It would be difficult to classify James Bradberry's first season with the Giants as anything short of a success.
The 27-year-old cornerback started 15 games and was on the field for at least 96 percent of defensive snaps in each one. The only game he missed was due to his placement on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after he was deemed to be a high-risk, close contact of an individual who tested positive.
Bradberry was a dominant force in Big Blue's secondary. The fifth-year corner matched his previous career-high of three interceptions, while sitting new personal bests with two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 18 passes defensed, just two behind Miami's Xavier Howard for the league lead.
Although he was pleased with his performance, Bradberry admitted to reporters last week that there is still work to be done to improve his game.
"I made sure I stayed on my game and stayed in the film throughout the season, being able to recognize certain routes and stuff," Bradberry said. "When the opportunity came, I made the most of my opportunities, like the pick against the Eagles. Some people might say Carson (Wentz) was giving me a free one, but I had to go up there and make the play in order for me to make the interception and make a game-changing play. Just making the most of your opportunities. I had two drops the last game of the season against the Cowboys, so just continuing to work on my ball skills and try to create turnovers."
Bradberry's consistency played a pivotal role in the defense's success. Big Blue finished the year ranked ninth in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed, while their 22 passing touchdowns surrendered tied for the fifth-fewest in the league.
The Giants will have to address certain areas of the roster this off-season, but the secondary will likely look very similar to how it did in 2020. Bradberry, Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Julian Love, and Darnay Holmes remain under contract, along with Isaac Yiadom, Madre Harper and several others.
"It's a good thing having a group that's coming back," the veteran corner said. "I know when I was in Carolina, the starting lineup was always changing every year. Chemistry is a real thing, it's a big thing in a secondary group, especially when you play a complicated scheme how we play. Everybody has to be on the same page. I'm excited going into next year."
Linebacker Blake Martinez echoed those feelings after watching the defense improve as the season wore on. The Giants surrendered more than 20 points just twice over the final eight games of the season while going 5-3 during that stretch. Toss in another year of familiarity with defensive coordinator Patrick Graham's system and you can understand the optimism.
"We didn't have OTAs [in 2020]. We had a training camp, but we [still] spent the same amount of time [with no allowances]," Bradberry said. "We kind of had to force all of the information into a certain amount of weeks, so of course we started off slow. Like you saw with the defense, we picked it up towards the end. I just felt like we were growing together. Of course, hopefully that continues to go into next year. That's why I'm so excited that we have our guys coming back on the backend…
"Coach Graham, I think he's going to do what he does. He did a great job this year for us. But I think it's more so on the players growing. He always tells us the league is about players. If we can't really handle the system on the field, then the system is not going to work. Like you said, we have players coming back that we had this year. I'm feeling pretty strong about the season for next year."
One of those returning defenders, safety Xavier McKinney, only played in a handful of games as a rookie. He did not make his NFL debut until Week 12 due to a foot injury suffered during training camp. Despite the extended absence, the Alabama product made his presence felt once he got on the field, picking up the game-sealing interception against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17.
Bradberry believes the sky is the limit for the young defensive back.
"First off, I think he's very smart," Bradberry explained. "He had a lot of positions he had to play, so he had to learn a lot in a short amount of time. I think he's a very smart player. Of course, he has athletic ability. You see that on the tape. It's just about growing in the system. More time that you have, the more snaps that you have within a system, the more your confidence is going to grow, the more your knowledge is going to grow.
"Just have to be patient with him. Just give him more time, and of course I was happy when he got the pick because he had missed most of the year with an injury. My locker was close to his so I would talk to him often. I could sense his frustration not being on the field with us, so when he was able to make that game-changing play and then pretty much ended the season with a victory, a big win against the Cowboys, I was happy for him. I know he was happy."
In the meantime, Bradberry ought to be pleased when he reviews his own season on tape. His 79.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus was the seventh-highest among cornerbacks, while his 79.9 coverage grade ranked fifth among outside corners. Bradberry also ranked fourth in forced incompletion rate (21 percent). It all added up to his first Pro Bowl selection.
"Salute to the fans, salute to the market I play in. I'm very grateful," he told reporters about his first season with the Giants. "It's been exciting being here, just having the full support of everyone around the facility, fans, media, everyone."
View photos of cornerback James Bradberry in his first season with the Giants.