The Giants got a steal when they selected Alabama S Xavier McKinney with the fourth pick in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Most experts had McKinney as a first-round talent, but because of the plethora of offensive linemen and receivers in the draft, he stayed on the board after Day 1.
But that didn't last long on Friday, when Big Blue finally gave McKinney his NFL home. And his former head coach Nick Saban knows his former pupil is going to make the best of his situation in New York.
"Normally, statistically, there are two safeties picked in the first round if you look at historical data," Saban told Giants Huddle, the team's official podcast. "So he should have been a first-round pick based on historical information. And certainly as a player, I think most people had him graded there.
"So I think this is a really, really good pick for the Giants. Like I tell all our guys here, it's not where you get picked, it's what you do with the opportunity that you have. So don't worry so much about where you get picked, but what you do after you get the opportunity."
That opportunity isn't a normal one compared to past draft classes given the coronavirus pandemic impeding players like McKinney from making a smooth transition into the league. But Saban doesn't believe that he is at as much of a disadvantage as other players might be, with McKinney having played in NFL schemes with the Crimson Tide.
"I think it'll be helpful to him because we do -- when I was coach at the Dolphins or Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator in Cleveland -- we do a lot of the same stuff here from a coverage standpoint, from a secondary standpoint," Saban said. "So our guys typically make good adjustments. I know a few years ago we had six guys sign NFL contracts and five of them ended up starting as rookies. Even though this will be a transition, I think most of the things that 'X' is going to be exposed to, he's probably done. They might call it something different. I think it'll be an easy transition for him."
McKinney figures to start for the Giants right away, especially after how GM Dave Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge -- a former assistant under Saban -- talked about him. Judge called him a player that has the potential to be the "quarterback of the defense" down the road, and his draft steal status paired with the open competition for the safety slot next to Jabrill Peppers should be a no-brainer on the depth chart.
And Saban believes the Giants will like what they see from McKinney right away. Saban got to watch closely as he built himself into one of the best safeties in college football over the past three seasons. Last season, for example, his do-it-all play resulted in three sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions to go along with 95 tackles. Add in five passes defended to show off his coverage, and McKinney should be a very versatile asset for the Giants.
"I think the guy's got some dog in him," Saban said. "He's a competitive guy. He's a playmaker. We have a production point system here that we use, and he was always high on that board because he forces fumbles, shows up in the right place, does a good job of executing. He's instinctive, he's a quick reactor, he's got a burst. He can be a knock-back tackler. So he's always been a real playmaker for us and it comes in a lot of different ways, but that's probably his greatest strength - his production."