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Making the case: Daxton Hill, Lewis Cine, Jaquan Brisker?

Logan Ryan is no longer a Giants. Which of these three safeties can fill the void?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big Ten Championship Game - Michigan v Iowa Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A hole on the New York Giants’ roster emerged after New York unexpectedly released starting safety Logan Ryan. The veteran safety signed a three-year, $31-million extension after an impressive 2020 season in Patrick Graham’s scheme. Ryan’s play declined in 2021, Joe Judge and Dave Gettleman were fired after the season, and the new regime released the two-time Super Bowl champion.

Safety was a low-key need with Ryan on the roster, specifically for the long-term. Xavier McKinney started to break into stardom last season and figures to be a leader in Don “Wink” Martindale’s scheme. Julian Love is a Swiss Army knife who is a quality asset but enters his last year under contract.

Martindale used several safeties in Baltimore. Chuck Clark played 1,023 snaps, Brandon Stephens 742, DeShon Elliott 305, and Geno Stone 219. Tony Jefferson and Anthony Levine also saw snaps. The amount of snaps for the safety position isn’t just a product of injuries but also the multiple safety personnel packages that Martindale employs. Martindale tends to play every person on the defense to maximize their strengths.

Stephens was drafted in the third round. He was a cornerback at SMU but a running back at UCLA before transferring. Martindale switched him to safety, and he had a solid rookie season in 2021.

Clark and Elliott were sixth-round picks, and Stone was a seventh-round selection. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean Martindale wouldn’t want to invest a high selection in the safety position, whether one of the three listed in the article or Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton. Joe Schoen was a part of a team with two stellar safeties signed by Brandon Beane’s predecessor Doug Whaley. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde were foundational pieces for Buffalo’s defense.

In this draft, the Giants will look to bring safety help to the team. Three realistic options at pick 36 are Michigan’s Daxton Hill, Georgia’s Lewis Cine, and Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker.

Max GPS Speeds (MPH):

Daxton Hill (20.9)
Lewis Cine (20.8)
Jaquan Brisker (22.2)

Daxton Hill

Hill has 1,549 collegiate snaps to his name, with 23 starts in 33 career games at defensive back. Hill played in two defensive systems for the Michigan Wolverines. In 2021, he played for Mike McDonald - the current defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens - he was predominantly the nickel defender.

Hill is a phenomenal athlete who processes the game quickly. His ability to recognize and fly downhill to break up screens at the line of scrimmage was exceptional and on display several times against Rutgers (2021). He can quickly click and close downhill. He has excellent spatial awareness in zone coverage; he understands route combinations, is aware of backside routes, and was a capable blitzing defensive back in college. I wasn’t shocked to see he ran a 1.47 10-yard-split.

He judged a stacked smash concept in zone against Wisconsin so well; the number one receiver broke out with the field corner, and the number two ran the deep seven. Hill flashed his eyes and moved with the outside break before positively identifying the quarterback’s true intentions and flipping his hips, sinking to depth, and high pointing the interception just in front of the numbers.

He possesses all the athletic traits to be an excellent man coverage nickel. He would get a bit aggressive and attempt to intercept, or force passes defended on horizontal routes, but he misjudged these situations on a few occasions. However, the gamble would pay off: i.e., diving interception up the seam vs. Nebraska (Q2 12:54, second-and-13).

Hill played more deep safety in Cover 1 and some two-high under previous defensive coordinator Don Brown. The long-time Michigan defensive play-caller still used Hill quite often in the slot. Hill made an impressive interception against Rutgers in overtime during the 2020 season where he aligned over the slot pre-snap, and dropped to a deep half responsibility post-snap. He stayed square to the tight end leak and didn’t bite down on the pump-action screen. He waited till the quarterback threw before breaking on the football and intercepting the pass in the end zone.

Aaron Robinson’s position with the Giants remains unknown. He could potentially be one of the two starting cornerbacks on the outside, or he could stick in the slot. Darnay Holmes had a better second season than his rookie year before suffering an injury against the Eagles. I don’t know how Martindale wants to utilize these two players.

Hill’s best fit would be an overhang defender who can align in the box. His ability to play man coverage should appeal to Martindale, but he only played 4 percent of his snaps in a middle of the field closed (MOFC) look in 2021, albeit his skill set suggests he can do that competently. Players like Cine and Brisker have more snaps at depth and are quality run defenders like Hill. I’m a fan of Hill, but I like all three of these players, so who is the best fit for Martindale?

Lewis Cine

Cine’s 6.57 three-cone is one of the fastest in Combine history, and it ranks in the 97th percentile. He’s also a long defender for someone who is light. I wish he were a bit heavier.

Cine quite possibly is the best alley defender in this draft. His aggressive, yet controlled angles downhill allow him to unleash violence onto ball carriers from all over the field. Do you need a safety who can drop deep into coverage yet leverage their B-gap run fit responsibility? Well, Cine can do that and do it well.

