The Giants’ plan was in place for the second night of the draft. They were going to trade back from the 36th overall pick, accumulate a few more selections from what is shaping up to be the heart of this process in the second and third rounds, and restock their roster.
That would have filled the long gap between their picks in which 62 players were going to be taken by other teams. They even had a deal in place with another team to do that when the action began on Friday night.
There was just one wrinkle — one player for whom it would be worth scrapping the whole strategy if he remained available when the Giants were on the clock.
When the time came, Alabama safety Xavier McKinney was there. So he quickly became a Giant.
“We had made up our mind that if Xavier fell to us, we were taking him,” general manager Dave Gettleman said. “We felt the value of getting Xavier there was too good to pass up.”
Xavier McKinney: the Giants’ no-trade cause.
The Giants think McKinney can step in and be the quarterback of their secondary, a player who can patrol the back end of the defense and is smart enough to make the calls and checks that the position requires. The Giants see him as a deep player who will allow fourth-year safety Jabrill Peppers to be used in a variety of ways.
But McKinney brings flexibility, too. At 6 feet and 201 pounds, he can play at the line of scrimmage and even line up at cornerback. He said he considers himself “a DB” and not just a safety.
“I like doing it all,” he said. “As far as what my role might be, I don’t know. But I’m able to adjust to anything that is thrown at me and I am ready for whatever they might want me to do. I think I can do anything they ask from me.”
“We feel we got a real quality person and player,” Gettleman said.
McKinney first caught coach Joe Judge’s eye long before either of them was a Giant. Judge, then a special teams coordinator for the Patriots, was at Alabama two years ago scouting other players when he had the chance to watch some of the team’s practice.
“He just stuck out as a guy on the field who flies around and plays with a lot of passion and energy,” Judge said. “Knowing the program he comes from, he fits the mold of the smart, tough, fundamentally sound guys we’re looking to build with. We’re very excited to have him.”
One of the reasons McKinney was available to the Giants was because of the coronavirus pandemic. He ran a disappointing 4.63 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, hampered at the time by cramping, and hoped to improve that number at his pro day. That event never happened, and the player many saw as a first-round talent — even the top half of the first round — fell to the Giants at 36.
“That’s the only thing we can think of,” Gettleman said of the reason for McKinney’s drop. It didn’t bother the Giants, though.
“Very frankly, it’s how fast does a guy play,” Gettleman said. “It’s about how he carries his pads, it’s not what he does in his underwear on the track. It’s play speed . . . If it was just about 40-yard dash times, then we should go watch track.”
McKinney joins a Giants secondary that is very young but is starting to take shape. Besides the two safeties in McKinney and Peppers, the Giants added cornerback James Bradberry in free agency. They have three cornerbacks out of the 2019 draft in DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal and Corey Ballentine. And they have Julian Love, who became a starter at safety late last season as a rookie.
The drafting of McKinney would seem to squeeze Love out of the picture, but Judge said he likes Love’s skills and is excited to use him as either a safety, cornerback or nickel.
“We’re going to use him as we need based on each game plan,” Judge said. “We believe we added some talent back there on the back end for guys to compete and we’re going to see how it shakes out.”
Gettleman said the moves made this offseason “absolutely” make it feel as if the secondary is more shored up than it was at the end of the 2019 season. That’s a feeling he wasn’t willing to trade away.
“Obviously, everyone is playing so much 11 and 10 personnel with four and even five receivers] and you’re in sub 65 to 70% of the time, so you can never have enough DBs,” Gettleman said.
“We’re putting together, I think, a very talented young group that has the ability to play football at the NFL level. We just have to get them rolling.”
With the 99th overall pick, the Giants selected UConn offensive tackle Matt Peart. He is seen as a developmental player, but his dimensions (6-7, 318 pounds) were enticing. The four-year starter grew up in the Bronx and is a long-time Giants fan.