Xavier McKinney Credit: Bill Moore photo

Entering the 2020 NFL Draft, Xavier McKinney was considered by many scouts and analysts as the best safety prospect. After a sterling career at college powerhouse Alabama, McKinney held a first-round grade on many team’s boards. Fortuitously, McKinney was still available when the Giants were up at pick 36 in Round 2 and they unhesitatingly handed in his name to be called. 

The high expectations for McKinney in his rookie year were diminished when the 6-foot-0, 201 pounder was placed on injured reserve Sept. 6, 2020 with a fractured foot, delaying his professional debut until Nov. 29, 2020 against the Cincinnati Bengals and playing in only six games. This season, McKinney has been a regular on the Giants defensive unit, appearing in all nine games for a team that is 3-6 and taking a breath as they have their bye-week. 

The 22-year-old from Roswell, Georgia is fifth on the Giants with 46 tackles, 30 of them solo, and has shown improvement in continuing to learn the nuances of the NFL game. Last Sunday McKinney emphatically flashed the playmaking ability he regularly displayed as a 2019 First Team All-SEC selection when he picked off Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr twice, the first at 13:28 of the third quarter which he returned for a touchdown as the Giants took a 17-13 lead,  and the second coming late in the fourth to stifle a Raiders comeback and preserve a 23-16 Giants win. 

McKinney’s exceptional performance earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week as announced yesterday (Wednesday). It all happened in the midst of McKinney, who is unvaccinated, getting a false positive on a COVID test last week and placed on the league’s Reserve/COVID-19 list only days before facing the Raiders. 

“It was a long week,” said McKinney after Sunday’s game. “Obviously, I didn’t get to practice those two days, but I was still in meetings. Just tried to stay locked in. Obviously, earlier in the week, I didn’t know really what was going to happen as far as if I was going to be able to play or not. Just tried to stay locked in throughout the week.”

Cornerback James Bradberry, who McKinney rescued from potentially getting beat on his second interception, says the young safety has made noticeable improvements from his first year. 

“I think he’s just picking up the game of football at a high rate,” said cornerback Bradberry of McKinney. “When he first got here, of course we’re all new, we’re all rookies, you don’t know what all the league is about. Coming in, he’s learning a lot and he’s executing when he gets out there. Like I said, he saved me today. He’s being aggressive, making plays for us and I’m thankful to have him.”

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