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Position preview: Giants’ safeties, the best position on the roster

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Football Team Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The safety position is one of the strongest on the New York Giants. The addition of Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator unlocked the talent and potential of several defensive players in 2020. Linebacker Blake Martinez, defensive lineman Leonard Williams, cornerback James Bradberry, and safety Jabrill Peppers fall into that category.

However, the Giants made a key signing late in the summer of 2020 that proved wildly successful. Logan Ryan signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal with New York on Aug. 31. Four months later, the Giants resigned him to a three-year $31 million deal - he bet on himself, and he cashed in.

Ryan, 30, continues to be the vocal leader in the secondary. Having experienced players like Martinez and Ryan ensuring the continuity of Graham’s defense isn’t fractured is one of the main reasons this defense surprised so many in 2020. Graham is a defensive genius, and he can trust players like Ryan.

Peppers was one of the main assets traded to the Giants in the Odell Beckham Jr. deal. He’s always proved to be good as an alley defender; he brings physicality, sure tackling, and a desirable temperament to the role, but he was better in coverage last season in Graham’s scheme.

His yards surrendered were significantly less with more than 150 more coverage snaps, and he doubled his passes defended. He’s still only 25 years old, and his ceiling hasn’t been reached. Peppers enters a contract year.

Xavier McKinney missed the majority of his rookie season with a broken foot. He returned in Week 12 against the Bengals. By Week 17, he was playing 70 plus snaps and moving around the field well. His potential and upside are incredibly high, and I believe he’s poised for a gigantic season.

Julian Love is a Swiss Army knife for the Giants secondary. He was drafted as an outside cornerback, converted to safety, played a ton in the slot his rookie season, and then moved back to safety. He can execute deep half, center field, nickel, and boundary cornerback duty. He’s also a really good tackler. He may be the least talked about player on the Giants defense, but he’s a very valuable and versatile asset. Let’s take a look at what this position as we continue our position-by-position previews of the 2021 Giants

Where they started

The big four were always locks for the roster. Ryan was just extended, Peppers is in a contract year, McKinney’s a second-round pick who is now healthy, and Love wears several hats in this scheme. The big four were joined by Joshua Kalu, Jordyn Peters, Montre Hartage, and converted cornerback Quincy Wilson.

Shortly into camp, Chris Johnson joined Jerome Henderson’s group of safeties. In the preseason, Johnson played 127 snaps - the most of the position group. Kalu played 36 snaps in Week 1 of the preseason but hurt his pectoral muscle and is now on IR.

Wilson is also on the IR after two interceptions in the preseason. If not for the injury, I believe Wilson would have made the final 53-man-roster because of his versatility and the injuries sustained at the cornerback position.

Peters was released in the middle of August and re-signed after the Wilson and Kalu injuries. Peters had a few strong tackles through the preseason. Hartage had an undisclosed injury that prevented him from seeing preseason action - he was released with an injury settlement.

McKinney, Ryan, and Peppers played 60 collective snaps through the preseason. The coaching staff wanted McKinney to play in Week 1 against the Jets to quarterback the secondary - the Logan Ryan role. McKinney was the leader of Nick Saban’s defense in college. His ability to process will be a tremendous asset as he continues his development and gains experience.

Love played a total of 56 defensive snaps in the preseason. A player like Love looked incredibly superior going up against other team’s number twos and threes. He had six tackles and was flying around the field.

Where they are now

Current roster:

Starters: Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers
Backups: Xavier McKinney and Julian Love
Practice Squad: Jordyn Peters
Injured Reserve: Quincy Wilson and Joshua Kalu

The “starter” designation is much looser at this position. All four of these players will have a role in the defense, specifically Ryan, Peppers, and McKinney, if everyone stays healthy.

The players are interchangeable to an extent. Peppers is more of the thumping alley defender, but the other three safeties can perform that task well. Ryan is more of the trap defender in the middle of the field, but Peppers, McKinney, and even Love have executed those assignments too. The versatility with this group is solid, and it allows Patrick Graham’s coverage to be more diverse.

McKinney is the interesting player in the group because we didn’t really get a chance to see what he can offer last season. I expect various assignments for a player like McKinney: single high, nickel, STAR, etc.

The Giants focused on upgrading their cornerbacks and their pass rush this season. This will open up opportunities for offensive mistakes or balls that are forced into trap coverage. If this happens, these Giants’ safeties will have more chances to take the football away. New York finished with only 11 interceptions on the season, ranking in the bottom half of the NFL. That could change this season with more pressure and better coverage on the back end.

Final thoughts

This position group is pretty straightforward for the Giants. There are four players of importance who are all versatile in some way. They all fit the Patrick Graham puzzle well, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see career years from at least two of these players. This is arguably the best position on the Giants roster. A roster that is deeper than it’s been in a while.