Giants position review: Potential at cornerback, but more pieces are needed

The New York Giants attempted to make the most of an unfortunate cornerback situation in 2022. GM Joe Schoen inherited a very good cornerback in Adoree’ Jackson and a few young options on their rookie deals before selecting Cor’Dale Flott in the third round of the draft. However, Schoen had to get creative with the position group during the season.

Before the season, the prevailing concerns about the success of Wink Martindale’s defense were associated with the health of starting cornerbacks Adoree’ Jackson and second-year player Aaron Robinson.

As we know, the former was injured as a punt returner against Detroit in Week 11 and did not return until the playoffs. The latter suffered an appendectomy after Week 1 before returning in Week 4 to tear his MCL and partially tear his ACL, landing on injured reserve.

The Giants had little proven depth at outside cornerback behind Jackson and Robinson. Still, Martindale and defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson made the most out of a bad situation. The Giants’ front office deserves a lot of credit for locating the right low-cost individuals to turn a horrific situation into a tolerable one.

2022 under review

The roster

Starters: Adoree’ Jackson, Fabian Moreau
Backups: Nick McCloud, Darnay Holmes, Cor’Dale Flott, Rodarius Williams
IR: Aaron Robinson
Practice squads: Zyon Gilbert
Released: Justin Layne

Schoen made two crucial additions to the Giants’ cornerback room after training camp. He signed Fabian Moreau on Sept. 5, and Moreau’s number was quickly called after Robinson suffered his appendectomy before Week 2. Moreau played 17 snaps in Week 2, and he arguably made one of the more underrated plays of the season; he used his linear speed to chase Panthers’ RB Christian McCaffrey down to stop a 50+ yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Panthers kicked a field goal, and the Giants won 19-16.

Moreau went on to play 860 defensive snaps with 55 tackles, and seven passes defended. 722 snaps were on the outside, and 76 were in the slot, with 54 in the box and 6 on the defensive line (Wink will Wink). He also helped tackle Christian Kirk just before the goal line as time expired against Jacksonville in Week 7.

Moreau wasn’t the only difference-making signing for Schoen at the cornerback position. Just before the season started, Schoen claimed Nick McCloud off waivers. He didn’t see the defensive field until Week 5, where he had a crucial pass defended on third-and-8 against Aaron Rodgers in London. McCloud played 583 snaps for the Giants’ defense, handling several different responsibilities and locations in the secondary.

Adoree’ Jackson continued his excellent play when he was healthy. Jackson only allowed a 57.8 percent catch rate with eight passes defended, three penalties, and two touchdowns allowed. Jackson did not have an interception, which is somewhat consistent with his career statistics – he only has three career interceptions.

Still, Jackson is very fluid with excellent body control. He plays with great leverage depending on his coverage and his assignment, and he’s rarely out of position. Jackson is also very underrated as a run defender. He uses every bit of his 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame to make impressive run STOPs as a secondary force or force player. He had 15 STOPs on the season.

Speaking of players who operate well around the line of scrimmage, Darnay Holmes made several impact plays while diagnosing screens and coming downhill. He plays well above his 5-10, 195-pound frame. As much as I appreciate Holmes’ physicality, he’s too grabby in coverage, and his third-percentile arm length does not help.

Playing predominantly as a slot, Holmes allowed a 69.7 percent catch rate with six passes defended. He had a career-high 40 tackles and 16 STOPs, and he played 637 snaps. He was penalized nine times throughout the season, which was second most of any defensive back in the league.

Rookie Cor’Dale Flott was drafted as a 20-year-old out of LSU at pick No. 81. Schoen has raved about Flott’s traits and what he can develop into, and we saw elements of that in his rookie season. Flott’s most memorable play was on third-and-8 in the 31-24 Wild-Card victor over Minnesota; on a horizontal cross versus KJ Osbourn, Flott stayed in phase in Osbourn’s hip pocket before breaking through the catch point to force a fourth-and-eight at the end of the game. A huge play from the rookie, and it was only his second snap of the game!

Flott has length and plays with excellent overall control. He came a long way from Week 2, where the Panthers targeted him against DJ Moore to start the second half; Moore had a long catch that eventually set up his touchdown reception – both against Flott. With the proper development, I believe Flott can be an impact player with the upside to play outside and in the slot moving forward.

Both Rodarius Williams and Zyon Gilbert also saw the field in multiple games for the Giants. Gilbert played 56 snaps in the Week 13 tie vs. Washington, where he surrendered six catches on seven targets for 71 yards and a touchdown. He only played 17 total defensive snaps after that game.

Williams intercepted Dak Prescott on Thanksgiving in Week 12. It was great to see the 26-year-old second-year player bounce back from his torn ACL, but he did not see the field in Week 13, which prompted an ill-advised tweet . Both Williams and former Giants’ linebacker Tae Crowder tweeted frustration, and the latter was released. Williams was retained but only saw the field against the Eagles in Week 18.

2023 outlook

The Giants must look to improve the cornerback room in the offseason. Making the playoffs with this type of instability in a defense predicated on talented cornerback play is a testament to Martindale and Henderson. Still, the Giants need to find a long-term cornerback one irrespective of who’s calling plays for the defense next year.

Jackson had his contract extended before the draft as a “last resort” to create cap space. He now has a void year in 2024 with $2,988 million in pro-rated bonus money being applied during the void season. Jackson’s cap hit rose from $15.5 million to $19.488 million for the 2023 season. Jackson should be the cornerback one for the Giants in 2023.

If the Giants decide not to invest highly in the cornerback market or the draft, a training camp battle between Flott and Robinson could ensue. I believe the Giants will add someone at cornerback in a deep CB draft that could have very talented players available to New York in the second round.

Holmes will be in his contract season. It wouldn’t shock me to see him supplanted by Robinson or Flott in the slot, depending on how that competition shakes out if Robinson is healthy enough to compete. McCloud is another name to remember, for he’s still under a cheap contract in 2023.

Moreau is the only free agent at the cornerback position for the Giants. If the 28-year-old is retained on the cheap, that will not preclude the Giants from investing assets into the position.

The position group needs depth and an infusion of talent moving forward. There are potential building blocks in place in Flott and possibly Aaron Robinson, but the position group is far from complete. New York will look to invest in the cornerback position during the offseason.

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