Can one player transform an entire position group?
Sure, if that player is a superior performer on the field and also enhances the performance of those around him.
This is what the Giants are hoping Xavier McKinney brings to the table and to the back end of their defense.
This might be too much to ask from a rookie taken high in the second round of the NFL draft, but not all first-year players are created equal. Those assigned by the Giants to player evaluation this year viewed as their best-case scenario getting the best offensive tackle in the draft with the No. 4 overall pick — unless that same player could come a bit later via a trade-down — and then get the best safety in this draft at No. 36. The Giants knew they should be in position to take Andrew Thomas in the first round. They anticipated McKinney would be off the board before No. 36 came around.
McKinney was there and it was a slam-dunk choice. Whenever the Giants can get on the field, watching how McKinney at free safety and Jabrill Peppers at strong safety work in concern with each other will be the most compelling new ingredient to the rebuilt defense.
“With his versatility and what he’s shown of what he’s been able to do, play in the deep part of the field, play in the box, be used in coverage on slot receivers, be used in blitz packages,’’ coach Joe Judge said of what he saw from McKinney at Alabama. “He’s shown a range in what he’s able to do. That’s going to allow us to use all of our players in different ways. Because of his versatility, that will complement everybody else on the roster as his strengths shake out.’’