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Giants have youth and upside at cornerback



Giants have youth and upside at cornerback

Over each of the last three offseasons, the New York Giants have lost a veteran cornerback who played around 800 snaps in the previous season. After the 2021 season, it was James Bradberry; the following year was Fabian Moreau, and this offseason was Adoree’ Jackson, who remains a free agent.

GM Joe Schoen has attempted to supplement the roster with young cornerbacks. The 2023 first-round pick, Deonte Banks, had a respectable season as a rookie, but the 2022 third-round pick, Cor’Dale Flott, remains a question mark. The Giants also spent a third-round pick in this past draft on Dru Phillips, who, as Schoen stated after the draft, will likely compete as the nickel corner.

The Giants also did a solid job adding Nick McCloud off waivers early in the 2022 season. Schoen also inherited Aaron Robinson from the Dave Gettleman era, but the former UCF cornerback has not played a game since Week 4 of 2022, although he is still just 25 years old.

There are several cornerback roster spots to be earned, and the second starting outside corner spot is still to be determined. In training camp last season, rookie sixth-round pick Tre Hawkins III seized a starting spot opposite Banks, which made Jackson the nickel. This was done to get the best three cornerbacks on the field.

Jackson played 84 snaps as slot cornerback over the first four weeks of the season and only 31 through the remainder. It’s a long season and plans change, but the Giants do not have a versatile veteran of Jackson’s caliber. However, they arguably have more options with higher upside than they had to enter the 2023 season.

Key losses: Adoree’ Jackson
Key additions: Dru Phillips, Tre Herndon, David Long Jr.

Why the Giants might be better

Not including Banks, the Giants currently have five young players (25 or younger) who have displayed some competency in the NFL at one time or another. Many were brief stints of proficiency in training camp or, in Phillips’ case, in college, but five options for two potential starting spots is better than nothing.

The five players are Flott, McCloud, Phillips, Hawkins III, and Aaron Robinson. That last name may conjure bewilderment. It’s safe to say the expectations are small, as they should be, but he’s one of four other youthful options to compete for a roster spot behind Banks.

Similar to Robinson, but for different reasons, Hawkins III will have another year under his belt in a system that allows him to play top-down rather than tight-man coverage on his assignment. This could assist his skill set.

Besides those six young players, two veteran 26-year-olds — Darnay Holmes and David Long Jr. — are options. Holmes will likely be a special teams asset with some utility as a nickel, and Long Jr. has experience playing both inside and outside. Neither are locks to make the team, but both can provide value.

The Giants also signed 28-year-old Tre Herndon after a good workout during minicamp. He has played 3,200 snaps for the Jaguars since 2018 and will likely compete for the nickel role, although he’s played 1,502 snaps on the outside.

There is also value in the defensive scheme change from Wink Martindale to Shane Bowen. The former focused on press-man coverage skills and frequently left his cornerbacks on an island, as we all, unfortunately, witnessed with Hawkins III against Tyreek Hill in Miami. The latter plays more two-read coverages with the cornerbacks aligned off. Banks is known as a press-man cornerback, but last year’s tape suggests his eyes and ability in zone are much more advanced than his pre-draft evaluation would suggest; both of his interceptions last season were due to his overall awareness.

Banks is also one year further along in his journey. Starting at cornerback against the likes of A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, CeeDee Lamb, and Terry McLaurin six times a year is not easy, but Banks comported himself well, and one would hope he can take another step in his development.

The Giants also have a few young players who are long shots to make the roster. Kaleb Hayes, the 2023 UDFA out of BYU, made several big plays on the football during minicamp. He may be a name to monitor. The other two players on the roster are 26-year-old Stantley Thomas Oliver and UCLA UDFA Alex Johnson.

Why the Giants might be worse

Despite the depth and perceived upside, there is more uncertainty with the starting defense in base and nickel personnel. The alleged upside of the players listed above has not been actualized, and betting on names like Hawkins or Robinson is dubious.

Jackson had a down year last season, but I’d feel more comfortable with the starting defense if Jackson was still on the roster. McCloud, Flott, Phillips, and the other players listed above have a great opportunity ahead of them; the competition during training camp will be fun to cover, but it is no guarantee that the Giants currently have a starting outside cornerback who can play over 800 snaps opposite Deonte Banks.

Roster projection

Locks: Deonte Banks, Dru Phillips, Nick McCloud, Cor’Dale Flott
On the bubble: Tre Herndon, Darnay Holmes, Aaron Robinson, David Long Jr., Tre Hawkins III
Long shots: Alex Johnson, Kaleb Hayes, Stantley Thomas-Oliver

Final thoughts

I appreciate that the Giants have a few options and contingency plans for starting cornerback two and the nickel. Still, none of the options are proven, and the position group remains a major question mark. For that, I have to say the position group is slightly worse heading into this season than last year. McCloud is entering his fourth season, Flott his third; they seem to be the favorites to earn the starting role on the outside, but all of that remains to be seen. I consider the retainment of Jerome Henderson to be positive and I hope to see the talents of these young players realized, for the pass rush of the Giants needs adequate coverage to allow them to feast to their capabilities.

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