Next up, we move to the defensive backfield with a close-up look at the safeties.
2015 in Review: In what was perhaps the boldest move made by general manager Jerry Reese, the decision was made to get completely younger at the safety position.
In retrospect—and yes, hindsight is 20/20—the decision as short-sighted. First, with a new defensive system, one that was said to be more complicated than the previous system no less, put in place, the Giants were rolling the dice on players that had little to no NFL experience.
Next, factor in the injury situation which saw four of the safeties not even make it out of training camp, and it’s no wonder why this unit was perhaps the worst on this Giants team in 2015, and a huge reason why the defense came mighty close to allowing record-setting numbers.
To be fair, Reese did attempt to acquire a young veteran in Devin McCourty, who ended up re-signing with the Patriots.
The Giants also reported pursued other young safeties such as Ron Parker, who went back to the Chiefs. Why the Giants came up empty in their quest to land a younger veteran to replace Antrel Rolle, who reportedly didn’t even get an offer from the Giants last offseason, is a mystery.
Of course what ended up happening was that the youth that the Giants were suddenly so high on ended up being wiped out because of injuries, an occurrence that forced the team to pick up veterans off the scrap heap. The result? Some really ugly and, at times, uninspiring play from this critical unit.
Although the Giants are notoriously tight-lipped regarding their personnel plans, it’s pretty obvious that they’re going to have to address the safety position again.
We’ll discuss potential targets as we get a little closer to free agency, but for now, let’s take one last look back.
In 2015, Landon Collins, for whom the Giants traded up to get in the second round, had his peaks and his valleys.
Whether it was a result of the coaches putting too much on his plate or the numerous scouting analysts being correct in their assessment, Collins showed via his play that he was much more effective down in the box than he was in coverage.
Per Pro Football Focus, Collins was the lowest-graded rookie safety, both overall and in coverage, his 125.7 NFL Rating being the worst among the rookie safeties who took at least 75 percent or more of their team’s defensive snaps.
Typically, the Giants ask their safeties to do both coverage and play down in the box, but coming off of 2016, there’s little question that Collins, who led the Giants defense with 32 stops for zero or negative yards, is better off closer to the action.
So what to do then at free safety? One possibility is Nat Berhe, who saw his second season wiped out due to a blood clot in his calf.
Based on his 2014 draft profile by NFL Draft Scout, Berhe takes good angles, has good enough speed and plays the ball well while it’s in flight.
He’s also an aggressive tackler with good form, who is not afraid to bring the wood.
The big question with Berhe concerns how quickly can he get up to speed on the defense.
Remember, most of the rest of the Giants defensive players are about to enter their second season in this system, whereas because of his injured reserve status, Berhe wasn’t necessarily around as much last year to learn as the teaching of the system progressed.
The good news is that Berhe is a smart player who is willing to put in the necessary elbow grease to become a contributor; all he needs is to stay healthy.
Despite being in his third season, Cooper Taylor is still a bit of a mystery.
Taylor has played in just 57 defensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus, 52 of which came in 2015 toward the end of the season.
Thus there really isn’t enough of a body of work to base a judgement on regarding where he might fit into the 2016 plans.
When Taylor was drafted in the fifth round in 2013, initially there were thoughts that he might fill that Deon Grant role of being a pseudo linebacker.
Taylor certainly has the size for it at 6-4, 228 lbs., but injuries have helped to stunt his development at the NFL level. In fact, at one point during the 2015 season, Taylor was cut from the 53-man roster, not a positive sign. We’ll see what 2016 brings for this young man, but obviously, the key for him is going to be staying healthy.
Yet another draft pick who has had trouble staying healthy is Bennett Jackson, a 2014 sixth-round draft pick who after failing to make the 53-man roster as a rookie cornerback ended up on injured reserve with a knee issue, only to come back in 2015 as a safety before an ACL injury suffered in the summer cut short that attempt.
Before he was injured, Jackson showed some intrigue, at safety. However, with two injuries in a row to his lower body, it remains to be seen if he can come back and have any sort of speed and quickness.
Veteran Craig Dahl, who was with the Giants in 2007, was a surprise addition at the start of the season, replacing Stevie Brown, whom the Giants finally managed to re-sign after initially losing him to Houston earlier in the offseason.
Dahl, a very good special teams player, came with an added bonus—familiarity with Spagnuolo’s system.
While Dahl might have known the system, he clearly showed that he lacked the foot speed to keep up, especially in coverage where he finished with an 108.1 NFL Rating and only one pass defensed.
An unrestricted free agent, it would be very surprising if Dahl is back here in 2016.
Although Brandon Meriweather was a solid blitzer, he had his issues in coverage and against the run. Meriweather led the Giants in missed tackles (16), per Pro Football Focus (one more than Collins, the rookie).
He came up with only 10 stops in 338 run defense snaps, and gave up four touchdowns.
Dogged by a knee injury, Meriweather was, at one point in the season, released in order to make room for Barry Cofield and to allow for Taylor to get a larger slice of the pie. He was re-signed when Taylor suffered a concussion that cost him playing time, but unfortunately, Meriweather, once a Pro Bowl caliber player, is not expected back with the Giants in 2016.
Another player who might not be back with the Giants in 2016 (though we suspect he’ll get a chance to compete) is Justin Currie, who suffered a broken ankle during the preseason.
Currie had actually been bounced off and on the Giants offseason roster, last year, perhaps in response to the injury situation tearing through the safety position.
With safety being such a question mark at this point, it will be interesting to see if he makes it to camp.
Last but not least is rookie Mykkele Thompson, another young player (and a 2015 draft pick) who showed some flashes of promise but who wasn’t able to make it out of training camp, having suffered an Achilles injury.
Thompson is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for the spring activities, where he’ll get another change to compete.