Jun 152020
 
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Jabrill Peppers, New York Giants (September 29, 2019)

Jabrill Peppers – © USA TODAY Sports

With New York Giants training camp hopefully beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com (BBI) breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Keep in mind that some of the players discussed may be cut as the 2020 NFL draft class signs their rookie contracts.

FIND A COMPLETE LIST OF ALL BREAKDOWNS HERE

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Backs

2019 YEAR IN REVIEW: Heading into 2019, fans were generally upbeat about a secondary that was clearly in transition. The Giants had heavily invested in the position by drafting corners Deandre Baker (1st round), Julian Love (4th round), and Corey Ballentine (6th round) in the 2019 NFL Draft. At safety, the team had effectively swapped out Landon Collins (signed by Washington Redskins) and Curtis Riley (signed by Oakland Raiders) for Jabrill Peppers (part of Odell Beckham trade) and Antoine Bethea (signed after he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals). It was expected that Janoris Jenkins would rebound from a somewhat disappointing 2018 season and that Sam Beal (who missed his rookie season due to a shoulder injury) and Grant Haley (who started nine games as an undrafted rookie) would develop and improve. Michael Thomas provided depth and special teams value.

But it was a case of the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Once again, the Giants were one of the NFL’s worst in pass defense, finishing 28th. In the “you can’t make this shit up” category, the team’s best defensive back, Jenkins, was cut in December after calling a fan a “retard” on Twitter. Baker started 15-of-16 games as a rookie, but was very inconsistent with his work ethic being questioned. Nickel corner Haley regressed and was eventually benched. The injury-prone Beal was placed on IR in September with hamstring and groin injuries, added to the 53-man roster in early November, and missed the last game with another shoulder issue. Ballentine had to deal with being shot right after he was drafted and then being thrust into a nickel corner spot that he was clearly ill-suited to play.

At safety, despite being told by team officials that Bethea still had it, he clearly did not and was a significant liability at free safety both against the pass and the run. Peppers did not make much of impact and was lost for the season in November as his overall play was improving. Michael Thomas played in all 16 games with two starts but clearly wasn’t the answer. Julian Love was moved from cornerback to safety early. He ended up starting five games late in the season, flashing at times but also experiencing growing pains as a rookie.

Overall, the unit was a collective disappointment and a major reason the overall defense finished 25th in yards and 30th in points allowed.

ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: As mentioned, Janoris Jenkins was waived in December. S Michael Thomas was signed by the Texans and CB Antonio Hamilton was signed by the Chiefs. Safety Antoine Bethea remains an unsigned unrestricted free agent.

Grant Haley was re-signed as an exclusive rights free agent in January. The first player the Giants signed in free agency in March was CB James Bradberry (3-year, $43.5 million contract). S/special teams player Nate Ebner (UFA from Patriots) and CB Dravon Askew-Henry (cut by Steelers last year) were also signed.

The Giants drafted S Xavier McKinney (2nd round), CB Darnay Holmes (4th round), and CB/S Chris Williamson (7th round) in the 2020 NFL Draft. After the draft, rookie free agent additions included CB Christian Angulo, CB Malcolm Elmore, and S Jaquarius Landrews. S Montre Hartage was claimed off of waivers from the Dolphins after the draft as well.

TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: There is a lot going on here and thus each fan probably has their own top story line. Clearly, one is the offseason drama surrounding 2019 1st-round draft pick Deandre Baker, who may or may not make it to training camp depending on the outcome of his offseason legal troubles (four counts of armed robbery and four counts of armed aggravated assault with a firearm from a bizarre incident in Florida). My personal belief is that the Giants were counting on Baker to form a solid starting CB duo alongside high-priced James Bradberry. Will Baker even be a Giant in 2020? If he is, will he be suspended by the team or the NFL? Did he get scared straight and will he commit himself to the game? If Baker is not part of the equation, the pressure increases to find his replacement among Sam Beal, Corey Ballentine, Darnay Holmes, and possibly Julian Love. Are they up to the task? Can Beal stay healthy? Is Love athletic enough to handle corner at the NFL level? Will Ballentine shine more at outside corner rather than inside at nickel?

