NFL.com predicts big Year 2 leap for Xavier McKinney
Xavier McKinney's rookie campaign was delayed after a foot injury suffered during training camp caused him to miss the first 10 games of the 2020 season.
However, the young safety was able to get back onto the field following the team's Week 11 bye and showed enough in the last six games to receive some praise heading into Year 2.
NFL.com's Cynthia Frelund looked at every roster across the league and predicted who would be the most improved player on each team. For the Giants, the NFL Network analytics expert selected McKinney.
As Frelund writes, "The 2020 second-round pick played in just six games during his rookie season, but showcased lots of upside, getting me excited about what is likely in store for 2021. PFF notes that he was targeted 10 times in coverage, allowing seven receptions for just 47 total yards with one interception, equaling a 40.2 passer rating allowed. Additionally, his versatility (SEE: ability to play in the slot) creates even more value for this improved Giants defense."
In his six games (four starts) last season, the safety out of Alabama registered 25 tackles (14 solo), one tackle for loss, one interception and one pass defended. He capped off his first year in the NFL with a game-sealing interception of Cowboys QB Andy Dalton in Week 17 to secure the victory for the Giants.
The Giants selected McKinney in the second round (36th overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft. While a member of the Crimson Tide, the safety earned First-Team All-SEC honors in 2019 and was named the Defensive MVP of the 2018 Orange Bowl. He was also part of Alabama's 2017 CFP National Championship team.
View photos from the first practice of Giants training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
Devontae Booker more than placeholder for Saquon
Saquon Barkley currently engages in on-field activity far from the main action, limited to working out with teammates who are also ineligible to practice while they reside on reserve lists. Barkley, continuing his rehabilitation from knee surgery last Oct. 30, is one of six players on the physically unable to perform/active list.
Until Barkley rejoins his teammates in the offensive huddle, most of his reps with the first-team offense will be taken by six-year veteran Devontae Booker, who joined the team as a free agent in March. Booker has 2,482 yards from scrimmage in 77 career games, and Joe Judge does not consider him as a player merely holding Barkley's spot until the former Rookie of the Year returns.
"I think Devontae has to worry about himself and not worry about where anybody else is," Judge said before today's training camp practice, his first in-person news conference in about 17 months. "We're going to look to get contributions from all of our players, no matter who is available on the roster. Again, whoever comes to a game for us is going to play, alright? We're not traveling guys to sit there and watch the game."
Booker spent four seasons in Denver before playing the 2020 season for the Las Vegas Raiders, for whom he rushed for 423 yards and three touchdowns and caught 17 passes.
"I'm pleased with the progress he's made through spring," Judge said. "Obviously, for any new player – rookies, free agents, it doesn't matter – there's elements of the program they have to get used to. Whether it's a little bit of something different we do on operation, how we practice, the system of the scheme, communication, that all adds up right there. But I'm confident in all our players. He's worked hard to this point and now we have to see him every day make progress in our training camp."
That will remain true even after Barkley returns.
Will Hernandez focusing on conditioning as he transitions to right side
Will Hernandez has moved rapidly from neophyte to veteran on the Giants' offensive line.
When he played his first career game as the starter at left guard in the opening game of his 2018 rookie season, Hernandez lined up with four linemen – Nate Solder, Jon Halapio, Patrick Omameh and Ereck Flowers – whose regular-season experience totaled 207 regular-season games and 12,916 offensive snaps.
Hernandez, who is playing right guard as he begins his fourth training camp, has played in 45 games and participated in 2,618 offensive plays – including all 2,094 in the 2018-19 seasons.
The other four potential starters for the Sept. 12 season opener vs. Denver are Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates and Matt Peart – three second-year pros and another entering his third season – whose experience totals 71 games and 2,933 snaps, just 315 more than Hernandez has logged. Peart is currently on the physically unable to perform/active list with a back injury, and Solder, who entered the NFL 10 years ago, is taking first-team reps.
But even if Solder remains there, Hernandez would be one of the line's most experienced starters.
"I've had the same mindset since I came here," Hernandez said after the Giants' opening camp practice today. "I never looked at it as age, or who's the youngest and who's the oldest. My mentality has been always trying to help the guy next to me out as best as I can and make him look good. So, whether he's young or old, I'm going to do the same."
Training Camp Report: Highlights & analysis from first practice
Check out the video below to view Bob Papa and two-time Super Bowl champion Carl Banks on 'Training Camp Report presented by Investors Bank' as the Giants hit the practice field for the first time Wednesday.