With a fractured foot costing him the first 10 games of his rookie season, we never saw the full scope of what 2020 second-round pick Xavier McKinney might be able to do for the New York Giants defense.
Will we see that from the former Alabama safety in 2021? Let’s take a closer look at McKinney as we continue player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
Age: Turns 22 on Aug. 9
Position: Defensive back
Contract: Year 2 of four-year, $8.391 million contract | 2021 cap hit: $1.907 million
Career to date
The Giants selected McKinney with the 36th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, with GM Dave Gettleman saying the team rejected an offer to trade down in order to do so.
McKinney’s foot fracture happened late in training camp, probably increasing the urgency for the team to sign veteran defensive back Logan Ryan.
When McKinney did return, he played only a total of 11 snaps in his first two games. McKinney started four games, but played no more than 46 snaps until getting on the field for 74 snaps in the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys. He had his only interception in that game.
McKinney ended up playing 210 snaps, 19 percent of the defensive plays. He had a passer rating against of 65.4, had a pass defensed, an interception and made 25 tackles. The Giants used him in a variety of ways. He played 82 snaps as a slot cornerback, 79 as a free safety and 47 in the box.
There is no reason to believe McKinney won’t be a full-time player and key contributor for the Giants in a variety of roles during the coming season.
Here was Chris’s projection for McKinney in a pre-2020 draft profile:
Xavier McKinney projects as a scheme-diverse starting safety at the NFL level. McKinney has the versatility to be moved around the defensive back 7, and can be used as a deep safety or a box safety as necessary to match up with offensive players or to disguise coverages. McKinney was often rotated from a disguise at or just before the snap, and shows the ability to handle complicated defensive concepts.
McKinney has very good communication skills and is constantly communicating and helping his teammates adjust before the snap.
McKinney should primarily be used in zone coverages as a pass defender. He shows good awareness and adequate range for most coverage zones, which allows him to put his football IQ to use. McKinney is good at reading the offense and the quarterback’s eyes to anticipate the play, as well as coming downhill as a run defender. He has good ball skills and a habit of creating opportunities for turnovers, whether they be forced fumbles, passes batted, or interceptions.
McKinney should not be asked to cover athletic offensive players in man coverage. He doesn’t have the fluidity to stay in phase with NFL caliber receivers or athletic tight ends and running backs. Likewise, he doesn’t show the range to be a true center-fielding safety in a Cover 1 shell. However, he has plenty of range to play in a deep half, third, or quarter. Likewise, those shells would allow him to disguise his intentions and rotate to his actual coverage at the snap to disguise a blitz.
He is also effective as a blitzer, showing good timing, anticipation, and burst.
McKinney is a willing run defender who can be a hard hitter. He needs to be a bit more consistent in taking good angles to limit the potential for yards after contact as a team’s last line of defense. Better angles would also help him be more consistent in his tackling technique.
All told, McKinney has the upside to be a good, versatile, and reliable safety for almost any defense in the NFL.
On a recent ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan and I played “Explosion or Dud,” with Emory offering his opinion on what type of seasons various Giants players would have. Here is what he said about McKinney:
“Big explosion in my opinion because he’s a smart football player. When you have guys that play with really good instincts in the secondary, man, you start to see a lot of turnovers, you start to see a lot of plays on the ball, and he’s just so doggone good.
“I’m glad that he got in games last year and started to play and made some plays. That type of confidence that you need as a player to show yourself ‘you know what, I can do it at this level’ is huge. Now you bring that into a full, regular offseason and your second year in the scheme where you have live game reps to draw from, he’s going to be ready to explode in my opinion. He’s going to be one of these guys that they can’t take off the field.”
Before last season’s Week 17 game against the Cowboys, which was McKinney’s best game and his most extensive playing time, he told media he was “still trying to find my rhythm and get back to the way I play.”
I’m looking forward to seeing McKinney get a full season to show exactly how can play.