Speaking of the nickel spot, one would think the Giants would want Holmes to nail down the position if the rookie can handle it. But there are others possibly in the equation, including Love and maybe Williamson.

At safety, it would appear that Jabrill Peppers and Xavier McKinney will have the inside shot at starting, but the coaches may want to configure packages to get Love on the field as either a third safety or additional corner. Depth is still needed here with Sean Chandler (holdover from 2018/2019), Rashaan Gaulden (added late in 2019), Montre Hartage, Chris Williamson, and Jaquarius Landrews all competing to make the roster.

Big picture is this: for the past three seasons, the Giants have invested a tremendous amount of resources into the defensive backfield, including a trading for a former 1st-round pick (Peppers); spending $43 million on a corner in free agency (Bradberry); and drafting players in the 1st (Baker), 2nd (McKinney), 3rd (Beal),  4th (Love, Holmes), 6th (Ballentine), and 7th (Williamson) rounds. It’s time for the investment to deliver returns and for the Giants to get out of the NFL basement in pass defense.

ON THE BUBBLE: There are currently 18 defensive backs on the roster. Probably only nine or ten will make the final roster. The only sure bets are probably Bradberry, Holmes, Peppers, Love, and McKinney. Baker obviously isn’t safe. Beal has to prove he can be a reliable player.

PREDICTIONS: So much here depends on the new coaching staff, not just Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham but Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson, the latter coming from Atlanta where his unit struggled at times. It’s also interesting to note that Pat Shurmur holdover Anthony Blevins was moved from assistant special teams coach to assistant defensive backs coach. These three men have to develop all of the talent that been acquired in recent years.

In addition, so much depends on the legal and emotional status of Deandre Baker. He was (and still may be) and important piece of the puzzle. The expectation is that versatile Xavier McKinney, who many felt was the best safety in the draft, will be able to handle the starting free safety spot as a rookie.

My prediction is that if Baker is available and truly focused (two big ifs), this unit could be poised for a big turnaround. There were games last year where Baker did shut down his opponent. He can do it. But how important is the game to him? Usually you can’t count on a person to change their ways, but if anything was going to scare Baker straight, facing a long prison sentence might do the trick. Bradberry should be able to more than adequately handle the other corner spot, replacing Jenkins with less drama. The nickel corner should improve with Holmes, Love, or maybe Williamson an improvement over Haley and Ballentine.

At safety, the closer Peppers plays to the line of scrimmage, the more impact he makes. The drafting of McKinney should enable the coaching staff to play Peppers in a role best suited to his skills. I would not be shocked to see packages that get Peppers, McKinney, and Love all on the field together.

FINAL DEPTH CHART: James Bradberry, Deandre Baker, Sam Beal, Darnay Holmes, Corey Ballentine, Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Julian Love, Nate Ebner, Chris Williamson

I’m making some bold assumptions here: Baker being a Giant, Beal staying healthy, and Ballentine and Williamson showing enough to stick. Ebner is strictly a core special teams player who Joe Judge obviously targeted in free agency to lead his unit.

Mar 272020
 
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James Bradberry, Carolina Panthers (September 8, 2019)

James Bradberry – © USA TODAY Sports

CONFERENCE CALL WITH CORNERBACK JAMES BRADBERRY…
The following is the transcript from today’s media conference call with cornerback James Bradberry, who the New York Giants signed on March 16th to a 3-year, $43.5 million contract:

Q: Why the Giants and talk about the challenge of coming in as the veteran corner on what’s a pretty young group?
A: Of course, the city of New York and all the opportunities they have on and off the field. I’m familiar with Dave Gettleman and the culture he is trying to build in the locker room. I am looking forward to being a part of it. What I can bring to the locker room is my overall knowledge of the game. I can help the younger guys in the DB room get better. My experience for the most part is what I am going to bring to the game.

