A Critical Look At The Giants' Receiving Corps
Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have defined the New York Giants receiving core for the last four seasons due to their big-play ability. However, in 2013, Cruz, Nicks and the Giants’ receiver core as a whole did not meet expectations. To put their play in perspective, the unit only recorded 17 touchdowns last season, which is just one more than what Saints TE Jimmy Graham has caught all by himself. In this piece we’ll take a critical look at the Giants receiving core heading into the 2014 season.
Cruz had an excellent season in 2011: 82 receptions, 1, 536 receiving yards, nine touchdowns, and he was named second team All-Pro. He also had a solid season in 2012: 86 receptions, 1,092 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns, and his first Pro Bowl appearance. This stellar play led the Giants to giving Cruz a five-year, $48 million ($15.6 million guaranteed) contract extension in July.
Cruz did not get to salsa dance in the end zone in 2013 as frequently as he did in the previous two seasons, finishing the 2013 season with 73 receptions for 998 yards and only four touchdowns. On top of that, Cruz suffered a concussion and a sprained knee in Week 15 versus the Seattle Seahawks, and he was, subsequently, shut down for the rest of the season. Although, 2013 was a rough season for Cruz, I expect Cruz to bounce back with a solid 2014 season. Certainly the Giants and Cruz hope that will be the case.
It seems like Nicks has played his last season with the Giants, as the wide receiver is likely to test the free agent market when the new league year starts on Mar. 11. Nicks, a first-round pick by the Giants in the 2009 NFL draft, has had a good career with Giants.
In his five seasons with the team, Nicks has hauled in 4,622 yards and 27 touchdowns, and he was an integral part of the Giants’ Super Bowl run in 2011 with big catches down the stretch and in the postseason. Nicks’ last two seasons has been quite pedestrian by his standards, recording just 53 receptions for 692 yards and three touchdowns in 2012 and 56 receptions for 896 yards and no touchdowns in 2013.
Some the decline in play can be attributed to Nicks being injury prone over the years, and some NFL observers think Nicks’ drop in production is due to the WR not always given his full effort every snap. Some even question whether Nicks is still a big-play receiver in this league. I think a NFL team will pay Nicks big dollars with the hope that he is still a big time playmaker, but I doubt the Giants will be that team.
For Giants fans, Randle may have been the sole bright spot in the Giants’ receiving core this past season. Randle doubled his production across the board, going from 19 receptions, 298 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 2012 to 41 receptions for 611 yards and six touchdowns (which led the team) in 2013.
With Nicks looking less likely to return, the burden of replacing Nicks’ production is falling squarely on Randle’s shoulders as it stands right now. After two seasons, I think it is still unknown whether Randle is a No. 1, No. 2 or a No. 3 wide receiver in this league. It is perceived wisdom in the NFL that the third year in NFL is a critical year for a wide receiver, as this year tends to show whether the wide receiver will sink or swim in the league. At the moment, I am not sure how good Randle can be, but I am fairly certain we will find out next season.
A Revolving Door At Tight End
Change has been the only constant for the Giants in relation to the starting tight end position. Since Jerry Reese took over the role of senior vice-president and general manager in 2007, the Giants have had five different tight ends hold the No. 1 spot on the depth chart: Jeremy Shockey, Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, Martellus Bennett and Brandon Myers. Myers finished the 2013 season with 47 receptions for 522 yards and four touchdowns. However, his contract was voided by the Giants after the season. There will be a new starting tight end for Giants in the 2014 season, which is no shock considering the position’s turnover rate the last few seasons.
The Giants need their receiving core to bounce back in a big way in 2014. There are questions as to whether Cruz will return to being a top-tier wide receiver, whether Randle can be a consistently productive wide receiver, whether Nicks will re-sign with the team, and who the starting tight end will be next year.
The NFL salary cap has been raised from $123 million to $133 million, and the Giants had a little over $12 million in cap space before the increase. So with the salary cap being raised a bit, it will be very interesting to see who the Giants brass decide to sign and draft in order to boost the talent level of this group. There will be a lot of pressure on Eli Manning and his receiver core to step up after a disappointing season in 2013.