TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 10: Xavier McKinney #15 of the Alabama Crimson Tide knocks down a pass by Nick Fitzgerald #7 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 10, 2018 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The addition of rookie Xavier McKinney is one of the reasons to believe the New York Giants defense can be better this year.

Jason Leach

If you’re a New York Giants fan, regardless of your age, you know the team has been at its best when they’ve had a dominant and intimidating defense. It’s been years since the Giants had a respectable defense, let alone a dominant one.

The Giants defense has ranked 31st, 24th, and 25th in total defense over the last three seasons.

New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has a tall task in front of him. Bringing the defense back to respectability will be no small accomplishment. Graham was the team’s defensive line coach from 2016-2017 before spending the 2018 season as the Packers linebackers coach and run game coordinator, and finally, last season he was the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.

If Graham is going to turn the defense around, he’ll rely heavily on rookie Xavier McKinney.

The Giants took McKinney in the second round (36th overall) this past draft after he played three seasons with Alabama. After playing primarily as a backup and special teams player as a freshman, he became a starter as a sophomore, tallying 74 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions.

His final season at Alabama would be his best when he was named First-Team All-SEC, finishing the season with 95 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions.

Many felt McKinney was the best safety in this draft and should have been a first-round selection. So for the Giants to get him in the second round appears to be the steal of the draft.

McKinney is expected to be the starting free safety next to strong safety Jabrill Peppers when camp opens. But McKinney is a versatile defensive back who can play either safety position as well as in the slot. As evidenced by the six sacks he had in his last two seasons as Alabama, he’s an excellent blitzer who can provide additional pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Graham will use McKinney’s versatility to keep opposing offenses guessing on where he’ll be lined up from play to play, and what role he’ll play in a scheme. Alongside Peppers, another versatile safety, the Giants should be able to keep teams on their toes.

The 6-foot 201-pound McKinney will also play a pivotal role in resolving an issue that has plagued the Giants for years—covering tight ends.

Additionally, the Giants are hoping that he can be the ballhawk they desperately need in the secondary. Last season, the defense came away with only 10 interceptions, and four of those were by cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who the Giants cut in December. The best way to stop opposing offenses is to force turnovers, and if McKinney can come away with a couple of interceptions, it will help the defense become a much better unit overall.

Just as is the case with all rookies, McKinney has not had the benefit of being on the practice field for rookie camp, OTAs, and minicamp to get acclimated to his teammates and defensive schemes. But being coached by perhaps the greatest college coach of all-time in Nick Saban for three years will have McKinney as ready as any defensive rookie in the league.

McKinney has a high ceiling and many are projecting he could be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year or possibly be voted to the Pro Bowl. Time will tell if he can achieve these accolades, but one thing is for sure—he’s a welcomed addition to the defense, one that was in desperate need of a playmaker.

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