The New York Giants had issues at their cornerback position when Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen assumed control of the franchise. They inherited Adoree’ Jackson, a sticky man-coverage cornerback that fits the aggressive system of Wink Martindale. However, there was an impending void opposite Jackson.
James Bradberry had a Pro Bowl season for the Giants in 2020. His 2021 campaign was also respectable. Still, the cap-strapped neophyte general manager had to part ways with the talented cornerback, which saved the Giants $10.1 million against the 2022 cap. Bradberry’s departure put an onus on second-year third-round pick Aaron Robinson.
The former UCF Knight was not a full-time player on the outside but readied himself for the opportunity. Unfortunately, he had an appendectomy after Week 1 followed by a partially torn ACL and MCL; he played only 72 defensive snaps in 2022.
Amid Robinson’s injuries, the Giants front office signed veteran Fabian Moreau, who proved important to the Giants’ success. Moreau played 860 defensive snaps for the Giants, with a possible game-changing tackle against Carolina, a defensive stop against wide receiver Christian Kirk at the goal line, and seven passes defended throughout the season.
The burgeoning addition of Moreau induced confidence in Schoen’s Pro Personnel department. That confidence was substantiated later in the season when the Giants signed defensive back Nick McCloud and wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins. For these articles, McCloud will be evaluated as a safety.
Injuries afflicted the Giants’ 2022 cornerback room, but those issues did not deter Jerome Henderson, Wink Martindale, and Brian Daboll. The Giants overcame their perceived lack of talent to win their first playoff game since Super Bowl XLVI.
Key losses: Fabian Moreau
Key additions: Deonte Banks, Armani Oruwariye, Leonard Johnson, Tre Hawkins III, Gemon Green
Why the Giants might be better
The Giants had the 25th selection in a 2023 NFL Draft full of talented cornerbacks. New York traded up one spot to secure Maryland’s Deonte Banks, which prompted Martindale to passionately embrace Schoen. Banks has the requisite size, athletic ability, and, according to Martindale, temperament to play cornerback in an aggressive press-man system.
The Giants needed to add young talent to their cornerback room. They ran more Cover-0 than any other NFL team by a substantial margin; they also were in quarter personnel (7+ defensive backs) more than any other NFL team. Martindale deviates from other popular NFL trends. He blitzes and leaves his cornerbacks on an island in man coverage. Finding upgrades and talent at cornerback was an attainable imperative for the Giants.
Not only is Banks the youth movement of the cornerback room, but he’s also an upgrade in talent over Moreau. The Giants also drafted a physical, long cornerback from Old Dominion named Tre Hawkins III, who should thrive on special teams and work his way into sub-package usage. Michigan UDFA Gemon Green will more than likely compete for the practice squad, similar to Zyon Gilbert last year.
The two free agent additions - Amani Oruwariye and Leonard Johnson - are not guaranteed roster spots. Oruwariye has good size and production; he has nine career interceptions, six in the 2021 season, and fourteen passes defended. His press-technique and man coverage ability is suspect, and he’s surrendered 12 touchdowns through his career.
It’s plausible that Henderson can rectify some of his issues. For that, I’m okay rolling the dice on a 27-year-old with flash plays at one-year, $1.2 million, especially since Oruwariye has outside potential.
Johnson tore his ACL training for the 2022 NFL Draft. He played 47 career games with 39 starts, missing only one contest. He finished his collegiate career with 165 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, six interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 17 pass breakups, and two quarterback hurries. At Duke’s pro day, Johnson ran a 4.54 40-yard dash and registered a vertical jump of 33.0 and a broad jump of 10.5.
Johnson has an uphill battle with New York selecting two cornerbacks in the draft, but there’s room for defensive backs on the roster. Second-year cornerback Cor’Dale Flott should be a more polished and physically mature player with one season under his belt.
Aaron Robinson and Rodarius Williams remain question marks. Darnay Holmes, who is in the last year of his contract, is another Giant with a cloudy future. The Giants could save around $2.7 million (only $197,972 in dead money) if they release Holmes; it’s a similar situation to Darius Slayton from last season.
Maybe Holmes will take a pay cut, but there are options at the slot for the Giants if they do opt for the cap savings. Those options include Robinson, Flott, Gilbert, or possible ‘safeties’ Nick McCloud and Bobby McCain.
Why the Giants might be worse
The Giants are not worse at cornerback than they were last season. Last year at this time, the Giants put heavy stock into Aaron Robinson’s success. Now, if the Giants get anything positive from Robinson, it’s a cherry on top of a delicious sundae.
The Giants improved their cornerback room from last season, and there’s little - if any - debate. There could be a debate if this cornerback room - in this system - is better than the 4-13 2021 Giants with Jackson, Bradberry, Jarren Williams, and Holmes. If it were me, I’d be signing up for the youth movement and upside of Deonte Banks and Company.