New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll surprised fans and reporters with the news on Wednesday that starting cornerback Aaron Robinson would miss Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers after an appendectomy.
The Giants are looking to build on their upset season-opening win with a win in their home-opener against the Panthers. While the Giants expect to have rookie Dane Belton back for this game, they’re also still waiting for injured edge defenders Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari to rejoin the defense. Given the importance of coverage to Wink Martindale’s scheme, getting the best possible replacement for Robinson could be key for the coming weeks.
The average recovery period for an appendectomy can range anywhere from one to four weeks, depending on the type of surgery. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had an emergency appendectomy on July 27th and didn’t return to the practice field until August 14th, missing 19 days of practice and the entire preseason. It’s worth noting that Burrow’s appendix ruptured and we don’t know the type or extent of Robinson’s surgery.
But even so, it’s possible that whoever replaces Robinson could play a significant role in the Giants’ defense for a while.
While it’s possible that Julian Love could be a slot defender in some coverage rotations — particularly with Belton returning — it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be playing outside. He’s a safety and plays an important role in the defense as such.
So who could be the next man up for the Giants?
Veteran cornerback Fabian Moreau is currently on the Giants’ practice squad. He was originally drafted out of UCLA in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft by the Washington Commanders. Moreau spent his first four years in Washington, played for the Atlanta Falcons in 2021, and was with the Houston Texans this summer. He was released by the Texans after the 2022 preseason.
“This league humbles you. And it’s all about how you respond. I don’t have an ego, my pride’s not too high,” Moreau said on Wednesday in the Giants’ locker room. “I like to play football, I like to compete. And that’s what I’m going to do. Given any opportunity I’m going to show what i can do.”
Moreau has a great blend of size and speed for the position with a 9.98 RAS score.
However, he has struggled badly in 2021 and 2019 (he only started one game and played 156 snaps in 2020). Last year he played a career high 1,037 snaps, but gave up 55 receptions on 88 targets (62.5 percent), 647 yards and eight touchdowns.
He was viewed as an adequate depth piece in Atlanta, but obviously not a long term solution as a starting cornerback.
Moreau said the defense in Atlanta didn’t really fit well with wasn’t really my type of scheme and what I do and what I’m good at.” He said it was a “mutual decision” to part ways with the Falcons.
Moreau is new to the Giants’ defense and has a good athletic profile to play in an aggressive press man coverage scheme. Likewise, he’s the Giants’ most veteran option, which could make him the first choice. However, his struggles in coverage over the last couple years could leave Giants fans holding their breath.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is third-round rookie Cor’Dale Flott.
Flott was hand-picked by this regime, who value his length, quickness, and fluidity in coverage. The rookie was sticky in coverage in the preseason and has great competitive toughness to fight through physical play by receivers. However, he also had glaring missed tackles in coverage and suffered a groin injury in the preseason opener against the New England Patriots.
“I feel ready. That just goes back to what Coach Dabes says all the time, — be ready for your number to be called because you never know what can happen,” Flott said on Wednesday. “So every day just prepare. I have to seize this moment.”
Flott was among the Giants’ reserve corners to struggle in the preseason finale.
What has Flott learned about NFL receivers?
“Everybody’s elite,” he said. “You’ve just gotta just be ready and be 100.”
The Giants like Flott, but he’s an unknown. He will likely play a role in the Giants’ defensive scheme, and could see the field quite a bit if the Giants use a rotation to replace Robinson.
Layne is the other veteran corner on the Giants’ depth chart. Layne was claimed off the waiver wire from the Pittsburgh Steelers after final cutdowns. A big, long corner out of Michigan State, Layne was drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft. However, his play on the field never lived up to his draft pedigree.
“I’m just going to stay ready and do whatever the coaches want me to do, that’s what I’m gonna do,” Layne said. “I’m not going to try to push too much ahead. I try to just stay in my lane and get better every day.
Layne is capable in zone coverage, using his length well to close the down on receiving windows. He’s also a physical corner who’s time as a receiver before converting to corner in college seems to have given him a good understanding of route concepts. However, he can be an inconsistent tackler and struggle in press coverage.
Because Layne was claimed off of waivers, he’s already on the active roster and his experience as a veteran could be valuable. However, struggling in press coverage and inconsistent tackling could prove to be a liability for the Giants’ defense.
Gilbert, an undrafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic, is also on the Giants’ practice squad.
Like many in the Giants’ rebuilt secondary, Gilbert has good size at 6-foot, 193 pounds, and was seemingly added with press coverage in mind. Emory Hunt of Football Game Plan notes that Gilbert is able to play both press and zone coverage and plays the ball well in the air. However, Hunt also notes that Gilbert can be “grabby” in coverage, which could lead to holding or pass interference calls against NFL receivers.
Gilbert flashed early on in spring workouts, though he struggled in a similar fashion as the Giants’ other young reserve corners in the preseason. Gilbert and Flott have might be rookies, but they have more experience in Martindale’s defense than any of the Giants’ other options.
McCloud was listed by Daboll as a potential option to replace Robinson. It’s worth noting that he didn’t practice on Wednesday with a hamstring injury suffered on Sunday against the Titans. As Giants fans are well aware, hamstring injuries can be tricky and linger.
That could prevent him from even being in consideration for the role on Sunday.
If he does get on the field, McCloud is another undrafted free agent. He was signed by the Buffalo Bills after the 2021 NFL draft. He’s a big and aggressive cornerback who knows how to use his size in press coverage. However, his movement skills are limited and he could have a rough go against starting receivers in the NFL.