CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 24: Julian Love #24 of the New York Giants makes an interception in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 24, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Xavier McKinney, who was supposed to start at free safety for the New York Giants, has fractured his foot. Julian Love must now step up in a major way.

Ryan Honey

Things have seemingly come full circle for the New York Giants and Julian Love in terms of the starting free safety role.

Love was initially slated to start in that spot after impressing during the backend of his 2019 rookie campaign. That narrative concluded, however, when the team drafted Alabama safety Xavier McKinney in April’s second round (No. 36 overall).

But on Wednesday, it was revealed that McKinney, one of the steals of this year’s draft, fractured his foot. He could be out for 10 weeks, which would force him to miss much of his inaugural season in the NFL.

The Giants will thus turn to Love, a guy who was already supposed to be a noteworthy aspect of this defense given his athleticism, versatility, and intelligence. He’ll more than likely start alongside another athletic safety in Jabrill Peppers, and despite McKinney’s health-related setback, this is a silver lining for the second-year man out of Notre Dame.

In all honesty, Love has a significant opportunity at his exposure, and he’ll need to make the most of it not just for the team, but for himself.

Sure, McKinney’s injury is a major blow for a defensive backfield looking to mightily improve from last year. But Love can definitely step up and prove to be a notable weapon.

His versatility allows him to be physical, a quality he put on display last year en route to finishing his rookie season with 37 combined tackles (30 solo), five tackles for loss, and one forced fumble. Not to mention, he recorded just a 9.8% missed tackle percentage. Love’s strength in those regards is why the Giants looked his way immediately when Peppers went down with a transverse process fracture, an injury that caused him to miss the final five games of the 2019 campaign.

His talents will now be taken over to the free safety spot though, a role that requires more responsibility in the deeper part of the field. Love will surely need to improve in that area — he allowed quarterbacks to complete 65.5% of throws when targeting him last year — but the team and its fans are hoping a new defensive backs coach in Jerome Henderson and defensive coordinator in Patrick Graham will assist in that development.

In regards to what this opportunity means for the man himself, Love carries a chance to really show the league what he can bring to the table, even when other teams finally possess some film on him.

Love will also be able to flex his versatility even more. Having been drafted as a cornerback and then fielded as a strong safety, fans are aware of the ability Love has to quickly switch positions. If he can prove that fact to be even more true with a successful run at free safety, it will really open many sets of eyes to the type of player Love is along with the type of player he could be in the future.

And even if everything goes smoothly with McKinney’s recovery and the rookie returns as soon as possible and starts, the Giants could still find significant playing time for Love. The starting cornerback spot opposite James Bradberry and the slot corner role may still be without consistent and reliable options at that point.

Regardless, this is huge for Love. While the Giants wait patiently for McKinney to return, they should employ a talented “next man up.”

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