With New York Giants training camp 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.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Defensive Backs
2017 YEAR IN REVIEW: Coming off a year in 2016 when THREE New York Giants earned All-Pro honors, everyone expected the secondary to be a team strength in 2017. Instead, there was turmoil on and off the field. The team’s top three cornerbacks were suspended for violating team rules and conduct detrimental to the team. 2016 1st-rounder Eli Apple regressed terribly, was benched, and started only seven games. All-Pro Dominique Rodgers Cromartie saw his pass defenses plummet from 21 and six interceptions in 2016, to just one pass defense and no interceptions in 2017. All-Pro Janoris Jenkins was nagged by an ankle injury that eventually landed him on IR and required surgery. The only bright spot at corner was the surprise play of Ross Cockrell, who the Giants traded for in September. It got so bad that Brandon Dixon ended up starting five games for the Giants.
At safety, All-Pro Landon Collins also regressed, bothered by a nagging ankle injury he suffered in early October and then fracturing his arm in December. While he made the Pro Bowl, he didn’t have the impact season he had the previous year. After spending his rookie season on IR, Darian Thompson started 16 games, but he lacked physicality and didn’t make many plays. Andrew Adams saw his playing time decrease, but still played in all 16 games with four starts. Nevertheless, Thompson and Adams combined for only eight pass defenses and one interception on the season. Once again, Nat Berhe was a non-factor with just 12 tackles in 15 games.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants cut Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in March and Brandon Dixon in May. Ross Cockrell and Nat Berhe left the team in free agency. Corner Darryl Morris remains unsigned and won’t be back.
The Giants signed free agents CB/S Curtis Riley, S Michael Thomas, CB Teddy Williams, CB C.W. Webb, CB William Gay, S Orion Stewart, and CB Chris Lewis-Harris during the spring as well as rookie free agents CB Grant Haley and S Sean Chandler after the draft.
The surprise move was the team selecting CB Sam Beal in the 3rd round of the 2018 Supplemental Draft.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The transaction wire this offseason was dominated by defensive back moves, but the ultimate success or failure of the secondary in 2018 will largely depend on whether or not Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Landon Collins can rebound. We’ll have to see where Jenkins’ head is after it was revealed that his brother allegedly killed a man in his home. Collins needed a second surgery to repair his arm fracture and was limited in the spring. Much media and fan focus will be on Eli Apple, who almost ran himself off of the team but so far has been acting and practicing much better. If Jenkins and Collins can revert to All-Pro form and Apple can become a viable starting NFL corner, then the other issues in the secondary will be much easier to deal with. If not, the Giants could be rough shape here.
The quick demise and subsequent release of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left a huge hole in the secondary. Until the Supplemental Draft, Dave Gettleman’s approach at corner had been to sign quantity over quality, hoping to strike lightning in a bottle. That changed with the selection of Sam Beal. Nevertheless, the team still needs to identify a nickel corner.
At safety, who starts opposite of Landon Collins? During the last mini-camp, with Collins and Darian Thompson on the sidelines, ex-CB Curtis Riley and Andrew Adams were playing at safety with the first team. Newcomers Michael Thomas, Orion Stewart, and Sean Chandler also now join the competition.
ON THE BUBBLE: Other than Janoris Jenkins, Landon Collins, and Sam Beal, no one is completely safe. Eli Apple is likely to make it unless he has another mental implosion simply because the Giants are weak at the position and Apple still has a tremendous amount of upside. Not only do all of the other players have to worry about current competition on the roster, but look for the Giants to actively scan the waiver wire all summer. Some of the new journeymen vets are good special teams players and that will help their cause, most notably Michael Thomas.
FROM THE COACHES AND GM: Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on Curtis Riley: “Curtis is a guy that, we all know he’s played corner, so he’s got really great feet and hips and range. And the thing I’m probably most proud of him about is how he’s picked it up playing safety because that’s a change, when you go from playing outside, to go inside. And some of the checks and the communication and one minute you’re in the post, the next minute you’re down, or you’re playing in the half field, or you’re blitzing off the edge and some of the different duties that our safeties have to handle here. He’s done a really nice job with that. So, I’m excited for him, getting to training camp just like all these guys, and he’s competing his butt off with a group of guys that I’ve really seen grow over these last two months.”
Bettcher on William Gay: “A pro’s pro. He is a pro’s pro. Everything that when we talked about having Will join us, anyone that you talk to, loves his work ethic, loves the seriousness and the professional mentality that he brings to the room. He is going to ask great questions, going to be very engaged, has done a great job with some of our younger players. And (taught) some of our guys that are three- and four-year players, about how to have longevity in this league and play at a high level. He knows what a great defense looks like from the inside and we’re excited to have him here working with us.”
Bettcher on Landon Collins: “I look at him as a guy – we had some guys in Arizona, Tyvon Branch and before Tyvon we had Tony Jefferson who played strong safety for us who could play both high, could play down in the box, could cover tight ends, could blitz off the edge. That’s what I see with Landon, a guy who is very versatile in what he can do. You might see a snap where he’s down covering a tight end in the box, you might see a snap where he’s in the half field playing deep or in the middle of the field playing deep or you might see snaps where he’s blitzing off the edge. I think that’s the versatility a guy like him lends and that’s something that as you look and study defenses across the league and you talk to offensive guys of what gives them trouble, it’s players that have that versatility – that one snap they’re down in the box and the next snap they’re playing high. That kind of versatility gives offenses trouble and I’m excited to have a chance to work with him.”
Bettcher on Eli Apple: “Very talented player. I did like him when he was coming out in the draft, really liked his skill set. He’s a guy who can play man, who can press, who can play zone defense in space, who can break on the ball.”
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the competition at cornerback: “Well, it’s competitive. We were talking about it this morning. I was sitting with James (Bettcher), just going back over the roster. It’s going to be competitive to see whose going to be, in my mind, our third, fourth and fifth corner. We’ve got some candidates who are doing some really good things. And then they’re going to have to have a role. Certainly, when teams are in base and we’ve got Jackrabbit (Janoris Jenkins) and Eli (Apple) out there. But then when teams go to nickel, which is more than half the time, there’s going to have to be a guy step up. And we’ll just have to find the role, and whoever that guy is, we’ve got to do the things that fit what he can do best.”
General Manager Dave Gettleman on Sam Beal: “We’re very, very excited about getting Sam in the draft. He’s long, he’s very athletic for a corner, he has all the physical skills, he can carry the vertical, he has very good play speed, he shows instincts out there, he has ball awareness, he doesn’t panic when the ball is thrown at his guy, and he is a very willing tackler. We just feel it gives us a really talented young kid with the ability to ascend.”
PREDICTIONS: As long as the injury bug doesn’t hit (a big if), the Giants are not in as dire straits here as many think. Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins are two of the best players at their respective positions in the NFL. Eli Apple seems poised for a rebound year. Acquiring Sam Beal in the Supplemental Draft was a bold move that may fill a glaring need. The two big questions are finding a free safety to complement Collins and a nickel corner. My guess is that William Gay takes on an Everson Walls-type leadership role and adequately handles the nickel spot. Curtis Riley, Darian Thompson, Andrew Adams, and Michael Thomas most likely will be battling it out for the free safety position, unless someone else shakes free on the waiver wire.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: We’re going to hear a common refrain from fans throughout the preseason… “Who are these guys?” My guess is that Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Sam Beal, William Gay, and Grant Haley make it at cornerback. At safety, Landon Collins, Curtis Riley, Michael Thomas, and the winner of the Darian Thompson/Andrew Adams competition. That being said, I would not be surprised to see one or two waiver-wire pick-ups in the defensive backfield.