zone snaps (242 plays), but the group of corners struggled with the man-based defense; Miami ranked eighth in highest yards per reception, first downs allowed, touchdowns allowed, and the Dolphins gave up the second-most passing touchdowns.
There can be a debate - did Graham use more zone with the Giants because man coverage failed with Miami, or was it a Giants 2020 personnel issue? I would go with the latter due to the Giants running a lot of man coverage in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that didn’t go over too well because the second cornerback spot was a liability.
A week before the season, the Giants traded a seventh-round pick for Denver cornerback Isaac Yiadom, a physical run-support defender who struggled in man coverage. Yiadom was eventually benched for Ryan Lewis who ended up being picked on in big moments of the losses to Dallas and Philadelphia.
Neither is a long-term solution. Julian Love had to start the year at safety and actually played well late in the season as an outside cornerback, but the professional sample size of his collegiate position is small. Adding depth to this position, whether that be through the draft (which is still very realistic) or free agency, should be a priority for the Giants.
New York added one of the better free-agent signings of the decade last year when they signed James Bradberry to a three-year, $45 million deal, with $32 million guaranteed. Some didn’t love the signing, but Bradberry exceeded expectations. I’m not confident that Dave Gettleman will double down and add another top cornerback free agent. I would love the Giants to add J.C. Jackson or William Jackson, but they may be too pricey for the Giants’ current situation. However, I do feel Gettleman will bring some budget corners to the team, in an effort to drum up more competition for that second cornerback spot. Here are five budget corners that make sense for the Giants.
Michael Davis, Chargers
Yeah, so this could be a stretch in terms of “budget.” Davis isn’t a big name, but his tape suggests a good football player with the size/length, athleticism, and coverage ability to have success in both man and zone. He’s a good tackler and is 6-foot-2 while hovering around 200 pounds.
He surrendered two touchdowns this season but had three interceptions and 11 passes defended. Davis played opposite Casey Hayward Jr., so teams were targeting Davis more, but he held his own. It may be difficult for the 26-year-old to leverage his good tape into a big contract in this strange 2021 offseason with the cap going down. If he’s available for a cheap prove-it deal, the Giants should definitely look at the investment.
Sidney Jones, Jaguars
The former Philadelphia Eagles second-round selection started his professional career in a devastating manner. In his final pre-draft workout, Jones tore his Achilles and missed just about his entire 2017 season. Jones, a top-15 player according to most draft pundits, never seemed to recapture his athletic upside after the injury.
Philadelphia released Jones before the 2020 season and he landed in Jacksonville, where he showed promise. He had nine passes defended and two interceptions while outshining rookie first-round pick C.J. Henderson. The unfortunate caveat to these encouraging signs was, of course, that he didn’t finish the season and only played in seven games, eventually landing on the Injured Reserve. Injuries have been the story arc for Jones and he’s yet to top 325 snaps in a season.
Jones is still only 24 years of age and has the ability to play man coverage, despite his injury history. Former Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash raved about Jones’ ability on his defense:
“He’s getting his hands on balls, I think he’s being disruptive. He’s really doing a nice job in man coverage and getting disruption at the line of scrimmage. Obviously, some plays you don’t even see that he gets great disruption at the line of scrimmage and the quarterback goes away from him. So, he’s playing [consistently], which is really good to see, and hopefully he’s going to be a Jaguar for a while.”
Jacksonville went in a different direction with its coaching staff and Jones is now a free agent. I wouldn’t mind seeing the long, physical, corner in the NFC East again, but as a Giant. The unique 2021 cap situation, and Jones’ injuries, will more than likely lead Jones to a short prove-it deal. He could do a whole lot worse than trusting his future to the great defensive mind of Patrick Graham.
Chidobe Awuzie, Cowboys
The former second-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys failed to make a significant impression with the team. Awuzie had four interceptions and 28 passes defended for Dallas but surrendered 14 touchdowns. He brings good size to the position, is only 25 years old, and still has a lot of room to grow.
He suffered a hamstring injury that kept him off the field for 8 weeks in 2020, after having 11 passes defended in 2019, a year that PFF had him graded above average. However, Dallas hired Mike Nolan to be their defensive coordinator, who is now unemployed. The 2020 situation in Dallas is difficult to actually analyze given the injury and the problematic coaching situation.
This could be a cheap, higher upside, type of swing on a player that hasn’t reached his potential. Awuzie was a smart defender, who had upside in run support coming out of Colorado. He needs to be coached up and wasn’t excellent as a man coverage type of player, but I trust Jerome Henderson and Patrick Graham’s ability to develop.
Gareon Conley, Texans
Bill O’Brien traded a third-round pick to the Raiders for the former 2017 first-round selection. Conley played adequately in the 10 games that he did appear in for the Texans, but Houston didn’t pick up his fifth-year option last April. The downward spiral continued for Conley, who hurt his ankle right before the season and landed on Injured Reserve.
Conley couldn’t get healthy for the rest of the season and failed to log a snap in 2020. Now, he’s reportedly a healthy free agent who is only 25 years old. Conley has man coverage skills and traits that were on display back when he was a star opposite Marshon Lattimore at Ohio State. Conley should be available on the cheap for a team like the Giants. He’s low-risk and possibly his first-round pedigree could be rediscovered by this coaching staff.
Jason Verrett, 49ers
The former first-round pick of the Chargers has had an injury-marred career, after showing so much early promise back in his first two seasons (2014-2015). Verrett has suffered several knee injuries and an Achilles injury that devastated his ability to consistently see the field. In 2020, though Verrett played 803 snaps at an exceptional level for Robert Saleh and the 49ers.
Verrett looked spry and recovered from his past ailments. He was quick to close, physical, played through the catch point, and his lateral agility, foot speed, and burst weren’t evaporated by the injuries. He’s 29 years old and may be looking to cash in off a good season. But if he’s willing to do a short-term deal, then the Giants could do worse.