Q: Obviously you and Dave Gettleman have a relationship that goes back to when he drafted you. Can you just talk a little bit about what the conversations were like this time as he was recruiting you?
A: Honestly, he reached out to my agent. I really didn’t talk to (Dave) Gettleman. They came out of nowhere and made an offer, I didn’t even expect them to make an offer. He already knew the type of guy I was, and I already knew the type of guy he was. I already knew what type of organization he was trying to build over there in New York. I knew it was nothing but positive.

Q: One of the reasons the Giants wanted you even though you are only 26 is they need a veteran in the room? Just because you have been in the league four years doesn’t mean that naturally you would be a leader. What do you think they saw in you with these young cornerbacks that you can help them other than you being a good cornerback yourself?
A: Of course, Dave saw me up close and personal my first year and then after that he saw me from afar. After that, I think he saw me improve each and every year. In order to improve you have to take knowledge and apply it on the field. That’s what I want to do for the younger guys, I want to give them knowledge and hopefully they can apply it on the field.

Q: I think the expectation is this defense is going to play a lot of man coverage. How does that fit your strength and was that appealing to you?
A: I see myself as a versatile corner. I can play zone, I can play man. I was down for whatever. Of course, playing a lot of man is a challenge for any cornerback and I am always willing to accept a challenge.

Q: What was it like going into free agency during the coronavirus?
A: Initially, free agency was going smooth until the coronavirus came around. When it became official that I was going with the Giants, it didn’t hit me yet. I don’t think it still has hit me yet. I feel like after we get everything figured out and the coronavirus, everyone is safe and whatnot. I feel like it will hit me when I am able to come up and visit.

Q: You haven’t been to the Giants facility yet? Or met any of the coaches?
A: No sir.

Q: Where are you training?
A: Right now, I am in Charlotte. My training has kind of come to a halt because of trying to keep your social distancing, trying to keep a safe distance from everyone. Making sure you are not spreading the virus or contracting the virus. I have been working out here and there trying to get it in by any means.

Q: What are your first impressions of Joe Judge as a head coach from your conversations with him? You talked about the culture they want to build now? What specifically did they talk to you about?
A: I talked to him a little bit after I signed. It was a positive conversation. We didn’t really talk about football a whole lot. We talked about life and what’s going on right now in the world. He was telling me they are postponing OTA’s and we are going to figure out football later on. Right now, we are just going to worry about what’s going on in the world.

Q: Have you ever had an opportunity in your career to serve as kind of that mentor for a young group, and if so, how that went for you with balancing mentoring them as well as being the best player you could be?
Bradberry: In my career, including college and high school? Or in the NFL?

Q: Yeah. NFL specifically, but if you had some college or high school experience mentoring, that would work.
Bradberry: I’ll just talk about the NFL. In my third year, when Donte Jackson came, of course, he was already an elite athlete. I didn’t have to coach him up on that. His technique was superb, especially because he played a lot of press man (coverage). For me, I was just trying to help him just learn how to break down film and watch film, and make sure I stayed on top of him about watching tape because that’s how you anticipate routes, within film coverage. I feel like he improved in that going into his second year. Of course, he had a standout rookie year. I feel like that was all a tribute to his talents. I helped out a little bit here and there.

Q: What experiences did you take from playing in the NFC South against Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, all those guys, that you can take with you to New York? How did those guys help make you a better player in competition?
Bradberry: Of course, the competition, going against the best, of course, it’ll help you improve your skill. But just watching film, those guys are tier one guys. I knew I had to be on my A-game every time I faced them and I had to watch my film throughout the week. It made me very diligent with my film study. I just sacrifice time, make sure I put the time in so I can ball out on Sunday.

Q: In your opinion, who is the best receiver in the NFC South?
Bradberry: I thought Julio Jones was the best receiver, but all of those guys are elite. Michael Thomas, Mike Evans are not too far behind.

