Heading into the offseason, the Giants knew they needed to fill some holes to return to a competitive team in 2019.
The secondary was certainly one of those holes, as the unit struggled for Big Blue last season. Janoris Jenkins wasn’t himself with his ankle injury when he was on the field, and the Eli Apple trade led to players like B.W. Webb to step in.
And that was only at cornerback. The Giants’ offseason saw Landon Collins and Curtis Riley — the Giants’ starting safeties — walk into free agency. So GM Dave Gettleman had some work to do to shore up a group that mostly contributed to the team being second-to-last in pass defense (252.4 yards allowed per game) in 2018.
Well, according to Pro Football Focus, he did a fine job of that.
The Giants were among PFF’s top three most improved secondaries heading into the new season, and rightfully so considering the additions that were made.
Starting with the safeties, Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea will be the new last line of defense. Peppers comes over from the Browns in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, and he has the potential to break out in James Bettcher’s defense.
In his sophomore season, Peppers was much improved with 79 combined tackles (five for loss), one sack, one interception, and five passes defended. He’s a hard-hitting safety, much like Collins, but not yet on the same level. At 23 years old, though, the Giants could develop him into that level of player, who also should be a threat in the punt return game.
Bethea is the exact opposite on the age spectrum as Peppers, but his 121 tackles last season at age 34 for the Cardinals shows he’s still got it. He knows Bettcher’s system well given their time together in Arizona, and he could be a defensive captain given his pedigree.
Moving down a level, Jenkins is the only veteran returning for the Giants, but he has some good, young pieces to work with. Sam Beal has been on the first-team defense during OTAs, and he figures to be in that slot opposite Jenkins come Week 1. But there’s also the Giants’ three cornerbacks that were drafted back in April.
The biggest name is Deandre Baker, who the Giants coveted so much they went back into the first round to snag. He’s aggressive style of play that saw tons of confidence in press coverage at Georgia should also work well with Bettcher’s schemes. While Baker earned a 89.4 PFF grade in 2018, the Giants’ fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame, Julian Love, had an even better mark at 90.6. Some believe Love could be the Giants’ steal in this draft, and he can work well in the slot.
Finally, Corey Ballentine has already had an up and down start to his NFL career, following the tragic shooting that injured him as well as take the life of his best friend. He has a little more to play for now, as he tries to make the Giants 53-man roster.
All in all, this squad has the ability to turn the tides in 2019 if they can put the pieces together. In a pass-dominant league, a stout secondary goes a long way, and the Giants now have some solid players to work with compared to a season ago.