The New York Giants hired defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale from the Baltimore Ravens after Patrick Graham laterally moved to coach the Las Vegas Raiders under Josh McDaniels. I have the utmost respect for both coordinators, but the philosophies are different.
Graham was top five in man coverage when he was the defensive coordinator under Brian Flores in 2019; that seemed to be more of a Flores’ influence. Sure, Graham ran a ton of zone-match principles, which essentially convert into man coverage once the receiver’s route intentions are identified. However, Graham primarily used true man coverage (Cover-1, 2-Man Under, etc.) on third and short/medium or in the red zone.
Martindale runs more man coverage than Graham. The former Ravens defensive coordinator relied heavily on his cornerbacks ability to execute man coverage assignments long enough for pressure to get home. The pressure and the coverage are married. This begs the question, are cornerbacks or edge defenders more important in Martindale’s scheme?
Martindale answered this question in an interview.
“I want as many cover corners as you can have, ‘cause the game is the passing game now ... Talking philosophically now, this is my opinion on it. I think sacks is one of the most superficial rankings there is ... when you look at sacks, there’s a lot of things that go into that ... my philosophy is - personally - I’d rather have a corner that could cover, then I guy that could rush. I’ll get guys to hit quarterbacks; that’s our job as a staff.”
That is a definitive statement from Martindale, and it makes a lot of sense. The Ravens defense was a top-five unit by many metrics when his corners were healthy from 2018-2020. The defense fell apart in 2021 after Marcus Peters tore his ACL in training camp, Jimmy Smith missed seven weeks, and Marlon Humphrey was dinged up through most of the season.
The Ravens drafted Odafe Oweh - a dynamic EDGE athlete with little college production - in the first round out of Penn State last season, but the secondary was seemingly in place. I wouldn’t say drafting an edge is a luxury for Martindale’s defense, but his style depends on coverage players winning one-on-ones over edge defenders wreaking havoc on their own.
Martindale’s strong propensity to send extra rushers with disguised pre-snap looks to manipulate protections resulted in two vs. one rushers or free rushers for his defense. This accelerates the clock of the quarterback, who may be forced to throw a precarious pass to his primary read, or find his check-down quickly (if he’s not in the protection).
Cornerbacks who can align in press and, at times, jam and ride receivers off the line of scrimmage don’t only disrupt the timing of the receiver and quarterback, but it also increases the risk of talented wide receivers exploiting jam-attempts with their diverse release packages at the line of scrimmage.
Even when the cornerbacks aren’t in press, they must be able to close width quickly and make sure tackles once short catches are made. They need to be physical, play through the catch point, and have the athletic traits to stay in phase at all three levels of the field. Hip fluidity is a priority.
New York has Adoree Jackson under contract through the 2023 season, and the James Bradberry situation is still playing itself out. Even if Bradberry stays for the season, which is unlikely, New York still needs a cornerback opposite of Aaron Robinson for 2023 and beyond. If Martindale learned anything about the vast injuries suffered in Baltimore’s secondary last season, it’s that depth matters, so I expect New York to address the secondary more than once in the draft.
I won’t sit here and deny the Giants’ need for an edge defender. The more depth at every position, the better off the Giants will be moving forward. Azeez Ojulari showed promise as a rookie, and so did Quincy Roche. Jihad Ward is a depth signing who will earn snaps. Still, if I had to choose one of the two positions, I’m going cornerback over edge for Martindale’s scheme if the prospects are comparable in grade - I won’t reach and pass a much better player at edge to pick a lesser cornerback.
The 2022 NFL Draft
The Giants are in luck in terms of the draft. They currently hold two top 10 picks (Nos. 5 and 7), five in the top 100, and nine picks total. There are many ways they can approach the draft. Quarterback needy teams like Carolina, Atlanta, and Seattle all pick just after their selection which could lead to another trade back for extra capital, which is desirable in this deep draft class.
The Giants’ biggest needs - other than long-term quarterback - are offensive line, tight end, edge, linebacker, cornerback, and safety. All of those positions are very deep. Focusing on just edge and cornerback, there are plenty of players in each day of the draft that should interest the Giants. Here’s a list of three realistic options at both positions for each day:
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati
Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Travon Walker, Georgia
Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
Kaiir Elam, Florida
Kyler Gordon, Washington
Tariq Woolen, UTSA
Boye Mafe, Minnesota
Drake Jackson, USC
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
Martin Emerson, Mississippi State
Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska
Derion Kendrick, Georgia
Alex Wright, UAB
Deangelo Malone, Western Kentucky
Amare Barno, Virginia Tech
There are plenty of other players that could be listed at each position in each round. The draft is deep, and the Giants are in a good position to help reshape this roster under Joe Schoen, Brian Daboll, Mike Kafka, and Wink Martindale.