Which players could the Giants be targeting?
So Landon Collins is gone. Likely, too, is Curtis Riley, who is scheduled to be a free agent. That currently leaves the New York Giants with zero starting safeties from last season. Michael Thomas and Sean Chandler are still on the roster, but both profile better as depth on defense with more special teams duties. This means the Giants should be looking hard at safeties this offseason.
What clouds that quest is no one really knows how Dave Gettleman values safeties or what he’s looking for at the position. At the NFL Combine, Gettleman told Big Blue View as well as other local reporters about his frustrations in evaluating safeties.
“You gotta be really patient with safeties,” Gettleman said. “You can watch film on safeties, they don’t do anything for six games. Good Lord! Ball’s not being thrown at ’em. It’s like, please, would someone throw a ball at ’em?”
The popular season cited for allowing Collins to leave has been a concern about his coverage ability. While that theory doesn’t really hold up when analyzed for Collins specifically, let’s assume that’s what the Giants will covet most for that position in 2019. There has also been a suggestion that defensive coordinator James Bettcher was more versatility and interchangeability in his safeties so he can put players in multiple places from snap-to-snap.
Let’s take those two qualifiers and dive into who — in free agency and the draft — the Giants could be interested in placing at the backend of the secondary this season.
No safety had more snaps in coverage during the 2018 season than Amos and they were some pretty productive snaps. Among 17 safeties with at least 40 targets, no player allowed fewer yards per attempt than Amos and his 4.2 YPA mark was the best by more than a yard — Antoine Bethea’s 5.58 was second-best per Sports Info Solutions.
Amos can cover deep and out of the slot, though he rarely plays near the line of scrimmage. He had just two tackles for loss last season and among 103 safeties with at least 100 pass snaps, Amos had the 93rd lowest pass rush rate. He was sent to the quarterback just five times in 2018. Still, his plus coverage skills and range make him an ideal piece to place at the back end of the defense. When needed, he can make plays around the line of scrimmage but his best play is going come deep in the secondary — an area the Giants need good work to be done. He’ll also only turn 26 years old at the end of April.
Boston is the typical single-high safety. He was drafted by Dave Gettleman in Carolina, though he was not re-signed and really broke out while in his single season with the Los Angeles Chargers. Boston spent last year with Arizona Cardinals after signing just a one-year, $1.5 million deal late in free agency. Boston only played in 14 games with 13 starts due to a foot injury, but in that time he had nine passes defensed which was tied with Amos and former Giant Andrew Adams for eighth-most among safeties in 2018.
If coverage is what the Giants are going to value most in their safeties, then Boston should be a fit. But if interchangeability is the top requirement, Boston doesn’t really fit that mold. He’ll likely be more expensive than he was last offseason when he was available, but he could also be the best value of the free agent safeties.
Dots have already been connected here to suggest the Giants should go after Tyrann Mathieu because of his past with James Bettcher. But like Boston, Mathieu was also available last season and the Giants showed little interest. With concern over his injury history, Mathieu signed just a one-year deal for $7 million with the Houston Texans. He played well enough and stayed healthy that his value increased for a multi-year deal.
Mathieu struggles at times in coverage last season, allowing 8.07 yards per target (Landon Collins allowed 7.92). However, judging Mathieu by yards allowed per coverage snap (0.58) puts his performance in a much better light.
As has been the case with Mathieu, his versatility is his calling card. He’s been able to play deep, cover from the slot, and make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. Mathieu only rushed the passer on 4.2 percent of his pass snaps with Houston this past season, but that number was 7.5 percent in 2017 with Bettcher.
Another year removed from his ACL tear could allow Mathieu to have another step forward in his game, especially since he’s still relatively young — he’ll turn 27 in mid-May.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida
There’s no way anyone could watch Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and wonder why he doesn’t make a play for six games. There might not be six snaps between Chauncey-Gardner making a play. He played multiple roles at Flordia and excelled anywhere he lined up. Last year, per the Sports Info Solutions Rookie Handbook, Gardner-Johnson lined up in the slot on 91.9 percent of his snaps and in the box on another 4 percent. Earlier in his career, he played as a more traditional safety and was able to make plays deep and at the line of scrimmage.
Even while playing in the slot, Gardner-Johnson had nine tackles for loss and 7.5 run stuffs per Football Study Hall. On the backend, he showed range and awareness that might be the best in this class.
The biggest question is if Garnder-Johnson will be available when the Giants get to pick in the second round. Right now, the 37th overall pick is around where he is expected to go, though he’s been getting more first-round buzz recently. If he is still on the board at 37, the Giants should run the pick up to the podium.
Nasir Adderley, Delaware
Adderley has exploded into the first round as a safety out of Delaware. He’s a converted cornerback, which helps in coverage and he was mainly a deep free safety for Delaware in both single-high and two-deep looks. However, Adderley does have the versatility desired to play near the line and make plays. He had 87 tackles for Delaware last year.
Like Gardner-Johnson, the key to Adderley will be availability. Since playing well at the Senior Bowl, the former Blue Hen has been perceived as a likely late first-round pick. There is still some evaluation left to be done on Adderley since he did not participate in any drills at the combine last week.
Juan Thornhill, Virginia
If the Giants need to wait to take a safety in this class, Virginia’s Juan Thornhill could be a target. Thornhill mostly played deep for Virginia and showed off range that allowed him to make plays all over the field. He also showed a balance between plays against the run and the pass with five interceptions and 10 run stuffs with plays lined up in a box/linebacker depth.
Thornhill was also one of the most impressive players at the combine. His 44” vertical jump was a combine record and his 141” broad jump tied with Missouri wide receiver Emmanuel Hall for the longest among all players this year. It should be no surprise, then, to learn Thornhill tested as the most athletic safety per SPARQ, in the 97th percentile among NFL safeties.
However, Thornhill is projected to be a third-round pick, a round where the Giants currently do not have a pick.