The New York Giants have one of the league’s most promising budding safety duos in football, with Jabrill Peppers and rookie 2nd-rounder Xavier McKinney slated to start on the backend of Big Blue’s defense. This is further evident by their ranking in the top-10 safety groups in football, despite McKinney having yet to play a professional snap.
However, while expectations are sky-high for Peppers and McKinney, the most intriguing safety on the Giants’ roster may not be a starter, nor even a safety when all’s said and done.
Yet, what position defensive back Julian Love plays for the Giants this coming season really doesn’t matter much, as the versatile defender has managed to show star-like qualities no matter where he lines up on the field.
Julian Love Primed to Breakout?
ESPN’s River McCown apparently believes it to be plausible, ranking the former Notre Dame standout 12th amongst the top-25 players in the NFL who could break out this coming season.
One of the youngest players on the list, Love was an easy middle-of-the-field pick for the Giants in the middle rounds of the draft, and one of the few players who showed that Dave Gettleman recognizes that the passing game exists. Love essentially didn’t break the lineup until Week 12 but played almost all the Giants’ snaps from Week 13 to the end of the season. Over that span, we have Love credited with 21 targets into his coverage, on which he allowed just 72 yards and one touchdown. He moved from cornerback to strong safety to replace the injured Jabrill Peppers.
Coming out of Notre Dame in 2019, Love was regarded as a very safe fit as an NFL slot corner with great coverage instincts. The combine caused his draft stock some damage because he ran a 4.55 40-yard dash, just under the 4.6 mark that draftniks generally consider too slow for a corner. That was the main grievance that took him out of the top two rounds, even though he broke up 39 passes in his final two seasons for the Irish.
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McCown on Love: ‘He’s Going to Cause Havoc’
McCown certainly wasn’t lying about Love’s “great coverage instincts” coming out of Notre Dame. In his final season with the Fighting Irish, Love posted a 90.7 Pro Football Focus coverage grade, ranking 3rd best among eligible cornerbacks in his draft class and leading to a 2018 consensus All-American nod.
Yet, despite Love’s prowess at cornerback in his college days, the Giants opted to slot him at safety during his rookie campaign. The results were just as much, if not more successful than they were from his previous position.
Love accounted for three pass breakups, one interception and 37 tackles on a 92% tackle success rate in 2019. According to PFF, Love earned the ninth-best grade in the box by a safety and allowed a minuscule 19 yards on 80 coverage snaps at that alignment, helping him cement a place on PFF’s Top 50 NFL Rookies list, landing at No. 13 overall.
Quite frankly, whether its cornerback, nickelback, free safety or strong safety, Love can do it all, and as McCown points out, he’ll likely do it at an extremely high-level.
With the selection of Xavier McKinney in the second round, the Giants have the makings of a good nickel or dime set with Love, McKinney and Peppers. We don’t know whether Love will be labeled a safety or corner, but he’s going to play in the middle of the field and he’s going to cause havoc.