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Can veteran safety Bobby McCain replace Julian Love for Giants?

McCain was signed to help replace Julian Love

Washington Commanders v Houston Texans
Bobby McCain
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The New York Giants didn’t have too many unexpected or significant losses this offseason. One player whose absence could be felt, though, is safety Julian Love. The defensive captain departed to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency. Veteran Bobby McCain was signed as his potential (temporary) replacement, but he has big shoes to fill in the Giants’ defensive backfield.

By the numbers

Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 196
Age: 29
Position: Safety
Experience: 8
Contract: one-year, $1,317,500 | Guaranteed at signing: $652,500 | 2023 cap hit: $1,092,500

Career to date

McCain was drafted out of Memphis by the Dolphins with the 145th pick in 2015. As a rookie, he started four of 16 games, posting 28 combined tackles, four pass breakups, and a 60.6 Pro Football Focus grade. He played for six total seasons in Miami, with 87 games played, 55 starts, 254 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, 30 pass breakups, seven interceptions, seven quarterback hits, and four sacks.

McCain’s most productive season came in 2021, his first year with the Commanders. He started 16 of 17 games, recording 63 combined tackles, nine pass breakups, four interceptions, and one pick-six as a free safety, good for a 70.9 PFF grade.

Last year with Washington, McCain rotated between free safety, strong safety, and slot cornerback. He had 76 total tackles, three tackles for loss, five pass breakups, one forced fumble, and one quarterback hit. He recorded a 61.4 PFF grade, including just a 33.9 run defense grade.

2023 outlook

McCain’s possibilities on the roster range from being a starter to a possible under-the-radar cut candidate. During the spring, McCain split first-team reps with Nick McCloud. Safeties Dane Belton and Jason Pinnock, also potential parts of a rotation, did not participate in team drills, as they are rehabbing injuries.

The Giants rotate their safeties a lot, but how the team used Xavier McKinney and Love last season may be instructive for how they might utilize their safeties in 2023. Here were the usage breakdowns for the safeties on the Giants’ roster a year ago (not including McCloud, who spent a lot of time at cornerback in 2022 but will be a full-time safety in 2023):

  • McKinney: 321 deep (57.9%), 121 box (21.8%), 46 slot (8.3%), 56 defensive line (10.1%), 10 outside corner (1.8%)
  • Love: 494 deep (49.1%), 271 box (26.9%), 154 slot (15.3%), 50 defensive line (5.0%), 37 outside corner (3.7%)
  • McCain: 353 deep (36.4%), 195 box (20.1%), 404 slot (41.6%), 6 defensive line (0.6%), 12 outside corner (1.2%)
  • Belton: 144 deep (36%), 137 box (34.3%), 62 slot (15.5%), 38 defensive line (9.5%), 19 outside corner (4.8%)
  • Pinnock: 317 deep (67.0%), 81 box (17.1%), 27 slot (5.7%), 41 defensive line (8.7%), 7 outside corner (1.5%)

It will be very interesting to see if and how the Giants utilize McCain. In 2021, he played 802 of his 1,031 defensive snaps at deep safety (77.8%), and he had his most successful full season as a starter. He produced a 72.6 PFF coverage grade that season, which would seem to indicate that he can be very solid in deep coverage. That kind of production would also be a good replacement for Love, who had a 71.5 PFF coverage grade in 2022.

However, the Giants do have Pinnock, who played 309 snaps (67.3%) from the deep safety position. Pinnock did not have a great year in coverage, recording a 53.0 PFF grade. Still, he figures to compete with McCain for some snaps. Run defense was Pinnock’s strongest suit statistically, as he recorded a 76.6 grade compared to McCain’s 33.9.

McCloud, meanwhile, posted a 67.4 PFF grade that was pretty evenly split between run defense (71.4), tackling (86.4), and coverage (64.6). His transition to safety might spell trouble for McCain, though, due to the abundance of bodies there. Where will McCain fit in the mix? McCain last played on special teams in 2020, when he took only six snaps total on those units. McCloud, Pinnock, and Belton are all good special teamers. Does that mean McCain can find himself on the outside looking in?

As a 2022 fourth-rounder, Belton will likely still be on the roster, too. He did not show much as a rookie, posting a 30.6 PFF grade that reflects all areas of his play except tackling (71.3). Perhaps McCain is insurance in case Belton can’t take a step forward, but then why is McCloud moving to safety?

Furthermore, while McCain played many of his snaps at slot corner in 2022, the Giants have many competing slot corners on the roster. Darnay Holmes was their 2022 slot starter, and Cor’Dale Flott may move there in 2023, as it was his primary college position. McCloud and McKinney have also played in the slot.

Will McCain be a starter? Will he be released? It’s an interesting storyline to monitor in training camp and the preseason.