Why Packers fans should be excited about Xavier McKinney

Everything you need to know about the newest Packer.

Xavier McKinney
Xavier McKinney / Mike Stobe/GettyImages

On the first day of free agency, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst made a move that was largely overshadowed by national media due to the signing of Josh Jacobs and the subsequent release of Aaron Jones.

Gutekunst brought Xavier McKinney to Green Bay on a four-year, $68 million deal. McKinney was widely viewed as one of the top safeties on the market.

McKinney was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. The former Roswell Hornet saw great success, playing in 32 games over three seasons for Alabama. He racked up 175 tackles, five interceptions, six sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and six forced fumbles.

McKinney was a national champion in 2017 and named Defensive MVP in the 2018 Orange Bowl, along with being named first-team All-SEC and third-team All-American by the Associated Press in 2019.

Following his success in college, McKinney was selected early in the second round with the 36th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.

"Xavier has a lot of diversity as a player," said former Alabama coach Nick Saban. "I think the guy's got some dog in him. He's a competitive guy. He's a playmaker."

In his rookie season, McKinney struggled to see the field with a fractured foot injury that kept him sidelined for the majority of the season. He played in only six games, playing 211 snaps, resulting in 25 tackles and one interception.

However, McKinney's sophomore campaign saw great success. He played in all 17 games, racking up 93 tackles and five interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. McKinney also had 10 pass deflections and was a rare bright spot on a Giants team that won four games.

Year 3 of McKinney's career mirrored his rookie season, where he was sidelined with a broken hand and only played nine games, putting up 45 tackles and five pass deflections. However, his fourth and most recent year intrigued Gutekunst into paying McKinney.

How does Xavier McKinney fit Packers defense?

A healthy McKinney broke out as one of the league's best safeties, making 116 tackles and 11 pass deflections, both career-highs. McKinney also added three interceptions while being a thorn in the side of any offense he faced (including the Packers), only allowing 61.1% of passes thrown against him to be completed.

This versatility is what helped draw Gutekunst to McKinney in free agency, along with the fact that he's only 24 years of age.

"He's 24 years old, one of the top safeties in the game, a guy that can be a game-changing type player," said Gutekunst. "And he really kind of fits a little bit of a criteria we're looking for in a free agent, not only as a player, but as a leader back there."

So, with all that being said, where does McKinney fit in Green Bay?

McKinney projects to play as new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley's Swiss army knife in the secondary. Hafley prefers a one-high safety system with Cover 1 and Cover 3 principles, meaning that McKinney will likely be the last line of defense as the furthest player from the ball. However, given his versatility, McKinney could also play roles such as a third-down linebacker closer to the ball and out in the slot as a nickel corner.

Overall, McKinney adds a lot of versatility to the Packers' backend. Injuries and health are certainly something to watch, but look out for him to back up Jaire Alexander and Carrington Valentine in this ascending Green Bay defense.

Ron Wolf had Reggie White. Ted Thompson had Charles Woodson. Given his age and track record, don't be surprised if Xavier McKinney is Brian Gutekunst's defensive free agent that pushes the Packers over the top.

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