For the plan to work, for the Giants to build up the back end of their defense and make the secondary such a strong unit that it makes up for a suspect pass rush, one part of the plan, unequivocally, needs to become a reality.
DeAndre Baker must be a good player.
He does not have to be Deion Sanders or Darrelle Revis, but Baker, the No. 30 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft — the Giants traded up into the first round to get him — has to be a legitimate starting cornerback. He was not that as a rookie. Baker was ill-prepared for the rigors of the NFL, both on the field and in the meeting room, with his attention to detail lacking.
Baker played in all 16 games; he was held out of the starting lineup in the opener and then started the rest of the way. He was graded as the 105th cornerback by Pro Football Focus. The other starter, Janoris Jenkins (now with the Saints) was No. 28. James Bradberry, signed by the Giants to a three-year, $45 million contract, was No. 66 last season, playing for the Panthers.
It was a grind that Baker was not ready for, even after starting for two years in the Southeastern Conference for a top-level program.
“I think that’s a par to growing up,’’ Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, Baker’s college coach, told The Post. “I’ll say this, there’s not many rookie corners that aren’t going to struggle in that league. It’s not like they’re giving out Rookie of the Year to corners real often. Because when you’re doing your job, you don’t get a lot of credit, and when you’re not doing your job, you’re a sieve. So it’s usually going to go to a pass rusher or a linebacker who can put great statistics up there.
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“When you’re on the back end you’re the last line of defense so that’s what everybody sees. Those three corners who were picked [in the first round this year], they’ll probably be the same way. They’re going to be under the limelight a lot more. I know DeAndre will get better and he’ll keep working at it.’’
The Giants maneuvering up in last year’s draft to get Baker made sense. Ourlads Scouting Services rated him as a first- or second-round pick, describing him as physical, strong, “experienced in a variety of coverage’’ and “technically sound in all phases of the game.’’
In his four years at Georgia, Baker allowed only one touchdown reception. As a rookie, there were seven touchdown passes against the Giants when Baker was the closest defender on the field to the receiver.
There are plenty of young options at cornerback, including Sam Beal and Corey Ballentine off last year’s team and Darnay Holmes of UCLA, taken in the fourth round this year. Baker, though, is supposed to be a cut above. Teams cannot often recover from swinging and missing on first round picks.
“To whom much is given much is expected,’’ said Carl Banks, the former Giants linebacker, who is around the team often in his role as Giants radio commentator and analyst. “If he wasn’t held accountable and he didn’t have a structure by which he should have been held accountable from play to play, series to series, then you can expect that.’’
Smart is all-in on Baker, saying “I love DeAndre.’’ Now the Giants have to get to love the way he plays for them.
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