Xavier McKinney | Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Can second-round pick stabilize a problem position?
The New York Giants have had a different starting free safety in every NFL season since 2013. Can second-round pick Xavier McKinney finally be the player to put an end to that merry-go-round?
Believing that to be the case, the Giants invested the 36th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on the former Alabama star.
“We had a first-round value on him, and we’re absolutely thrilled to get him,” GM Dave Gettleman said after the Giants selected McKinney. “He’s a great kid, he’s smart, he plays smart, he lines up the backend for us, he’s versatile, you can put him down low, he can cover tight ends, he’s got ball skills, and he’s a good tackler. So, we’re excited and just feel we’ve got a real quality person and player in this second-round pick.”
Let’s take a closer look at McKinney.
How he got here
McKinney was a two-year starter for Nick Saban at Alabama. In 2019, he was First-Team All-SEC, Second-Team All-American, and led the Crimson Tide with 95 tackles.
McKinney was considered by many the best safety in the draft and a likely first-round pick. A slow 40 time (4.63) at the Combine, which could have been caused by cramping that forced him to sit out some of the drills, may have contributed to his falling out of the first round.
“I don’t know how much it [the 40 time] hurt me,” McKinney told New York media in a post-draft conference call. “To be honest, I really don’t care that much about the 40 anyways. I think like I’ve said before, my tape says it all. It’s something that outweighs the 40 anyways because, of course, I play way faster than what that 40 said. But when I did run the 40, I did have cramps. A lot of it was due to just the setup of how the combine was, things that I wasn’t necessarily prepared for or didn’t really know how the schedule would be. But you know, it is what it is. Everything happens for a reason. Like I’ve said before, I’m excited for this moment and I’m excited to be a Giant.”
Gettleman admitted that the Giants “did have something” in terms of a trade offer to move down and acquire multiple draft picks at No. 36, but that “we felt the value of getting Xavier there was just too good to pass up.”
Former NFL GM Charlie Casserly indicated that he and much of the NFL agreed with the Giants’ assessment.
“I interviewed 12 teams before the draft and everyone had (McKinney) as their top safety,” Casserly said. “I had him as my top safety. The guy is a natural centerfielder as far as being able to have range and instincts. In college you saw him come down and cover tight ends, press wide receivers. I don’t know about pressing wide receivers in the NFL, but I’ll tell you: He can cover tight ends and they need that guy.”
In an instant post-draft analysis, our Nick Falato said “The best safety in the draft went off the board at 36, and the Giants were the beneficiary. His toughness, smarts, and overall competence will assist the Giants defense, and make it a stronger unit.”
McKinney is one of two rookies, with first-round pick Andrew Thomas being the other, who should be Day 1/Week 1 starters in 2020.
Coach Joe Judge has promised multiple schemes on offense and defense with personnel being used different based on the opponent being faced. McKinney, while likely not an ideal fit as an every down single-high safety, is an ideal fit for a scheme that wants good players who can move around and do a variety of things.
Saban told the ‘Giants Huddle’ podcast that McKinney should make an “easy transition” to the Giants.
“We do a lot of the same stuff [the Giants will do] here from a coverage standpoint, from a secondary standpoint,” the six-time national champion head coach said on the “Giants Huddle” podcast. “So our guys typically make good adjustments. I know a few years ago we had six guys sign NFL contracts and five of them ended up starting as rookies. Even though this will be a transition, I think most of the things that ‘X’ is going to be exposed to, he’s probably done. They might call it something different. I think it’ll be an easy transition for him.”
More from Saban:
“I think Xavier has a lot of diversity as a player,” Saban said. “He can play man-to-man, he’s got pretty good ball judgment, he’s a good tackler, he’s got a lot of toughness, he’s a very instinctive and effective blitzer. He’s got some burst and acceleration to come off the edge or blitz up the middle and he’s got enough power to take on a blocker if he needs to. So he can do just about all the critical factors in terms of what we look for in a safety here. As he got experience, he was smart enough to be able to play multiple positions.”
The scouting report from Dane Brugler of The Athletic in his 2020 Draft Guide reaffirms what Saban said.
McKinney played free safety in Nick Saban’s 3-4 base scheme, lining up two-high, single-high and dropping into the box in nickel/dime situations. He had a wide array of responsibilities in the secondary and created 10 turnover-worthy plays (five interceptions, five forced fumbles) the last two years. McKinney is explosive downhill and a reliable open-field tackler, finding his center and dropping ball carriers. He does a nice job in coverage vs. backs and tight ends with solid ball skills, although he doesn’t always play to his athletic profile when matched up with receivers. Overall, McKinney is an instinctive, full-speed- ahead defender with the functional range and diagnose skills to put himself in position to make plays, projecting as an interchangeable safety who should start from Day 1.
McKinney profiles as one of the new, young Giants fans should be excited about seeing on the field in 2020.