If there is a single position at which the New York Giants are well-stocked, perhaps even over-stocked, as we enter the roster-building phase of the 2021 NFL offseason safety would appear to be that spot.
Veteran Logan Ryan made a successful transition to safety and earned a three-year contract. Jabrill Peppers had, arguably, the best season of his career. Xavier McKinney showed promise once he recovered from his fractured foot. Julian Love is quality depth in a variety of roles, and could even find himself at cornerback next season depending upon how the offseason plays out. Adrian Colbert provides depth and quality special teams play.
Let’s go through the position player-by-player.
Starters: Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers
Reserves: Xavier McKinney, Julian Love, Adrian Colbert, Nate Ebner
Practice squad: Montre Hartage
Ryan seemed like an obvious fit for the Giants from the time free agency began last offseason. It took the DeAndre Baker debacle, a Sam Beal opt-out, an aborted pursuit of defensive back Ross Cockrell, an unfortunate Xavier McKinney injury and a switch in agent representation by Ryan, but shortly before the season began Ryan to the Giants finally became a reality.
Ryan quickly became a leader, bringing championship experience, a tireless work ethic, a strong, positive voice and a willingness to help teammates to the locker room. He also adapted seamlessly to the safety position after spending his previous seven seasons with the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans at cornerback. Ryan became both a playmaker and a versatile, smart player who helped allow defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to devise — often on the fly — a multitude of coverages aimed at confusing opposing quarterbacks.
The Giants made sure that Ryan will stay with them, circumventing free agency by signing him to a three-year, $31 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.
Ryan said the deal with the Giants was “everything I was looking for.”
“I just think it’s a first-class organization, I like the city, I like being back in Jersey, I like who I’m playing with, the money was definitely respectable and definitely what I was looking for, the market I was looking for,” Ryan said. “I think there’s a lot of growth at this safety position and they allowed me to come play it, they allowed me to learn a new position and they expected a lot from me right away and that’s what I wanted to be, trusted, accounted for and counted on, really just the appreciation on both sides. I think it was beyond the money and I think it was just a good fit.”
Throughout his first three NFL seasons, Peppers was really looked at more as an athlete without a true position than as a football player with a singular skill. In 2020, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham tapped into all of the things Peppers can do and defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson exhorted the excitable Peppers to slow down and “make sure we’re going to get the right guy, the right thing in the right way.”
The result was the best season of Peppers’ four-year career.
“Pat’s done a great job of how he’s utilized him,” Henderson said. “I think bigger than his versatility is his energy and his passion in the defense. He’s just that guy who’s that Energizer bunny for us that continually just gives effort, just continually plays hard, plays tough. He’s done a great job this season for us.”
Here is the breakdown of how Peppers was used:
- Free safety — 143 snaps
- Wide cornerback — 44 snaps
- Slot cornerback — 264 snaps
- Box (inside linebacker or strong safety) — 383 snaps
- Outside linebacker — 77 snaps
Peppers finished the season with career highs in tackles (91), sacks (2.5) and tackles for loss (8).
In a season-ending videoconference, love admitted his season didn’t get off to a great start. The lack of an offseason or preseason left him, he felt, not playing as well as he wanted to.
“I started slower. I realized it. I wanted to be making more plays. The speed of the offseason, no preseason games, hopping right into it. It did affect me in certain ways. After I knocked off some of the rust and got into it I think I was playing great ball,” he said.
“Going forward I can’t let that happen again.”
By season’s end, Love was showing his versatility as a multidimensional safety and was giving the Giants something to think about by showing he could hold up while playing outside at cornerback.
Graham said near the end of the season that Love was “growing on me day by day, week by week.”
Love ended up playing 453 snaps at free safety, 145 at outside cornerback, 61 in the slot and 59 in the box or at outside linebacker.
With a chance to select McKinney 36th in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Giants rebuffed offers to trade down and acquire more draft picks. A fractured foot near the end of training camp derailed the chance to get a full look at why the Giants were set on McKinney. He played in only six games, and it really wasn’t until the last couple that we began to see hints of the play maker he could become at the back of the Giants’ defense. In the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, McKinney played a season-high 73 snaps, had a key interception, a pass defensed and 8 tackles.
McKinney said he “was getting into my groove” when the season ended.
What we saw at the end had to leave Giants’ fans optimistic about what lies ahead for McKinney.
Colbert played in only six games during a season interrupted by a shoulder injury that landed him on IR. He had two starts early in the season, and showed to be a capable defensive player. He has 19 NFL starts in 33 games with the Giants, Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers.
Colbert also excels on kick and punt coverage teams.