Safety Xavier McKinney Bound for Second-Year Leap

Safety Xavier McKinney

Picture this: The returning members of the New York Giants secondary — the most well-rounded position group on the team — walk into the film room during training camp. The unit includes a Pro Bowler in James Bradberry, a team captain in Jabrill Peppers, and a two-time Super Bowl champion in Logan Ryan. Despite that strong veteran presence, there may be an even more perceptive player in the room. Second-year safety Xavier McKinney consistently earns praise from his teammates and coaches for his brilliant play recognition. 

When it comes to studying film, it’s challenging for McKinney — the youngest of the returning defensive backs — to stand out from his more experienced teammates. That mirrors McKinney’s situation on the depth chart, where he’s placed behind Ryan and Peppers. Yet in both cases, McKinney has persevered to become a key player on the Giants defense. His fierce underdog mentality could propel him to a stellar season in 2021.

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Safety Xavier McKinney Poised for Success in 2021

Xavier McKinney Will Take on Greater Role in his Second Year

McKinney missed the first ten games of his rookie season due to a broken foot. Even when the Giants took him off of injured reserve in late November, McKinney saw limited snaps. However, he showed promising flashes in crucial late-season moments, especially when he recorded a game-sealing interception against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17. 

Throughout those last few games, McKinney showcased his immense versatility, which will allow him to thrive in 2021. Although McKinney isn’t slated to start as a safety, he can line up as a slot cornerback or even as a hybrid linebacker. That will give defensive coordinator Patrick Graham the freedom to play McKinney regardless of whether Ryan and Peppers are on the field. With his playmaking and tackling prowess, the Alabama product has a great chance to capitalize on that added responsibility and make a steady impact.

Ample Opportunities for McKinney to Shine Early in the Season

Establishing positive momentum from Week 1 can do wonders for a player’s confidence. That’s great news for Xavier McKinney. In three of their first four games, the Giants defense will face quarterbacks Drew Lock, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Jameis Winston. Each of those players has led the NFL in single-season interceptions at various points. Additionally, they share a gunslinging, boom-or-bust passing style that relies on taking deep shots downfield. That could set up McKinney perfectly to force game-changing turnovers early in the season. 

Not only would that position the Giants for success, but it would also catapult McKinney into the Pro Bowl conversation. And even if opposing offenses key in on limiting his impact, the well-rounded Giants defense will force quarterbacks to throw McKinney’s way. Both starting safeties, as well as Bradberry and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, have already established league-wide reputations as dynamic, ball-hawking playmakers. As a result, offenses will need to target McKinney more often, giving him even more chances to rack up interceptions.  

It’s typically unreasonable to expect such a big leap in production from a second-year player — much less someone who won’t even start. But coming off an injury-riddled rookie season where COVID-19 protocols delayed him from establishing a nice rapport with the Giants coaching staff, McKinney should benefit from more consistency in 2021. After all, McKinney carved his niche in a stacked Giants secondary despite all of that adversity. So why can’t he do it again?

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