Q: Obviously, nobody knows what the next few weeks or next few months are going to bring because of COVID. I’m just wondering, how are you going to get a jumpstart on what the Giants run, given that they have a new coaching staff. Patrick Graham, the defensive coordinator, he obviously had a year of experience down in Miami, different personnel. But what can you do while we kind of wait for everything to sort out so that once the time does come, you’re ready to kind of hit the ground running?
Bradberry: I think just having a routine as far as working out the best you can. Getting on the bicycle, riding the bike around the neighborhood and making sure your legs are conditioned. Communicating with the coaches and trying to get as much information from them as possible. Just little, small things. Mainly just staying in shape. That’s the biggest thing.

Q: Do you know anybody with the Giants? Any of the players that you’re familiar with in any way, shape or form?
Bradberry: Yes sir. I know David Mayo, I know Rashaan Gaulden and I know Chad Slade.

Q: Have any of those guys reached out to you and told you what it’s like to be a Giant?
Bradberry: Yeah, I reached out to those guys. They had nothing but positive things to say about it. They pretty much love the city, love the facilities, and I heard the food is good.

Q: How about the young DBs that you’re going to be working with? Have you had a chance to touch base with them and what are your thoughts on DeAndre Baker?
Bradberry: I followed them on Instagram but I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to them. I’d rather introduce myself to them and meet them in person. It goes a lot smoother than text messages or DMs. But honestly, I really haven’t watched a whole lot of film on those guys. But I did watch DeAndre Baker coming out of college and I saw a really good athlete. I’m looking forward to working with him. I’m looking forward to working with him and the rest of the guys, honestly. I don’t want to single one person out.

Q: I’m wondering how you’ll embrace the challenge of kind of helping the Giants, particularly on defense, get back on track after a few years where they didn’t necessarily play up to what they would have expected?
Bradberry: Honestly, my motto is just go out there and do it. There’s no point in being scared of it or hiding back from it. Just embrace the challenge, accept it and make sure you put the time in so that when it’s time to play on Sunday, that you’re able to perform at your highest level, put on a good show for the fans and also get a win.

Mar 162020
 
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James Bradberry, Carolina Panthers (September 8, 2019)

James Bradberry – © USA TODAY Sports

GIANTS SIGN JAMES BRADBERRY TO 3-YEAR, $45-MILLION DEAL…
Multiple media sources are reporting that the New York Giants have agreed to terms with unrestricted free agent cornerback James Bradberry (Carolina Panthers). The deal is reportedly a 3-year, $45 million contract that includes $32 million in guaranteed money.

The 26-year old, 6’1”, 212-pound Bradberry was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Panthers. In four seasons with Carolina, Bradberry has started all 60 regular-season games that he has played in, accruing 222 tackles, three sacks, 47 pass defenses, eight interceptions, and two forced fumbles. In 2019, he started 15 games and finished the year with 65 tackles, one sack, 12 pass defenses, and three interceptions.

Blessed with good size and overall athletic ability, the Panthers often used Bradberry to cover the opposing team’s best receiver.

NO TENDER FOR JON HALAPIO…
ESPN is reporting that center Jon Halapio, who was scheduled to become a restricted free agent, will not be tendered by the New York Giants. This means that Halapio will be an unrestricted free agent who is free to sign with any team.

An underwhelming and disappointing season by Halapio in 2019 was unfortunately punctuated by him suffering a torn Achilles’ tendon in the final moments of the season finale. In all, Halapio started 15 games, missing one start with a hamstring injury.

Halapio was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He has bounced around different leagues and teams including the Patriots (2014), Boston Brawlers (2014), Denver Broncos (2014–2015), Arizona Cardinals (2015), Brooklyn Bolts (2015), and Patriots (2016) again.

The Giants signed Halapio to their Practice Squad in 2016 and 2017. The Giants then added him to the 53-man roster in October 2017 and he played in 10 games, starting the last six at right guard. Halapio won the starting center job in 2018, but was lost early when he was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2018 after breaking his ankle and lower leg in the second game of the season.