The New York Giants seemingly found a steal in the 2020 free agent cycle when Dave Gettleman signed James Bradberry to a three-year, $43.5 million contract. Gettleman selected Bradberry in the second round out of Samford University in 2016 as the general manager of the Carolina Panthers.
Under Patrick Graham’s tutelage, Bradberry had a career 2020 campaign where he recorded 15 passes defended, 3 interceptions, and a 56 percent catch rate. He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl and became synonymous with some of the top cornerbacks in the league.
Across from Bradberry in 2020 was Isaac Yiadom, a solid zone cornerback who wasn’t fluid enough to play man coverage consistently. The Giants upgraded on Yiadom during the 2021 season by signing Adoree’ Jackson to a three-year, $39 million contract.
The Jackson signing led to speculation about a possible uptick in man coverage for the 2021 season - something that Patrick Graham’s defense often ran in Miami. That didn’t necessarily materialize, but the Giants ran man coverage often in the red zone and third-and-short situations.
The Giants followed up the addition of Jackson with the third-round draft selection of Aaron Robinson, a versatile defensive back with a lot of capabilities. The Giants undoubtedly wanted to upgrade their secondary and not have to rely on the likes of Yiadom and Ryan Lewis.
The overall secondary unit is solid. Let’s look at the cornerbacks as we continue our position-by-position reviews of the Giants.
2021 in review
Starters: James Bradberry, Adoree’ Jackson
Backups: Aaron Robinson, Jarren Williams, Keion Crossen, Sam Beal
IR: Darnay Holmes, Rodarius Williams, Joshua Kalu, Quincy Wilson
Practice squad: Ka’Dar Hollman, Darqueze Dennard
The Giants had a solid starting tandem for most of the season in Bradberry and Jackson. The former regressed a bit from 2020, and the latter missed four games towards the end of the season. Nevertheless, the duo was formidable.
Jackson has rare athletic ability and fluidity. He only had the one interception against Tampa Bay, but he was low-key good in coverage for most of the season. Pro Football Focus had Jackson ranked fifth in coverage throughout the NFL (corners that played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps). He also had the 15th lowest reception percentage of that metric - a 55.7 percent rate. He only surrendered two catches of more than 20 yards and never allowed more than 90 yards in a single game.
Bradberry drew number one responsibilities for most of the season. He was used in the slot, on tight ends like Travis Kelce and Darren Waller, while also playing a comparable amount of snaps on both the left and right side of the defense. Bradberry had 14 passes defended and 4 interceptions, but he allowed 8 total touchdowns.
His coverage wasn’t nearly as sticky as it seemed in 2020. The slight regression was apparent early in the season where Bradberry surrendered four touchdowns in five weeks. Despite the regression, he never allowed over 90-yards in any game. Bradberry’s better in zone coverage than he is in man, but he can fully execute whatever coverage a defensive coordinator assigns.
Another interesting nugget to consider is Bradberry as a potential cut candidate. To me, he’s still a very valuable player who is desirable, so a trade would be much better, but the Giants are in a tough spot - as Joe Schoen referenced several times in his opening press conference. If the Giants part ways with Bradberry before June 1st, they will save $12.1 million. If they designate him as a post-June cut, then they’d save $13.5 million. Schoen referenced the cap and stated there will be tough decisions. I don’t know the fate of Bradberry, but a departure is within the realm of possibility.
Behind Jackson and Bradberry was rookie Aaron Robinson who first saw action in week eight at Kansas City. Robinson is very fluid, can play man or zone, is versatile enough to align outside, in the slot, or in the box, and he’s a physical tackler - something that was a necessity on Joe Judge’s team. He missed all the off-season with a core muscle injury that required surgery, so an entire off-season will be good for Robinson. He’s a building block moving forward.
Darnay Holmes played 282 snaps for the 2021 Giants before hurting his ribs after he intercepted Jalen Hurts in the Giants’ last win of the season. Holmes was hit and hospitalized by 350-pound Eagles’ tackle Jordan Mailata. Holmes eventually landed on IR but is still an intriguing player moving forward for New York.
Pound for pound, Holmes is aggressive and very physical. He is hardly 5-foot-10, and he has sub-30-inch arms, so playing outside isn’t something Judge’s team tried too often. However, he is a nice piece to the Giants’ upcoming dime defense; I just wished he wasn’t so grabby at the top of breaks. He is still only 23 years old, and he has the baseline athletic traits to thrive in coverage.
Rodarius Williams, a rookie sixth-round selection out of Oklahoma State, had an excellent training camp. Williams worked his way into the defensive rotation during the regular season before tearing his right ACL. He is a long cornerback with solid coverage skills; hopefully, he can fully recover and compete for a roster spot in 2022.
Jarren Williams played 194 defensive snaps down the stretch of the season, and he honestly looked good. He executed both man and zone assignments well and wasn’t overmatched mentally in match principle-based defenses. Williams isn’t the biggest or fastest, but he isn’t scared to hit, is a solid tackler, and he can cover well.
There is no certainty that the Giants will retain Williams, and the same goes for special teams ace Keion Crossen. Crossen was a Joe Judge favorite; While he was solid on special teams, he is also set to be a free agent, so he very well may not return as a Giant. Crossen only played 24 defensive snaps in 2021.
Sam Beal played in three games for New York before his release at the end of December. He spent some time on the practice squad and played in three total snaps - one in each game he was active. Ka’Dar Hamilton, Quincy Wilson, and Joshua Kalu (also a safety) didn’t make any appearances for the Giants. Hollman is a free agent, Wilson was released from the Giants after spending most of the season on IR, and Kalu was a street free agent who tore his pectoral muscle in the Giants’ first pre-season game.
The Giants have holes all over their roster, but cornerback isn’t necessarily one of them. I believe that you can never have too many secondary pieces, but the foundation set by Bradberry, Jackson, Robinson, and Holmes is solid.
All four of these players are under contract, as is Rodarius Williams, who will be rehabbing from his torn ACL. New York can still invest some draft capital into the position. I also wouldn’t mind seeing the Giants give Jarren Williams a look in training camp. The Albany product looked good at the end of the season, but the departure of Joe Judge’s coaching staff could lead to Williams exploring other options on the open market.
The Giants’ cornerbacks, combined with the savviness of safety Logan Ryan and the range of Xavier McKinney, should make the Giants’ defensive coordinating job very desirable. Bradberry and Jackson with Robinson in the slot is a solid nickel package. Bradberry will be in his last year under contract; let’s hope he has a resurgence from his slight dip in play we witnessed in 2021.