The Giants made a significant effort to improve their defense last offseason, dishing out a ton of money to free agents such as Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, and Jason Pierre-Paul. These moves certainly helped vault the Giants’ defense to the top of the league, but it is difficult to imagine them having as much success last season without the stellar play of the safeties, specifically Landon Collins. With Collins back as the anchor of the secondary, the sky is the limit for New York’s defense. But the First-Team All-Pro is not the only Giants’ safety to be excited about. Let us take a closer look at the New York Giants safety depth chart projections for this upcoming season.
New York Giants Safety Depth Chart Projections
After struggling a bit during his rookie season, Collins was phenomenal in 2016. In fact, the 23-year old did something that has never been done in NFL history. Collins became the first NFL player with at least 100 solo tackles, two sacks, five interceptions, and 12 passes defended in the same season. He finished the year with 125 total tackles, four sacks, five interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown) and 13 passes defended. The former second-round pick was rewarded for his fantastic play, earning his first Pro Bowl invitation, being named First-Team All-Pro, and finishing third in the voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Collins was also chosen as Pro Football Focus’ Breakout Player for the 2016 NFL season.
With another season now under his belt, Collins is looking to improve his performance even more in 2017. The safety has high personal goals this season, with his focus on earning the Defensive Player of the Year award he felt he deserved last year.
Collins has always been considered a very versatile defender. But last season, he showed just how effective he can be in stopping the run. New York decided to move the safety into the box more often, thus having him serve as the team’s strong safety. This helped boost the Giants’ rush defense to one of the strongest in the NFL. He finished the season ranked third in both run stops (26) and run-stop percentage (6.8) among all safeties. Collins also showed an amazing ability to shed blockers in his sophomore season. All of this helped catapult the young safety into the conversation for the league’s top run defender.
Collins also had great success in the passing game. He led all defensive backs with four sacks and was among the top ten safeties in per-snap pass-rushing productivity. In addition, Collins was able to lower his touchdowns surrendered from five in his rookie season to just two last year. Opposing quarterbacks were able to muster up just a 70.1 passer rating when throwing into Collins’ coverage, and he was also able to cut his average yards allowed after catch from 7.4 to 4.2. Entering his third season in the NFL, Collins has emerged as one of the leaders of this New York defense.
When the Giants used a third-round pick to take Thompson last year, the dream was for him and Collins to develop into one of the league’s top safety tandems. The safety out of Boise State won the starting job quickly last season, impressing coaches early in the off-season. But then New York’s plans got derailed after Thompson suffered an injury during the preseason, and went on to miss almost his entire rookie year.
With minicamp set to begin this week, Thompson is finally at (or very close to) full health, which is a good sign for the Giants’ defense. New York decided to ease him back into action during OTAs due to the seriousness of his 2016 injury, but Thompson did split first-team free safety reps. Thompson’s size, speed, strength, and past-production make him the favorite to earn the starting safety slot next to Collins.
Collins is known for his ability to play all over the field, but really thrives when he is in the box and near the line of scrimmage. That is why Thompson makes for such a complimentary free safety to the All-Pro. The safety out of Boise State is a natural center fielder and a true ball-hawk. His skillset makes him better suited for the pass. Thompson understands route concepts and leverage positions, and puts himself in position to make plays on the ball on a consistent basis.
Thompson’s chances at earning the starting free safety position depend on his ability to remain healthy. While he has been practicing pain-free during OTAs this spring, he must last through the summer. But if he can perform like he did last spring and summer, then it is very difficult to imagine him being held from the starting lineup.
Adams was one of the first free agents the Giants signed after last year’s draft, with his solid play throughout training camp and preseason earning him a spot on the practice squad. Then when Thompson went down, the Giants needed someone to step up and help Collins in the secondary. And boy did the undrafted rookie free agent out of UConn come through for New York.
Adams was thrown right into the fire, and was able to handle himself like a veteran. The 24-year-old wound up appearing in 14 games during his rookie season, and finished the year with 46 combined tackles, one interception, and five passes defended. Adams played well against both the run and in coverage in his first year in the NFL.
Following last season, Pro Football Focus rated Adams as the second-best rookie safety in the NFL (and No. 39 safety overall), rewarding him with quality grades in both pass and run coverage. He competed at a high level every time he stepped onto the field, and was recognized for his effort when PFF chose him as the player on New York that can be a Pro Bowler down the road.
While Thompson might have the upper-hand at the starting free safety spot, do not count Adams out. New York’s coaches have praised Adams for the work he has put in throughout the offseason, saying he has improved his quickness and transitional skills. If Thompson shows any rust while returning from his injury, the Giants would feel more than comfortable with Adams starting alongside Collins.
Berhe seems to be the forgotten man in New York’s group of safeties. A fifth-round pick back in 2014, Berhe has been unable to stay healthy over the last few years, playing in just 23 games over his first three NFL seasons. In seven games last year, the 25-year old had 21 combined tackles, one forced fumble, and one pass defended. While those stats are far from impressive, most of them came at the start of the season, when Berhe started two of the team’s first three games. In fact, he was set to take over for Thompson in Week 3, but suffered a concussion while making a tackle that kept him out for the next four games. Berhe would go on to suffer another concussion during Week 12 that forced him to the sidelines for the rest of the regular season.
When healthy, which has not been often, Berhe has shown flashes of brilliance. That is why he is certainly in the mix for the starting free safety position this season. However, Berhe will have to prove that he can remain on the field for more than just a few games at a time. Even if he can do this, more likely than not, Berhe will be vying for the team’s fourth safety spot.
Known as an in-the-box strong safety, Ihenacho played in 15 games (ten starts) for the Redskins last season, ending the year with 66 tackles and two passes defended. The veteran safety was likely brought in as insurance in case Berhe is unable to stay healthy, as Collins is locked-in as the team’s strong safety, while Thompson and Adams are the two favorites for the starting free safety position. The soon-to-be 28-year-old lacks cover skills, thus making him a candidate to be cut prior to the start of the regular season. Ihenacho will have to prove worthy of a roster spot this summer if he wants to stick with the Giants in 2017.