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Better or worse? Overcoming losses of safeties Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan won’t be easy for Giants

Xavier McKinney might be a star, but there is little proven depth

New York Giants v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The New York Giants surprisingly released Logan Ryan this offseason one year after resigning him on a three-year, $31-million contract. Ryan was a defensive team captain and a key asset to former defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s secondary.

The new regime found Ryan expendable despite the $11.45 million incurred in dead money. Wink Martindale will look at third-year safety Xavier McKinney as the backend leader of the aggressive defense.

The loss of Ryan was compounded by Jabrill Peppers’ decision to follow Joe Judge to New England; retaining Peppers in the Giants’ current cap situation seemed highly unlikely. Peppers ruptured his ACL in Week 7, missing the rest of the season. The 26-year-old is one of the better-enforcing safeties in the alley, and his presence will be missed.

Replacing the experience and star power of Ryan and Peppers is difficult. New York selected Dane Belton - a versatile safety out of Iowa - to help replenish the depth while quietly signing Henry Black. Black was a 2020 UDFA for the Packers who played 283 defensive snaps last year.

The Giants also signed two interesting UDFAs: Trenton Thompson (San Diego State) and Yusuf Corker (Kentucky).

Key losses: Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers
Key additions: Dane Belton, Henry Black, Trenton Thompson, Yusuf Corker

Why the Giants might be better

Ryan had a phenomenal 2020 season; he was one of the primary catalysts to an ostensible overachieving defensive unit. Ryan bet on himself in 2020, and Dave Gettleman rewarded him handsomely, but Ryan’s 2021 season wasn’t as impressive. He didn’t come up with the big forced fumbles or interceptions in clutch moments like what helped him seal victories for the Giants in the previous season.

It’s plausible that Ryan is declining at 31, but I still believe he can be a valuable player. However, if Xavier McKinney can scratch his potential as the budding star we witnessed last season, handing the secondary leadership reigns to the 23-year-old could prove its worth early. In the first year of a new regime, endowing extra responsibility on a future building block is an ambitious move for the future.

Losing Peppers is unfortunate. His hybrid skill set could have meshed well with Martindale’s scheme. Peppers, though, spent a lot of time injured in New York, and he was inconsistent in man coverage against opposing tight ends.

Belton, Thompson, and Corker are rookies who lack the experience and savvy of wily veterans like Ryan and Peppers. It will be difficult for them to replace the crucial element of earned knowledge. Belton’s propensity to undercut routes with his ball skills in this scheme could cause a few turnovers, and he’s well-rounded, versatile, and can play man coverage on tight ends.

Belton will earn snaps in 2022, but for this group to be better than last season, Thompson or Corker must be impact players. Thompson is more well-rounded than Corker; he’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, and has the Van Wilder thing going on with six years of college football. He played more than 2,300 defensive snaps in college with 23 PBUs, four interceptions (three in 2021), and 139 total tackles. Thompson allowed a 54 percent catch rate in college, and he shows spatial awareness, big-hit ability, and the athletic upside to play man coverage (he didn’t test great but looked smooth on tape).

Corker is 6-foot, 203 pounds, and he offers more of a box safety skill. He is physical coming downhill, can deliver bone-jarring hits, and had 177 tackles through three seasons at Kentucky (2,217 snaps).

Black played slot corner, in the box, and as a deep safety for the Packers. Black is 6-foot, 206 pounds with limited NFL experience. He’s a young player with 310 defensive snaps to his name. He’ll have an opportunity to compete for the roster with the UDFAs.

Why the Giants might be worse

Losing Ryan and Peppers is a lot to overcome with just a Day 3 pick, two UDFAs, and a former UDFA in 2020. It’s worth noting that Jarren Williams moved to safety in OTAs and minicamp, so he’ll rotate and play snaps at that position if he cracks the roster.

There were no huge investments in the safety position after the Giants parted ways with Ryan. Cor’Dale Flott has experience dropping into deep half coverages from the apex position, but he’ll likely see more time in the slot. The safeties will be used creatively around the formation. Some cornerbacks will be used at safety, safeties at linebacker/OLB, and there will be plenty of secondary blitzes to throw off offenses.

I’m ultimately excited to see the usage in personnel, but the safety position is in a precarious situation if Love or McKinney gets injured. Similar to the outside cornerback position, there’s a lack of proven depth on the roster. The entire secondary could become compromised with one injury to a starter at CB or safety.

Final thoughts

The Giants’ secondary as a whole is much weaker than it was in 2021. I love the thought of McKinney assuming a more significant role with Love finally earning the respect he deserves. Still, it’s hard to overcome the losses of Ryan and Peppers.

Martindale’s system puts pressure on the quarterback, but that’s only sustainable if the Giants’ secondary can handle the release package and initial stem of opposing wide receivers. Coverages will roll, press will be used, and Martindale will keep the offense guessing, but the personnel he’s utilizing is less experienced with little depth.