Alabama in the Pros

Nick Saban calls Xavier McKinney a ‘competitive playmaker’ on New York Giants podcast

Steve Mitchell - USA TODAY Sports

First-year head coach Joe Judge and the New York Giants put together a solid draft class, but Xavier McKinney is the one the franchise was most excited for. He was regarded as the best pure safety in the class and was graded out by many experts as a first-rounder. The native Georgian fell to No. 36 overall in the second round of the venue and the Giants got him. 

Listed at 6-feet and 201 pounds, the former four-star was one of Alabama’s most productive athletes last season.

RELATED: Xavier McKinney posts message to Alabama fans as he leaves for the NFL

He helped the Crimson Tide finish 2019 in the top-20 for scoring defense and total defense in college football. McKinney recorded a team-high 95 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He turned in five pass breakups, five quarterback pressures, four forced fumbles, three interceptions and one touchdown.

In its journey to a Southeastern Conference title in 2018, McKinney was a critical piece on the Crimson Tide’s defense with 74 total tackles, six stops for loss, three sacks, 10 breakups and two picks – including one for a score. 

After it lost Landon Collins to the Washington Redskins, the Giants gained an enforcer in McKinney to pair alongside Jabrill Peppers.

The move potential gives New York one of NFL’s best defensive secondaries. He coached him for three seasons and in joining Giants Huddle, the official Giants Podcast Network, Nick Saban showered nothing but praise on McKinney. 

“Xavier has a lot of diversity as a player,” Saban said. “He can play man-to-man. He’s got pretty good ball judgement. 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. He’s got enough power to take on a blocker if he needs to. So, he can do all of the critical factors in terms of what we look for in a safety here.” 

Saban mentioned that McKinney got better and took on multiple roles, as he gained more experience within the system.

Throughout his tenure, he lined up at free safety, strong safety and dime safety (linebacker).

McKinney excelled in all three roles – combining for 169 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, 15 breakups, seven quarterback hurries, six forced fumbles and five interceptions in 2018 and 2019.

His production in the last two seasons rivals that of former All-American safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The New Jersey native was selected at No. 11 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, following a successful career with the Tide.  

“I think the guy’s got some dog in him,” Saban said of McKinney. 

“He’s a competitive guy. He’s a playmaker. We have a production in our 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 and he can be a knock back tackler. He’s always been a playmaker for us and I think it comes in a lot of different ways, but that’s probably his greatest strength is his production.” 

RELATED: “Bear” Bryants records Nick Saban may never break

Coach Judge will look forward to getting McKinney’s production on the field.  

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

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