Free agency rolls on, and Jerry Reese continues to re-sign his own players, with guard John Jerry being the most recent, an underwhelming in-house free agent brought back for another season in East Rutherford. Other teams are scooping up safety after safety, with Darian Stewart the latest to disappear from the market, signing a contract with the Denver Broncos yesterday. While the Giants have expressed interest in several of the safeties prior to their signing elsewhere, rumbles have grown louder about the team not signing anyone to replace the departed Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, and Quintin Demps. Unless they have and it’s gone unnoticed.
There are currently two players on the roster listed as safeties, Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor. Six are listed as cornerbacks, Prince Amukamara, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chandler Fenner, Jayron Hosley, Bennett Jackson, and Trumaine McBride. Four have the nebulous title “Defensive Back,” Thomas Gordon, Mike Harris, Josh Victorian, and Trevin Wade. Recent addition, the re-signed Chykie Brown, has not been added as of this morning. It is this third classification that sparked the idea that the solution at safety may be internal.
Tom Coughlin in a compulsive planner as documents in the “A Football Life” special about him on the NFL Network, and his latest book, “Earn the Right to Win.” With certainty, it can be said with comfort that there is a plan in place for the safety position, as there was tight end last season, when Larry Donnell emerged and played much better than expected. Giants360 dove deep and researched each defensive back’s history going back to their university days, to see which would be suitable candidates to play safety in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. Here are the results of that investigation.
Thomas Gordon, listed as a defensive back, is a safety by trade, making him the third safety on the roster behind Berhe and Taylor. Hosley, Jackson, McBride, and Wade are pure cornerbacks, with no history of playing safety, and are not candidates to change positions. Trumaine McBride will open the season as the slot cornerback, a position he played well last season, taking over for the injured Walter Thurmond, until he broke him thumb and was also lost for the year. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara both played some safety in college, however, but given their status as the Giants starting cornerback duo, it’s not realistic to see one being converted into a safety this season. Longer term, Rodgers-Cromartie’s future could be at free safety, as it would potentially extend his career, but 2015 would be premature for a change.
Josh Victorian is a 28 year old defensive back, signed to a futures contract on December 31, 2014, was listed as a cornerback when he came out of Louisiana Tech in 2011. His second position was free safety. Running the 40 yard dash (the 40) in 4.56 seconds, the 5’10”, 190 lb Victorian is an unknown, lacking information in both the draft guides Giants360 has saved since 2005 and on the internet. He is likely a camp body and does not figure prominently into the Giants season plan. The probability of his converting to safety is a firm toss up at 50%. Even if he converts, he’s a long shot to make the team.
Chykie Brown is one of the cornerbacks picked up when the Giants suffered a rash of injuries at the position last season, and played well enough to make an impression on the coaching staff and he was re-signed last week. He previously played for the Baltimore Ravens, where Spagnuolo coached the past two season, giving the defensive coordinator additional insight into his talent. When Brown came out of Texas in 2011, he was listed as both a cornerback and free safety, however, his scouting report cites passive tendencies in run support, which are reinforced in his player rating on Pro Football Focus (PFF). The 5’11”, 190 lb Brown is fast, running the 40 in 4.37 seconds, but his lack of strong tackling skills translates into an only 25% likelihood that the 28 year old will be converted to safety.
Mike Harris is another player brought in to fill the void created by the excessive injuries in 2014. The 26 years old was re-signed on February 19th, long before he would have become a free agent. As a rookie coming out of Florida State in 2011, Harris’ scouting report called him a aggressive tackler, a ball hawk, but a player who struggles to make plays when his back is to the ball. It also calls him a player that is at his best when he lines up off the line of scrimmage and lists his him as both a cornerback and free safety. The 5’10”, 188 lb Harris is a strong candidate to move to safety given his history and scouting report, but a review of his PFF rating for the past three seasons shows a player who has struggled in run support, a key attribute in a successful safety, and we give him a 67% chance at being converted.
Chandler Fenner made the Giants practice squad last summer and was promoted to the active roster in mid-October. Only 24, Fenner entered the NFL in 2012 as an undrafted free agent out of Holy Cross and bounced around several teams before catching with the Giants during their hour of need. He played the best among the emergency cornerbacks, according to the PFF ratings, showing the top coverage and run support ratings, albeit in limited action, and was tendered on March 5th as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent. Having the size at 6’1″, 189 lbs, good speed at 4.55 in the 40, and a reputation as a physical defender, Fenner was considered a free safety first and a cornerback second when he was a draft prospect. Given all the evidence, he is the most likely candidate to be converted, and Giants360 is putting the probability at 75%.
Note: Article was updated to remove Ron Parker as an option. He has signed with the Chiefs for 5 years, $30 million.
Stevie Brown is still available and the Giants are still trying to re-sign him, however, with two safeties still needed on the roster, and the 2015 draft offering a shallow pool of candidates, converting Fenner or Harris, will provide depth and competition at the position. Their history and talent supports the possibility, as does the Giants modus operandi, with Mathias Kiwanuka moving from defensive end to linebacker and back under Coughlin. Even if one of the remaining free agent safeties is signed, additional depth will be needed, so keep your eyes and ears open and wait for the announcement that one of these men is changing positions. You heard it here first.
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