He tested off the charts at the NFL Scouting Combine. I saw solid speed on tape - and the explosive numbers aren’t a shock - but I didn’t expect to see a 4.37. Cine was initially perceived - by most media members - as being behind Hill and Brisker on the pecking order of safeties, but his tape is good.

Not only does he possess excellent ability in run support, but he’s rangy and uses his length well. He aligned in the middle of the field most of 2021 but was used in the slot 9 percent of the time.

Cine is wiry but physical and disruptive. Like Hill, he can be an assist coming downhill as a blitzer. He possesses solid ball skills, concentration, and he’s functional in man or zone.

He’s also a smart player. Cine read a double pass against Tennessee from the middle of the field, where he closed width on a nine route between the numbers and sideline. The throw wasn’t perfect, but Cine read the play, flipped his hips, located the receiver, snapped his head to find the football, and then swatted the ball away with his inside hand (Q3, 12:08, second-and-7).

Cine read a screen in the National Championship game against Alabama really well. From the opposite side of the field, on a third-and-3 play, Cine took a great angle of pursuit to tackle Slade Bolden (18) for a loss of a yard near the middle of the field.

Cine shows good recovery speed as well from the middle of the field. Against South Carolina, he was turned around, and he had to flip his hips completely. He stayed in phase and used his length to disrupt the catch, forcing an incompletion about 40-yards down the field (Q1, 5:01, first-and-10).

I appreciate Cine’s ability in run support, but there were a few plays where he was undisciplined. His eyes would dip to the deck, and his aiming points were high. I didn’t think it was a gigantic issue in his game, but it’s worth mentioning:

Q3, 4:27 vs. Tennessee
Q2, 9:36 vs. Alabama
Q3, 1:38 vs. Alabama
Q3, 4:09 vs. Auburn

Jaquan Brisker

Brisker is a good football player with a diverse skillset. He aligned a lot in single high and split safety looks but played about 20 percent of his snaps in the box. He also aligned in the slot.

Brisker is a smart player. Brisker had a great play against Illinois on a third-and-6 play-action leak-out where Brisker was cleared out in the middle of the field, but he saw the tight end leak, so he broke downhill from 15 yards and almost intercepted the pass. Very impressive and athletic showing from the Nittany Lion.

Another big third-down (Q4, 12:13 - third-and-3) play from the deep middle on a seven route was excellently handled by Brisker against Iowa. He saw the route concept, realized the field corner was in conflict and shot downhill to force the incompletion.

Brisker could improve his man coverage technique, but he has the necessary athletic ability to thrive covering tight ends in the NFL. He also has the range to cover single-high responsibilities.

Like Cine and Hill, Brisker is disruptive at the catch point with excellent athletic ability. He excels with physicality in run support - has heat-seeking missile qualities, but can be too aggressive in pursuit, leading to unnecessary missed tackles. Brisker had some ugly tackle attempts against Michigan (Q2, 13:19 - Q2, 3:49 - Q3, 13:05).

Brisker will also be 23 when the season starts. Hill will only be 21, and Cine is younger than Brisker (I don’t have his exact birthday).

Final thoughts

I like all three of these players, and it’s not a clear-cut decision. Hill has the upside to be an incredibly effective slot defender, which is very valuable in an NFL predicated on 11 personnel. Hill has a skillset to transition fully to a cornerback. I love the idea of Hill being a Giant, but I don’t know how the new coaching staff wants to utilize Robinson and Holmes.

The presence of Robinson and Holmes shouldn’t prevent the Giants from selecting a player as talented as Hill. Still, if that decision is juxtaposed with a choice including Cine or Brisker, their presence should be factored into the equation.

Cine is a good athlete who played on the best defense in the nation. I think he would fit well with Xavier McKinney, and he would be functional playing a variety of roles, albeit Brisker offers more versatility.

Despite being older, I like Brisker. He’s physical, big, and handled many different responsibilities in Penn State’s defense. He would also be a great addition to Martindale’s scheme.

I like all three, but it’s Michigan’s Daxton Hill if I’m choosing one. The fate of James Bradberry is uncertain, and players with man coverage ability - whether they are safeties or cornerbacks - are imperative to the success of Martindale’s scheme. Hill’s experience as a traditional safety in Don Brown’s defense was good enough to suggest he could execute that role at the next level. Hill has a baseline to succeed with multiple defensive coordinators, so this isn’t just to appease Martindale.

However, he proved that he could be dynamic in the slot and outside corner in reduced wide receiver sets under McDonald - who coached under Martindale from 2018 to 2020. Adding Hill shouldn’t preclude the Giants from adding another safety later in the draft if one is at value. Here’s a list of other safeties that will likely be selected after Hill, Cine, and Brisker.

  • Nick Cross, Maryland
  • Kerby Joseph, Illinois
  • Jalen Pitre, Baylor
  • J.T. Woods, Baylor
  • Bryan Cook, Cincinnati