The New York Giants will have a position battle worth paying attention to at nickel corner once the training camp period commences.
Prior to the (virtual) 2020 NFL Draft, the New York Giants were slated to have two, potentially three individuals compete for the starting nickel corner job. Grant Haley and Corey Ballentine, who both notched starts at that spot last year, were the two frontrunners, with the 23-year-old Sam Beal looking to find himself in the mix as well.
But now that the annual event has concluded, there may be upwards of six main competitors battling for the job, two of which are newbies within the organization.
The Giants respectively drafted UCLA’s Darnay Holmes and Minnesota’s Chris Williamson in the fourth and seventh rounds. They also selected safety Xavier McKinney in the second round, which may send Julian Love to the slot corner spot after he was supposed to at least compete to be the team’s starting free safety.
So who could ultimately win the job?
Well, for one, Ballentine and Haley, ironically, wouldn’t be the greatest options at the spot, as both struggled last year.
In 13 games (two starts), Ballentine allowed quarterbacks to complete 64.3% of throws for 393 yards and four touchdowns when targeting him. Haley, on the other hand, allowed quarterbacks to complete a whopping 82.1% of throws for 342 yards and one score through 15 games (three starts).
Both contributed to a secondary that was 28th in the league last year with 264.1 passing yards allowed per game.
Sure, Ballentine underwent an unusual first year in the league. He was involved in a shooting hours after he was drafted that wounded him and killed close friend Dwane Simmons. Thus, it’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back in his sophomore campaign, both physically and mentally.
And then there’s Beal, who may not be the best option either due to his low production and health-related issues. The 2018 third-round supplemental draft pick has played just six of a possible 32 games in the NFL, missing his entire rookie season due to a shoulder injury.
Last year, Beal allowed quarterbacks to complete 76.2% of throws for 171 yards and one touchdown. Nonetheless, he can indeed hit, having racked up 26 combined tackles (20 solo) with zero missed tackles.
The favorite for this spot, at least in my opinion, will be Love. Big Blue has believed in his versatility, drafting him as a cornerback but fielding him as a safety last year. He played cornerback during his days at Notre Dame and took over as the starting strong safety in the final five games of 2019 amid Jabrill Peppers‘ transverse process fracture.
If they’ve trusted him to play at numerous spots in the defensive backfield, they’ll likely feel good about him performing at nickel corner this upcoming season.
In 2019, the former Fighting Irish recorded 37 total tackles (30 solo) with five tackles for loss, three pass breakups, one interception, and one forced fumble.
Love’s ability in coverage was an issue but should improve due to the fact that he’d be playing cornerback once again. Last year, quarterbacks combined to complete 19 of 29 throws when targeting him, which led to 190 passing yards and one score.
He additionally missed four tackles, so he’ll need to clean that up in his second season.
The pair of rookies will be in the mix, but will likely end up in reserve roles.
Holmes is promising but is very much a raw player at the moment. He wasn’t the greatest cover corner in college but would be in a little bit different of a situation in the pros if he moved to the nickel corner spot. Plus, he could make progress in terms of growing as a professional defensive back if he initially earned some playing time in both nickel and dime packages.
Williamson, on the other hand, will have to fight for a roster spot before he can even think about becoming the starting nickel corner. He’ll compete and will hopefully have a chip on his shoulder in order to prove the doubters wrong, but the aforementioned players are simply better options moving forward.
Look for the Golden Gopher to spend plenty of time on special teams and not much else, and that’s if he ends up making the team. But, you never know in the NFL. Who’s to say he won’t wow the coaches from day one?
A Ballentine-Haley-Beal competition would’ve been interesting in and of itself. But now that the draft has concluded, the nickel corner spot may end up hosting the most intriguing position battle throughout the entire Giants roster.
This will definitely be a dogfight worth paying attention to once the training camp and preseason periods start.