Xavier McKinney


Xavier McKinney


Getty

The New York Giants can replace Xavier McKinney with a versatile, veteran safety in free agency.

Replacing Xavier McKinney won’t be easy for the New York Giants, but versatile veteran Julian Blackmon is a natural fit thanks to his ability to be a playmaking safety at multiple levels of a defense.

Blackmon “could be a nice fit with the Giants, who need help at the position with McKinney’s departure,” according to The 33rd Team’s Dan Pizzuta. McKinney’s flexibility and production will be missed after he signed a four-year contract worth $68 million with the Green Bay Packers.

McKinney got top-tier safety money to leave the Giants, who can’t afford a like-for-like replacement. Fortunately, Pizzuta explained why Blackmon would be a late bargain in 2024 NFL free agency: “With the current safety market, he wouldn’t be expensive and could easily outplay whatever deal he gets because of his versatility.”

A team-friendly deal should appeal to Giants’ general manager Joe Schoen, who still has $8,793,700 worth of space under the salary cap, per Spotrac.com. Schoen has already added former Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots defensive back Jalen Mills, and although he can play cornerback and safety, he won’t make the same impact Blackmon would.


Julian Blackmon Has Range Giants Need at Safety

What the Giants need to adequately replace McKinney is a true safety who can be an asset close to the line of scrimmage and in deep coverage. Blackmon fits the bill having “spent his first two seasons as a single-high safety in the Indianapolis Colts’ defense. He then played the slot 41 percent of the time in 2022 and moved back deep but played more split safety in 2023,” according to Pizzuta.

That level of flexibility should appeal to new Giants’ defensive coordinator Shane Bowen. He prefers Patriots-style, team-specific gameplans, so Bowen would enjoy moving Blackmon across formations to disguise coverage and pressure, as well as create matchups against opponents’ best weapons.

Bowen is likely to call a less riskier scheme than this blitz-happy predecessor Don ‘Wink’ Martindale. That might mean a lot of two-deep coverage, a zone shell in which Blackmon thrives thanks to his ability to read quarterbacks and track the football.

It’s what he did for this interception of Deshaun Watson against the Cleveland Browns in Week 7.

We’ll take that one.

CBS

Blackmon’s ball-hawk skills would replace McKinney’s nose for the football. The latter snatched three interceptions during 17 starts at free safety in 2023.

The 24-year-old also made himself a factor in the box, but Blackmon has developed his game in the same area in recent years.


Giants Need Box Safety to Help Replace Xavier McKinney

Blackmon’s improvements as a box safety have been detailed by Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus: “Almost half of his snaps were down in the box in 2023. Blackmon appears to be a better fit near the line of scrimmage due to his average recovery speed, but his plus lateral movement and solid ball skills from his days as a cornerback show up more often when closer to the line of scrimmage. Blackmon’s 30 defensive stops in 2023 were more than his career total before this season, and he missed a career-low 7.4% of tackle opportunities.”

A safety who can be a force in run support would be an asset for a Giants’ defense that allowed 4.7 yards per carry last season and 5.2 yards a rush in 2022. Blackmon isn’t the biggest safety at 6-foot and 202 pounds, but the 25-year-old isn’t afraid to attack some of the league’s most powerful running backs.

He did so to fell bruising Derrick Henry for a loss against the Tennessee Titans in 2020, on a play highlighted by ESPN’s Matt Bowen.

#Colts S Julian Blackmon —

Attack open daylight on the pressure. Track the hip of the ball carrier. Make the play for a TFL.

@NFLMatchup #NFL

As Spielberger pointed out, Blackmon rarely missed tackles last season. He also became more of a feature in pressure packages, blitzing 18 times, per Pro Football Reference. Safety blitz was a key call for the Giants last season, when McKinney was sent on the rush 42 times.

Replacing McKinney with Blackmon and putting the newcomer alongside Jason Pinnock would give the Giants two interchangeable safeties able to thwart offenses in a variety of ways. It’s worth Schoen handing Blackmon a contract to form that partnership.

James Dudko covers the New York Giants, Washington Commanders, New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens for Heavy.com. He has covered the NFL and world soccer since 2011, with bylines at FanSided, Prime Time Sports Talk and Bleacher Report before joining Heavy in 2021. More about James Dudko





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