Nick Saban knows what it takes to make an NFL player.
After helping a record 38 players get selected in the first round of the draft, including four this year, the longtime Alabama coach can recognize a first-round talent. And he says the Giants, with the No. 36-overall pick, got one in safety Xavier McKinney.
“I think [the pick was a steal]. Normally, statistically, there are two safeties picked in the first round, if you look at historical data,” Saban said on the “Giants Huddle” 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. I just think sometimes in the draft when there’s an overload at another position, whether it’s receiver or offensive line or whatever it is, that guys don’t always get picked where their grade says. … So I think this is a really, really good pick for the Giants.”
With a Crimson Tide team that finished eighth in the final AP poll, McKinney led an Alabama defense that allowed 18.6 points per game last season with 95 tackles and four forced fumbles, experience Saban says will translate to a Giants defense committed to a stronger secondary.
“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,” the six-time national champion head coach said. “So our guys typically make good adjustments. … 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.”
A transition that could work from whichever safety spot the Giants need him to play.
“I think Xavier has a lot of diversity as a player,” Saban said. “He can play man-to-man, he’s got pretty good ball judgment, he’s a good tackler, he’s got a lot of toughness, he’s a very instinctive and effective blitzer. He’s got some burst and acceleration to come off the edge or blitz up the middle and he’s got enough power to take on a blocker if he needs to. So he can do just about all the critical factors in terms of what we look for in a safety here. As he got experience, he was smart enough to be able to play multiple positions.”
And Saban says the player he calls ‘X’ has the ability to be a factor from the start with the Giants defense.
“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.”
With a College Football Playoff championship in 2018 and a first-team All-SEC selection in 2019 under his belt, McKinney now must make the 31 other teams that failed to make him Saban’s 39th first-rounder regret it.
“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,’ ” Saban said. “So don’t worry so much about where you get picked, but what you do after you get the opportunity.”
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