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Can Xavier McKinney build on his breakout year with Giants?

All eyes are on the third-year safety

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

While the New York Giants’ defense was a disappointment in 2021, second-year safety Xavier McKinney was arguably their best player on that side of the ball.

Is McKinney, entering his third season, in position to become a Pro Bowl level player? Let’s discuss as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.

By the numbers

Height: 6 feet
Weight: 201
Age: 23
Position: Safety
Experience: 2 years
Contract: Year 3 of four-year, $8.391 million rookie deal | 2022 Cap hit: $2.288 million

Career to date

As a two-year starter at Alabama, McKinney led the Crimson Tide with 95 tackles and was named a third-team All-American in his senior year. He finished his college career with five interceptions, 20 passes defended, and 176 tackles in 41 games.

The Giants drafted McKinney No. 36 overall in 2020, but he appeared in only six games with four starts due to a training camp foot injury. He still managed to record 25 tackles and an interception.

McKinney broke out last year, starting 16 games and emerging as one of the leaders of New York’s secondary. He led the team with five interceptions and ranked third with 93 tackles. Two of those interceptions came in a Week 9 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in which McKinney had a pick-six and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Pro Football Focus rated him as the top defender on the team last year.

2022 outlook

Expectations are high for McKinney’s third year, perhaps unfairly so. It’s possible that anything short of a Pro Bowl year will be considered a disappointment. Several sources have named McKinney as the team’s “most underappreciated player,” “most likely Pro Bowler,” or similar.

Pro Football Focus recently ranked the Giants’ secondary No. 20 in the league, but wrote that fans can “bet on McKinney becoming a top-10 safety sooner rather than later.”

However, McKinney doesn’t seem fazed by his newfound stardom.

“As I’ve said, I’ve been a leader for a long time, so this is nothing new,” McKinney said in April. “I don’t see it as something that’s bigger than what it was before because it’s just who I am. There’s no added pressure or anything like that. It’s who I am, and it’s what I do.”

McKinney and Azeez Ojulari are probably the only two members of last year’s defense that can be considered long-term building blocks for the future. McKinney’s ability to ascend into the elite tier of NFL defensive backs will go a long way towards determining where this squad is headed.