Julian Love ended his rookie year in the NFL with a goal in mind, and his resolve is even stronger now. Whenever the 2020 season starts, he intends to be the starting free safety for the Giants, joining Jabrill Peppers in a youthful defensive backfield tandem.
“Oh, definitely, that thought crosses my mind every day,’’ Love told The Post from Chicago, where he is living back home with his parents during this pandemic. “I want to be the safety of the future for the Giants.
“I believe I’m the guy. If I didn’t feel that way I wouldn’t say that. But I do feel like that. I’ve been working real hard. I want to go there and get everything in motion and really have a dominant year.’’
It could happen. Love, 22, is coming off a promising rookie year. He did not get into the lineup until after Peppers went down with a fracture in his back, opening a spot for Love to start the final five games. The fourth-round draft pick from Notre Dame played reasonably well and finished his first NFL season with 37 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble. He graded out as the 32nd-ranked safety in the league by Pro Football Focus, ahead of Peppers (No. 48) and ahead of Landon Collins (No. 41), the former Giants second-round pick who left in free agency in 2019 and signed with the Redskins.
Love, at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, has the makings of a suitable free safety, allowing Peppers to do what he does best closer to the line of scrimmage. Two veteran Giants safeties from a year ago, Antoine Bethea and Michael Thomas, are currently unemployed.
The Giants did not add a safety in free agency — Nate Ebner is a special-teams player — and Love said he certainly noticed this, not so much for how it affected him, but for how it affected the team.
“If they did bring in a safety, I know I have multiple traits and multiple strengths to kind of play any position and be successful,’’ he said. “I really feel I can be a safety for this team, what this team needs, so I’m going to go in, I’ve been working hard, I want to go in and hit the ground running to show everybody that, despite who comes in.’’
The next chance for the Giants to bring in a safety in the NFL draft and, if they do not do so in the early rounds, it says plenty, as far as how this new coaching staff views what Love might offer. He feels fortunate he was able to sit down and meet with head coach Joe Judge and the new defensive coaches before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down at the team facility.
“I had that chance, thankfully,’’ Love said. “Whatever the draft brings or this offseason brings, I take it all with a grain of salt, even if they don’t take anybody and I just happen to fall in on Day 1 to be in that position of safety I know I need to work to really not just be ‘a’ safety on this team but to really lead from that back end. That’s kinda my mindset.’’