Xavier McKinney Picks ‘Super Talented’ Rookie as Giants’ Breakout Candidate

Xavier McKinney

Getty New York Giants' safety Xavier McKinney picked a "super talented" rookie to be a breakout player in 2023.

Xavier McKinney knows who will be a breakout player for the New York Giants during the 2023 NFL season. The safety picked a “super talented” rookie who shares space with him in defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale’s secondary.

Tre Hawkins III didn’t hear his name called until the sixth round of the 2023 NFL draft, but the cornerback has already turned heads. McKinney is a member of the 209th-overall pick’s fan club, telling Dan Duggan of The Athletic, “Tre is a rookie, but he’s super talented. He’s a ball player, for real. I always say anybody can ball. It doesn’t matter what round because there’s a lot of players out there.”

That’s a glowing endorsement, but McKinney is far from alone in his praise of Hawkins. The latter has won admirers from across the depth chart, as well as the coaching staff.

Any plaudits are merited after Hawkins enjoyed an outstanding offseason, but the Giants know there’s still an element of risk. Martindale is surely gambling by starting two rookies, Hawkins and first-round pick Deonte (Tae) Banks, on the outside.

Fortunately, many of Hawkins’ teammates already think he possesses many of the right attributes needed to thrive at the pro level.

Giants’ Players United in Praise for Rookie

Aside from McKinney, Duggan also reported glowing reports about Hawkins from fellow safety Jason Pinnock, along with wide receivers Jalin Hyatt and Sterling Shepard. Of all of the staunch recommendations, Hyatt’s assessment is the most encouraging for Martindale.

The first-year wide receiver believes “Tre is everything you need in a corner. He’s long, physical, likes to put hands on. He’s fast enough to run with any receiver, can mirror, has good feet.”

Those qualities, specifically length, physicality, aggressive hands and the ability to shadow receivers, are perfect for Martindale’s schemes. The aggressive-minded play-caller loves to send pressure and use man coverage behind the blitz.

Martindale’s unit began last season playing man coverage at a league-high 30 percent, per The 33rd Team’s Jordan Vanek, citing TruMediaSports.

This trend continued through the first 12 weeks, with Rob Searles of Zone Coverage crediting the Giants with leading the NFL “with a 52.4% man coverage rate.”

Hawkins is already looking more than capable of handling the demands of winning one-on-one matchups in space. That boosts his chances of being a breakout star in Year 1.

He will also be helped by Banks living up to his draft status, and the signs are good the Giants’ top pick can make the grade.

Giants’ Top Pick Looks ‘Ahead of Schedule’

Banks had struggled early on at training camp, but the 24th player taken in this year’s draft proved himself once the action became at least semi-competitive. The proof came from impressive numbers posted during preseason, per Pro Football Focus.

Banks needs to be a true shutdown corner for the Giants. Being able to take away the opposition’s biggest threat with just one player is vital to Martindale’s blitz-heavy system.

Fortunately, Martindale rates Banks as “ahead of schedule,” according Giants.com managing editor Dan Salomone.

Staying ahead of receivers shouldn’t be a problem for Banks, whose speed has even earned respect from a true burner like Hyatt. The wideout who ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, told Duggan how Banks “can keep up with anybody, has the speed, is physical, loves to put hands on.”

Banks and Hawkins have performed well enough for the Giants to move solid veteran Adoree’ Jackson into the slot. The youthful duo’s athletic tools should also give Martindale the confidence to push the blitz button even more this year.

That’s the theory and the hope, but this defense will quickly come unglued if teams target and exploit the Giants’ inexperience at cornerback.

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