Giants pick Alabama safety Xavier McKinney No. 36 overall in NFL draft

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — Joe Judge stayed in the SEC with the Giants’ second-round pick, but this time he went defense and dipped into his Alabama roots.

Judge and the Giants drafted Crimson Tide safety Xavier McKinney with the No. 36 overall pick, the fourth of the second round, on Friday night.

So it was Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas No. 4 overall in the first round, and now it’s a safety out of the nation’s top conference well-known to Judge through Nick Saban, who employed Judge as an Alabama special teams assistant from 2009-11.

McKinney, 21, a 6-foot, 201-pound junior, is considered the top safety in this draft. The Giants have had a huge need for a free safety who can man the back end in Patrick Graham’s Cover-1 scheme. McKinney is versatile but can get that job done, the Giants believe.

So one year after the Giants let All-Pro former Alabama strong safety Landon Collins walk to Washington in free agency, they add another Bama stud to their secondary.

“One of the important things was getting a safety who could play the deep part of the field,” GM Dave Gettleman said in a conference call. “And Xavier has played back there enough that we feel very good about that part of his game.”

Judge’s Alabama connection played a huge role. The head coach said his first exposure to McKinney actually was a few springs ago while he was scouting other Crimson Tide players for the New England Patriots.

“He stuck out on the field at a practice,” Judge said. “He flies around, plays with a lot of passion and energy, and has the ability to get to the quarterback on the back end and be a (leader) in the back (who can line up) the defense.”

McKinney was first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American in 2019, leading Alabama with 95 tackles and adding eight passes defensed, 5.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, three interceptions, and three sacks.

The two-year starter appeared in 41 games and started 28 in three seasons for Saban, winning a national championship as a freshman backup in 2017.

McKinney is a strong open-field tackler who covers well against running backs and tight ends and has range and good play-making instincts on the back end. He split time between free safety, the slot and down in the box at Alabama.

“He’s a great kid, smart, lines up the back end for us, he’s versatile, can put him down low, can cover tight ends, has ball skills and he’s a good tackler,” Gettleman said. “We feel we got a quality person and player in our second round pick.”

His selection continues an offseason emphasis on improving a woeful Giants secondary.

The Giants pursued the top corners on the free-agent market, landing the Panthers’ James Bradberry on a three-year, $43.5 million deal with $31.9 million guaranteed after the Cowboys’ Byron Jones signed with the Miami Dolphins.

Then Judge and Gettleman said they had a first-round grade on McKinney, and the GM said he had a trade back ready to go if McKinney came off the board before the Giants, but they were going to take him if he was there.

“If Xavier had been gone we had a team that was gonna move up and we were gonna move back,” Gettleman, who has never traded back as a GM in seven-plus NFL drafts, said

McKinney became the fifth player drafted out of Alabama in this year’s top 36 but the first from the Crimson Tide’s defense, following offensive standouts QB Tua Tagovailoa (No. 5, Dolphins), OT Jedrick Wills Jr. (No. 10, Browns) and receivers Henry Ruggs III (No. 12, Raiders) and Jerry Jeudy (No. 15, Broncos).

Off the field, McKinney (originally of Roswell, Ga.) is an aspiring artist who draws his own tattoos. Despite his first-round talent, he fell to the second round in part because he pulled up lame due to cramps in the 40-yard dash (4.63) at the NFL combine.

But the Giants, of course, believe that was to their benefit.


©2020 New York Daily News

Visit New York Daily News at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.