Part nine in a series analyzing the New York Giants
What not long ago looked to be a young and perhaps talented and versatile cornerback squad turned into a position group beset with uncertainty, as DeAndre Baker’s legal entanglements might create a gaping hole the Giants will need to fill.
A case can be made Baker is among the handful of players with the most to prove on the roster. A case can also be made his development in Year 2 is crucial to putting into motion the Giants’ plan on defense. The Giants traded up into the first round of the 2019 draft to get Baker out of Georgia with the No. 30 overall pick, meaning they wanted him badly enough to give up three draft picks (second, fourth and fifth rounds).
Baker was bad on the field and in the meeting room as a rookie and if not for glimpses of improvement down the stretch his rookie year, was a complete failure. A new coaching staff and increased maturity (the Giants hope) out of the 22-year old gives Baker the opportunity for a second chance. But then he was arrested two weeks ago, charged with four counts of armed robbery with a firearm and four counts of aggravated assault in an alleged incident at a house party in Miramar, Fla. Just like that, Baker’s career took a wrong turn and his availability this season, and beyond — is in question, although his lawyers say he is not guilty and the charges will be dismissed. Even if that is the case, Baker will have to deal with the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.
Evaluating this solely from a football perspective, this puts a crimp into the plans. Baker was not going to be handed anything. But given the investment in him, the expectation was he would at the very least compete with Sam Beal for a starting job opposite free-agent acquisition James Bradberry. General manager Dave Gettleman drafted Bradberry for the Panthers in 2016 and four years later signed him to a three-year, $45.3 million deal for the Giants. Bradberry did his best work last season going against the top receivers in the NFC South — Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and Mike Evans — and he will be the lead dog at cornerback, no questions asked.
“Dave saw me up close and personal my first year and then after that he saw me from afar,’’ Bradberry said. “After that, I think he saw me improve each and every year. In order to improve you have to take knowledge and apply it on the field. That’s what I want to do for the younger guys, I want to give them knowledge and hopefully they can apply it on the field.’’
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Baker is one of the youngest of the young guys — all the cornerbacks are between 22 and 26 — but, as the only first-round pick, more is expected of him. He had a great career at Georgia — one touchdown allowed in three years — and no one batted an eye, as far as pedaling draft capital, when the Giants went up to get him late in the first round. He must be a good to very good player or else the delicate balance in the secondary begins to teeter. The Giants are high on Beal — they gave up a third-round draft pick to get him in the supplemental draft and he has the requisite physical skills and body type — but he needs to show he can stay healthy and add consistency to his game.
If Baker is unavailable, suddenly Beal’s role changes and that puts stress on the entire position group to grow up in a hurry.
The other three corners set to compete for time on the field are returnees Corey Ballentine and Grant Haley and rookie Darnay Holmes, taken out of UCLA in the fourth round. The new system put in place by defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is expected to feature more man coverage than the Giants played last season and this should work well with the skill-sets of the players involved.
Ballentine, a sixth-round pick from little-known Washburn, endured a trial by fire as a rookie, given too much, too soon. He was torched in a loss in Chicago, repeatedly beaten by Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller, and faced the music afterward.
The way Ballentine handled the adversity was admirable. Now the Giants need better results, from all the unproven corners, and that could be too much to expect.
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