The Giants’ cornerback situation seemed pretty straightforward entering training camp: Adoree’ Jackson and first-round rookie Deonte Banks on the outside, Darnay Holmes and Cor’Dale Flott battling for the slot Jon.
But things have taken a turn, even with two preseason games still to go and the season-opener over three weeks away. Two rookies could now actually start on the boundary: Banks and sixth-rounder Tre Hawkins, who’s impressed in camp and last Friday’s preseason opener against the Lions.
The Giants have granted Hawkins first-team reps and have moved Jackson, still their top corner, to the slot. There’s still time before the opener, but if the Giants head into the regular season with this lineup, it would be a high-risk but certainly high-reward move.
The downside is the Giants would be trotting out pure inexperience at two premium positions, essentially a recipe for disaster in Wink Martindale’s man coverage-heavy defense. Also generally when transitioning from college to the pros, the speed of the game sees a sheer increase and it’s arguably most recognized at the cornerback position. Banks and Hawkins in 2023 expect to face CeeDee Lamb, Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Stefon Diggs, Garrett Wilson…you get the point. Those are going to be incredibly difficult matchups for these kids.
And the Giants might not have much behind them (or Jackson) on the depth chart if they struggle early. Flott is unproven, Holmes may get cut to save $2.7 million in cap space, and Aaron Robinson is still on the PUP list. Fifth-year vet Amani Oruwariye might be the only reliable reinforcement given his experience. But that’s still not a surefire backup plan.
On the other hand, if the pair of first-years impress and remain consistent, there’s a major upside: the Giants would be landing potential long-term starters at two incredibly crucial spots in Martindale’s defense. And the team could easily afford them over the length of their rookie deals: four years for a combined total of $17.6 million.
The lack of money spent at the two starting positions would free the Giants up financially to extend safety Xavier McKinney and possibly Jackson next offseason. And the team would be executing a much-beneficial cheap fix at one of the boundary spots after spending just a sixth-round pick (No. 209 overall) on Hawkins back in April.
The team will likely roll with this starting cornerback group just as long as Hawkins develops. If it works, this could be huge for Martindale’s defense and the organization as a whole. But there’s still the potential for major struggles.
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