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Giants Now: Xavier McKinney weighs in on former Alabama teammates as draft prospects

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Xavier McKinney on former Alabama teammates as draft prospects

Giants first-year safety Xavier McKinney had a front row seat to Nick Saban's brilliance while at Alabama.

McKinney saw plenty of success throughout his three seasons under Saban. After playing primarily as a special teamer during his freshman campaign, McKinney became a starter in 2018. Over his final two seasons, the versatile DB registered 6.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss to go with his five interceptions, 15 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns. He was named the MVP of the 2018 Orange Bowl and earned First-Team All-SEC honors in 2019.

During his time under Saban in Tuscaloosa, McKinney and the Tide went 38-4 and won the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship. He was also a member of the Alabama team that lost to Clemson in the CFP Championship in 2019.

At the time of Joe Judge's hire, a lot was made about the head coach's experience working under Saban earlier in his career. While he has only played under Judge for one season thus far, McKinney can already see the similarities between his current coach and his former collegiate coach.

"Yeah, it's really similar," the safety said about Judge's coaching style being similar to Saban's. "When I left and obviously when I came up here and we started training, just really everything, I was like 'I feel like I'm back at school again.' That was great for me because I already felt comfortable because it almost felt like I left one place to go back to the same place.

"A lot of the things that [Judge] does is really similar as far as how we work out, just the things that we do at practice, the way he gets us ready to prepare, a lot of those things are really similar. That's something that I've always liked. I've always been a fan of it because to me, it's like the same platform. I think he's done an amazing job with everybody, just with the team in general. I've gotten to know him a little bit more as the season went on. The more and more that I got to know him, the more and more I liked him even more."

With the college football season officially over, our attention can now begin to turn towards the NFL Draft.

As it has become the norm under Saban, the Crimson Tide will have numerous prospects in this year's draft, including several likely first-round picks. Among that group is the talented wide receiver duo of Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.

Smith put an exclamation point on a stellar senior season with a dazzling performance in the National Championship. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound receiver set a new CFP title game record with 12 receptions, and finished with 215 yards and three touchdowns, all of which came in the first half alone. His performance earned him the Offensive Most Valuable Player award, adding to his lengthy list of accolades from the 2020 season which includes being named the Heisman Trophy winner, the Fred Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's top receiver, and several other player of the year honors. Smith finishes his collegiate career as the SEC's all-time leader in receiving yards (3,965) while also setting new single-season records for receiving yards (1,856) and touchdowns (23).

An ankle injury suffered in Alabama's fifth game of the season forced Waddle to miss most of his junior campaign (although he returned to play limited snaps in the CFP Championship). However, the receiver still finished with 28 receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns in six games, good enough to earn him Second-Team All-SEC honors. Waddle was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2018 after finishing with 45 receptions for 848 yards and seven touchdowns. He followed that up by recording 560 receiving yards and six touchdowns to go with 662 total return yards and two return touchdowns as a sophomore. His 2019 performance led to him being named First-Team All-SEC and the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year.

McKinney saw plenty of both receivers on a daily basis while he was in Tuscaloosa and believes that both are destined for big things in the NFL.

"Those are my guys," McKinney said last week. "Just being able to play with them, play against them at practice, just going against them and competing, both of those dudes are hell of receivers. They're talented as everybody can see. Those are guys that work hard. They do what they need to do for the team to be able to help the team win. That's what I like a lot about those two guys just being out there playing with them. When we played those harder games, they always showed up to play. Like I said, they're talented guys and I can't wait to see how things go on the next level for them."

Another Alabama prospect that McKinney knows well is his former teammate in the secondary, Patrick Surtain II.

Surtain put together an outstanding junior season, picking up one interception along with nine passes defensed and 3.5 tackles for loss. Surtain was able to shut down receivers on a weekly basis throughout the season, and his accolades prove it. The 20-year-old corner was named Unanimous All-American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-SEC, in addition to being named the 2021 Rose Bowl Defensive MVP. His father, Patrick, played 11 seasons as a cornerback for the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.

Similar to his thoughts on Smith and Waddle, McKinney had nothing but good things to say about Surtain.

"That's another one of those guys where he comes to work every day, he prepares how he should and he's another talented corner," McKinney said. "It's a guy that I love to play with when we were at 'Bama. I thought he did a lot of things well. He's a really talented corner. He's one of the best technicianists that I've gotten to actually witness at corner. That's my guy. Like I said, just like with Waddle and Smitty, I'm just excited to see what he can do at the next level."

While it is too early to tell what will happen with the Alabama prospects once the NFL Draft kicks off on April 29, it is safe to assume that McKinney will be rooting just as hard for them on draft night as he was for the Crimson Tide on Monday against Ohio State.

View photos of Giants first-year safety Xavier McKinney.

Coach Joe Judge taking notes on playoff teams

Joe Judge doesn't golf. He hasn't been hunting in a while. His off-season hobby is spending more time around the house with his family.

Thus, he found himself watching Super Wild Card Weekend on the couch with his sons.

"It's great watching playoff football," Judge said Tuesday on “Boomer & Gio” on WFAN. "But it's also very frustrating at the same time."

Judge missed out on coaching for at least one more week after the Giants' playoff hopes were extinguished in the 256th and final game of the 2020 NFL regular season. He concluded his first season as head coach of the New York Giants with a win, but the 6-10 record left the team's fate in the hands of a divisional rival, which he knows is never a good formula.

While the off-season is a time to recharge, he can't fully take off the coaching cap. He spent much of the time texting with members of the staff about what they were seeing in the playoff games. He also told his players to do as much before they went their separate ways last week.

"Before I left, I said when you watch these games, sit back, relax and allow yourself to watch and enjoy the games, but also watch the game from a lens that you've you learned to really see it," Judge said. "Look at the situation. Look at the things that really impact the game – turnovers, penalties, the mental errors. Take a look at maybe something someone could have done differently and how we would have handled it and really try to look through that lens. That's kind of the way I watch it. I'm kind of sitting there and I'm watching, I'll make a mental note or sometimes jot something down in a notebook. There's a lot of texting going back and forth between me and other members of our staff."

Re-live the most memorable moments and images from the first year of the Joe Judge era.