The USS Nick Saban is a tight ship.
It's not for everyone, but it's for Xavier McKinney and Joe Judge.
The Giants' second-round draft choice and head coach made their marks for the six-time national champion head coach, Xavier as an All-SEC safety and Judge as a special teams assistant at the University of Alabama. McKinney helped Saban win his sixth title (2017), and Judge was part of the second (2009) and third (2011) championships. Thriving in his system requires a certain personality from both players and coaches alike.
"I'm good with structure," McKinney said on a video conference moments after he joined first-round pick Andrew Thomas, an offensive tackle out of Georgia, as the second member of the Giants' 2020 class. "It's never been a problem for me, it wasn't a problem when I went into school as a freshman. Those are the things that I like a lot. I actually love having that structure and having that strict almost tight ship being ran by the coaches. For me, I always do what I'm asked to do, and I try to do it at a high level. At the end of the day, I'm just trying to win. I'll do whatever it takes to be able to win games and anything I can to help."
McKinney, 21, was a first-team All-SEC selection in 2019 after leading Alabama's defense with 95 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and three sacks. He led the SEC with four forced fumbles, tied for second-most in Alabama history. He added three interceptions to go with five pass breakups and five quarterback hurries. He returned one of his interceptions 81 yards for a touchdown.
He earned a starting role the year before as a sophomore and burst onto the scene with 73 tackles, six for loss, three sacks, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 15 starts. He was named the Defensive MVP of the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma to help send Alabama to the national title game. In all, he played in 41 career games with 28 starts, recording 176 tackles (13 TFL), six sacks, five forced fumbles, 20 pass breakups and five interceptions.
Two springs ago, Judge, then the special teams coordinator for a laid-back coach named Bill Belichick, had an opportunity to pass through the Alabama campus and watch practice. He was there to scout a couple other guys for the draft, but someone else stood out. There was a young player flying around, playing with a lot of passion and energy.
That player was McKinney.
"There's a number of guys down at Alabama that have a great background on him," Judge said. "There are a number of guys on our staff currently that have a great background on the Alabama guys, Burton Burns (running backs coach) and Jody Wright (defensive assistant) were there in recent years. They were there when these guys came in as freshmen, they were there for the progression. As well as making phone calls down to Tuscaloosa, we were able to make phone calls and have staff meetings with guys who had direct relationships with these players and that's a great advantage. … There are certain people in that building, not just the head coach, that you rely on what they say. You know they see them as a person and how they treat everybody. Everyone has nothing but the highest compliments of him as a person and that's what we're looking for. Guys with good character, good traits, that want to come in and want to work and want to earn what they get."
The Giants communicated with McKinney a good bit throughout the draft process, so they were always on each other's radar. McKinney said he always felt "comfortable" with the Giants' coaches because they were cut from the same cloth.
However, McKinney didn't find out until recently that Judge coached at Alabama years before he arrived on campus.
"Now that I know … there's a lot of things that are going to be similar to how it was at school," McKinney said. "And that's how I like it."