EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants were willing to trade their second-round selection in the NFL Draft on Friday, and even had a team willing to slide into that spot at No. 36 overall. But the discussions included a caveat – if the Giants could acquire safety Xavier McKinney, they would do so.
After the first three teams on the clock chose offensive players, McKinney was there to fill a hole in the back of the Giants' defense. The deal was off and the Giants were thrilled to add the Alabama standout to their roster.
"We made up our mind that if Xavier fell to us, we were taking him," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "So, if Xavier had been gone, we did have something, a team willing to move up, and we would've moved back. But we felt the value of getting Xavier there was too good to pass up.
"We had a first-round value on him and we're absolutely thrilled to get him. He's a great kid, he's smart, he plays smart, he can line up the backend for us, he's versatile, put him down low, he can cover tight ends, he's got ball skills, and he's a good tackler. So, we're excited and just feel we've got a good quality person and player in our second-round pick."
McKinney, 6-1 and 200 pounds, played in 41 games with starts in each of his last 28 games at Alabama. He totaled 176 tackles (108 solo), including 13 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, five interceptions, 20 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
As a junior in 2019, McKinney was named to the All-SEC first team by the league's coaches and the Associated Press. He finished 10th in the SEC in tackles with a team-high 95 (59 solo) in 13 games. That included 5.5 for loss, 3.0 sacks and an SEC-high four forced fumbles.
"He certainly is versatile," Gettleman said. "One of the things for us this year was getting a safety that could play in the deep part of the field. Xavier has certainly played back there enough that we know we feel very comfortable about that part of his game."
Coach Joe Judge listed numerous reasons why he believes McKinney will be a consistent contributor to the defense.
"I just think with his versatility and showing what he's been able to do, play in the deep part of the field, play in the box, be used on covering the slot receiver, be used in blitz packages," Judge said. "He's shown a range in what he's able to do. That's going to allow us to use all of our players in different ways because his versatility will complement everybody else on the roster as his strengths shake out. But he's got a good skill set to come in and compete and we're anxious to get him on the field to start working with him."
View photos of former Alabama S Xavier McKinney.
Judge was on the Alabama coaching staff under Nick Saban from 2009-11 and used that pipeline to acquire valuable information on McKinney.
"There are certain people in that building, not just the head coach, that you rely on what they say," Judge said. "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."
McKinney has a chance to immediately step into the starting lineup and team with Jabrill Peppers in the back of the defense. Antoine Bethea, who was the Giants' starting free safety for all 16 games last year, is no longer with the team.
"My first exposure to Xavier was a few springs ago and I was down in Alabama actually scouting a couple other guys for the draft," Judge said. "He just stuck out as a guy on the field who flies around, he plays with a lot of passion and energy. He also has that ability to be the cornerback on the back end and really be the signal caller for our defense. Knowing the program he comes from, he fits the mold of a smart, tough, fundamentally sound guy we're looking to build with. We're very excited to have him."
McKinney is the second high-profile acquisition for the secondary this offseason. Last month, the Giants added veteran free agent cornerback James Bradberry.
Gettleman said because of the two acquisitions, he "absolutely" feels better about the defensive backfield.
"It's kind of funny," Gettleman said. "Everyone is playing so much 11 (three wide receivers) and 10 (four wideouts) personnel and you're in sub 55 to 70 percent of the time. You can never have enough DB's. Bradberry is young, he's 26. Jabrill is young (24). All of these kids we drafted last year (DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine) and now Xavier this year, we're putting together I think a very talented young group that just has the ability to play football at the NFL level. We've just got to get them moving."
*This is the second time in six drafts the Giants chose a safety from Alabama high in the second round. In 2015, they took Landon Collins, who was selected for three consecutive Pro Bowls before joining the Washington Redskins as a free agent.
*Each of the Giants' first two draft choices are Southeastern Conference products. Their first-round pick, fourth overall, was tackle Andrew Thomas from Georgia. It's the second year in a row the Giants' top two selections were from the same conference. In 2019, Duke quarterback Daniel Jones and Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence each came from the ACC.