Heading into the 2019 NFL Draft, the Giants held two picks in the first round, the sixth and 17th overall selections. But those two weren’t enough when the Seahawks went on the clock to select at No. 30 and DeAndre Baker, a cornerback from Georgia, was still available. General manager Dave Gettleman used a fourth-round pick (132nd overall) and a fifth-round pick (142nd overall) to entice the Seahawks to swap No. 30 for the Giants’ 37th overall.
Baker’s production at Georgia speaks for itself. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just 10 first downs in his final season, and no touchdowns in his junior or senior seasons. Opposing quarterbacks had passer ratings of 40.2 and 32.7 when targeting him in his final two seasons at Georgia. He finished his collegiate career with seven interceptions.
While working in the Giants offseason program, Baker knew that in order to maintain that level of production against better competition in the NFL, he would have to become a better football player.
“I say just learning the plays and playing much faster,” Baker said when asked about how he will make the jump. “Learning from the older guys who gave me pointers to better my game. Just the experience, and getting more and more every day and learning more, that’s how I bettered my game so far.”
Baker is one of many young cornerbacks on the Giants, who added Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love with the 108th overall pick in the fourth round and drafted Washburn cornerback Corey Ballentine with the 180th pick in the sixth round. Sam Beal, a 2018 supplemental draft pick who spent all of last season on injured reserve, and undrafted free agent Grant Haley, who played in 10 games last year, are also in the room. Janoris Jenkins, a 30-year-old entering his eighth season, will not only be the team’s top cornerback, but he will also be a mentor to Baker and the other young players in the room.
“I’m embracing it, as far as being the leader of the room,” Jenkins said. “Just lead the young guys the best way I can, and show them how to be a pro. Just lead by example. Go out, work hard, compete on the ball and finish, and just come out to work every day.”
“He said it is all in the playbook,” Baker said. “Once you learn the playbook, you get to play fast without thinking, without questioning yourself or your moves. As long as you get in the playbook and watch film, it helps you on the field.”
The rookies help each other learn the playbook together, learning from each other’s mistakes and spending extra time together studying.
“They’re locked in,” Jenkins said. “Everybody is locked in and focused. They came to work and they just keep putting in work.”
So far, Baker’s work has paid off. He was with the second unit when OTAs started in May. By June, he was across from Janoris Jenkins on the first team. It gives him the opportunity to play against the Giants top wide receivers, Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate.
“It’s been good,” Baker said. “They won some battles. I won some battles and we are competing every day. They are getting me better and I’m getting them better. That’s what I like to do, compete.”
Baker also had a chance to go against an old college rival and fellow rookie Darius Slayton. “Slay and I go way back,” he said. “I covered him at Auburn where he was a deep threat receiver and he is doing that with the Giants. He can take the top off, so you have to stay on top of him. He will be a good addition to the team.”
During OTAs and minicamp, there are no pads and no contact is allowed, which prevents cornerbacks from playing physical bump and run coverage, something Baker excelled at in college. He took advantage of the opportunity to work on a different part of his game.
“Just working on my eye discipline,” Baker said. “Staying in my pedal longer, things that will help me in the long run. I like playing off, too, so this is helping me. But I’m ready for the fall so I can press and show the whole package of my game.”
“He is very competitive, he’s very tough,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “The corners are at a little bit of a disadvantage because there is no bump and run. Part of his charm was his ability to play up on a receiver and bump him. We think we are going to see more good stuff once training camp gets going. He’s very competitive. He picks things up. He works hard, the things you need to see.”
The Giants are going to need some of their young players at the cornerback position to play well in big roles this season if the defense is going to be successful. DeAndre Baker will be at the top of the list and the early returns have been positive. He will have a chance to build on that in training camp and in preseason games starting at the end of July.