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5 things to know about new Packers S Xavier McKinney

Recorded nine INTs in four years with Giants and can line up anywhere

S Xavier McKinney
S Xavier McKinney

GREEN BAY – The Packers signed free-agent safety Xavier McKinney to fill their biggest roster hole heading into 2024.

Here are five things to know about McKinney, who immediately becomes Green Bay's No. 1 safety in new coordinator Jeff Hafley's defense:

  1. He was considered the top safety available in a loaded market at his position after a strong 2023 season.

Last year, McKinney (6-0, 201) played in every game for the Giants, posting career highs in tackles (116) and passes defensed (11). He also intercepted three passes to give him nine in his four-year career. In totaling 100-plus tackles, McKinney had just seven missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, the lowest missed tackle percentage of all safeties with at least 600 snaps.

The Packers' top three safeties from a year ago – Darnell Savage, Jonathan Owens and Rudy Ford – all hit the free-agent market, along with numerous other veteran safeties across the league. The Packers went after McKinney as their top target for the back end of Hafley's defense and landed him amidst stiff competition for his services.

  1. He fits what GM Brian Gutekunst was looking for in a versatile safety.

Hafley has discussed the post (deep) and box (close to the line of scrimmage) safety positions in his defense, and Gutekunst mentioned at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis he wanted "interchangeable" parts for those spots as well as the slot corner position.

McKinney fits the mold. In playing more than 1,000 defensive snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus, McKinney's time was divided between lining up deep (46%), in the box (38%) and in the slot (16%).

  1. His NFL career got off to a rough start before he hit his stride.

As a rookie second-round pick out of Alabama, taken at No. 36 overall by New York, McKinney broke his foot in training camp and missed the first 10 games of the 2020 season.

He eventually cracked the starting lineup for the final four games of that year and got his first career interception in the regular-season finale against Dallas QB Andy Dalton.

McKinney followed that up with an impressive second season, starting 16 of 17 games and recording 93 tackles with 10 passes defensed and a career-best five INTs, returning one for a TD. The 41-yard score came in a two-interception game against Raiders QB Derek Carr.

His third season in 2022 was cut in half, as McKinney broke his hand in an ATV accident during the bye week and missed eight games.

  1. He has a close connection on the Packers' new defensive coaching staff.

Hafley's defensive pass game coordinator will be Derrick Ansley, who was Alabama's defensive backs coach in 2016-17 and the lead recruiter who brought McKinney to the Crimson Tide.

Over his last two seasons at Alabama (2018-19), McKinney recorded five interceptions (two returned for TDs), six forced fumbles, and 11½ tackles for loss, including six sacks.

McKinney also shares an agent with Packers QB Jordan Love.

  1. He's played against the Packers each of the past two years and made an impact.

In the Week 5 game at London's Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2022, the Giants led 27-20 with just over a minute to go when the Packers were knocking on the door to tie the game, facing fourth-and-1 at the New York 6-yard line.

McKinney blitzed off the slot and leaped to bat QB Aaron Rodgers' pass into the air. It fell harmlessly incomplete and the Giants hung on for the win.

Then last season, in a Week 14 Monday night game at MetLife Stadium, Love tried a QB keeper on third-and-short near the red zone. He was stripped of the ball by Kayvon Thibodeaux, and McKinney recovered the fumble for New York.