Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
#NFLRank: Antrel Rolle No. 83 on defense

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

There's no shortage of poor personnel decisions that led the New York Giants to last year's 7-9 record and their subsequent roster rebuild, but signing safety Antrel Rolle to a five-year, $37 million contract in 2010 was among the better moves in recent franchise history.

We've ranked NFL players -- a top 100 on offense and another on defense -- and we're rolling out the results 20 at a time (10 on offense, 10 on defense) per day. Today brings us players No. 81-90 on either side of the ball, and Rolle checking in at No. 83 on defense offers a chance to reflect on just what he's turned out to be for the Giants.

Rolle is the No. 13-ranked safety and the No. 25-ranked defensive back on this list, but quibbling about whether he should be ranked ahead of Donte Whitner on the former list or Johnathan Joseph on the latter doesn't interest me too much. Rolle's value to the Giants has been diverse and significant, and it rises beyond stats and on-field performance.

Rolle arrived in New York at the age of 27 and chafed under coach Tom Coughlin's rigid, old-school structure. But he grew quickly, and he and Coughlin proved wise enough to realize they could be of great benefit to each other. Over the past three seasons Rolle has developed as a team leader, captain and spokesman, and he handles the role gracefully and naturally. Sure, he says crazy things on the radio sometimes. But these days they're almost always about how great he thinks his team is, and that's a perfectly acceptable method for a leader to try to keep his teammates in a productive frame of mind.

On the field, Rolle has played opposite three different starting safeties the past three years, and all three have flourished. He teamed with Kenny Phillips (who predated and helped mentor him as a Giant) in the Super Bowl season of 2011. Stevie Brown replaced an injured Phillips in 2012 and collected eight interceptions, roaming the post safety position while Rolle played up in the box because he knew how and Brown hadn't learned it yet. Will Hill replaced an injured Brown in 2013 and became one of the best playmaking safeties in the league by season's end before smoking himself out of a job this spring.

Rolle has been a constant in a Giants secondary that's seen its share of ups and downs over the past four years. And last year, largely freed from the nickel corner responsibilities he willingly assumed so often early in his Giants career, he flourished as a playmaker in his own right and earned a Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii. His coaches say he's just coming into his own as a safety, at age 31, because this is the first time since he signed with the Giants that he's been able to focus on the position exclusively. They believe he'll get the best out of his former Cardinals teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of their big free-agent cornerback signings, and Rolle has a track record that backs up that belief.

One of the best 100 defensive players in the NFL? Nobody in the Giants' building would disagree. Rolle's as solid an acquisition as any they've made over the past 10 years.