DeAndre Baker was beaten for one touchdown during his shutdown cornerback days for Georgia, none in his final two seasons. He graduated from the SEC to the NFL after receiving a nice parting gift — the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.
The Giants traded up to take Baker with the 30th overall pick in the April draft, but the first-team All-American from Miami didn’t immediately live up to the first-round advertising. He was beaten for a touchdown in the first half of his first game, against Dallas, and had his fair share of struggles as the starter at left cornerback thereafter while learning on the job.
But in the four games since the bye, that guy who ruled in college has started to show some improvement. Baker will try to continue that trend in Sunday’s game at Washington.
“I think he’s made a great amount of progress,” Pat Shurmur said after Friday’s practice. “He’s certainly got to get better in a lot of areas still. But he’s made more of an impact on the game.”
No. 1 cornerback Janoris Jenkins was waived last week. Can the 5-11 Baker develop into a No. 1-caliber corner?
Pro Football Focus, an analytical website, graded him at No. 6 in coverage among all qualified NFL cornerbacks across the last four games and has him allowing the lowest percentage of completions — 26.3 — in that span.
“It’s improving, [getting] better over time with experience and just honing in on everything,” Baker said. “I’m just getting better results … Same confidence since the first game, since training camp. Same thing. It’s just recognizing it better.”
The struggles weren’t eating away at him.
“It never was frustrating,” Baker said. “Not once … I was just looking at ways where I could fix whatever I did wrong.”
Baker, playing in a secondary that’s primarily on the young side, ranked second in the NFC during the past three weeks in passes defensed with five (he has eight for the season). That included three in last Sunday’s 36-20 win over Miami.
Asked in what ways Baker has improved, defensive backs coach Everett Withers said, “Every way you can imagine. Preparation-wise. Maturity-wise. I think just understanding how to be a pro. All the things that you learn as a young guy that just punches you in the face early, he’s starting to understand.
“He’s not there yet. Not close.”
James Bettcher still cited his play recently in front of the defense during a meeting. The defensive coordinator said Baker is “starting to understand where his eyes need to be.”
The one thing Baker has yet to see is his first NFL interception.
“I want one,” he said, “but it’s going to come.”