When you look at the Giants’ revamped secondary, you have to wonder how it went from the league’s laughing stock to the league’s current standard. The answer isn’t difficult when it comes right down to it. They spent a ton of money and invested two high draft picks to fix and augment a unit that set records for futility in 2015.
Th rebuild goes back a few seasons to 2014 when they signed veteran CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a five-year, $35 million deal. DRC, as he is known, has played well since joining Big Blue (when he’s been healthy, that is) and was named to the Pro Bowl last season. This year, he is playing predominantly in the slot and has excelled with 14 passes defensed and two INTs. His amenability to play different roles this season has made the Giants’ defense more flexible and much more effective.
Last spring, the Giants moved up to the top of the second round of the NFL Draft to select Alabama safety Landon Collins. The rookie started every game, but injuries left the Giants shorthanded and Collins was forced to play out of position. He was exposed, embarrassed and we were all left wondering if he’d ever recover.
He did. In big way, too. This year, he has been moved to strong safety, and even though he lost his two main free safety partners this year (Darian Thompson, Nat Berhe). Collins has simply become to the top player in the NFL at his position. He leads all safeties in tackles, sacks and interceptions.
This season, GM Jerry Reese, seeing his top draft targets snatched away before the Giants’ turn to select arrived, took Ohio State CB Eli Apple with the 10th overall pick. Sans a few rookie moments in the Giants’ win over the Eagles a few weeks ago, Apple has been a major factor in the secondary when healthy.
Apple’s performance has been overshadowed by the exploits of the other members of the secondary and the stars that have emerged from this year’s draft class around the league, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that Reese nailed it when he picked Apple.
The player that perhaps has shone the brightest for the Blue this season is CB Janoris Jenkins, who Reese was lambasted for giving a five-year, $62.5 million deal to in March. Many thought it was an egregious, desperate move by the Giants and Jenkins had no chance to live up to the deal.
Wrong! Jenkins has developed into the Pro Bowl corner he was projected to be as a member of the Rams. He has played 98% of the Giants’ 936 defensive snaps this season (Collins has played 99.5%) and is fourth in the NFL with 17 passes defensed and has been all over the filed for the Giants this season.
Many say Jenkins is playing the best football of his career. He says he’s always been a good player, it’s just been amplified by the New York spotlight.
“So far I think so,” Jenkins said when asked if this is the best he’s ever played. “But I feel like I had been doing it in St. Louis, but St. Louis is St. Louis and I am just glad to be here in New York where the lights shine bright and everybody gets to see you.”
The man who calls himself Jackrabbit because of his speed and agility does not really care about the the extra attention and accolades being directed his way.
“I am sure they know,” he said. “They have known, it is just who put it out there and how they put it out there. Like I said, just continue to play football and don’t worry about who is #1, who is #5, who is #25. Just play Jackrabbit football…I don’t look into the stats. I will say it again, we can be as special as we want to be if we continue to work and play for one another and play as a team.”
As for the Pro Bowl, Jenkins wouldn’t mind finally getting there.
“It would mean a lot, but I am not trying to make it to the Pro Bowl, I am trying to make it somewhere else. It would be special though,” he said.
That somewhere else, we assume, is the Super Bowl. The way this Giants’ defense is playing, that is no longer a pipe dream.