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Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Report card analysis: Wide receivers

By Ohm Youngmisuk

I recently gave my report card for the Giants 2011 season position-by-position. But because there was only so much space to discuss each position, I wanted to go more in-depth on each position and spin it forward to next season.

Today we look at the wide receivers. Tomorrow: Offensive line.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Grade: A

Eli Manning had three big-play weapons in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, who combined for a total of 15 touchdowns of 41 yards or longer in the regular season.

There’s a chance Manningham could end up with another team in free agency after his big Super Bowl performance. With Manningham, the Giants had perhaps the best trio of receivers in the league.

Manning will still have Nicks and Cruz, who now has a year of valuable experience under his belt. Cruz now knows where Manning wants him to be and how to get open and more importantly, he has big-game experience. He saw how teams began to pay more defensive attention to him as well. With more experience, he should get better at handling defenses. Cruz shattered the franchise record for 1,536 yards in a season and finished with 82 receptions, clearly outplaying his undrafted free agent contract which will pay him $490,000 this coming season. And while he acknowledges he would like a raise, we don’t see him creating a stink about it or this becoming problematic. The Giants should take care of him eventually.

Nicks was a 1,000-yard receiver as well and showed how dominant he can be with his performance in the playoffs. When teams do not double the Giants' No. 1 receiver, Nicks will go off. He had six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta and then seven receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns –- including the Hail Mary grab -- against Green Bay.

And in the Super Bowl, he came up with 10 receptions for 109 yards. Nicks now has the confidence of knowing he can dominate even on the biggest stage. The Manning-to-Nicks connection should only get better in Year Four barring injury.

If Manningham leaves, that would create an opportunity for Ramses Barden. Barden, entering his fourth season, showed some glimpses with nine receptions for 94 yards. He has intriguing size and hands.

Last year's third-round pick, Jerrel Jernigan, played mostly as a returner on special teams. A full offseason of work with the coaching staff and Manning will help this year after having no offseason workouts last year due to the lockout.

Devin Thomas, Michael Clayton and Domenik Hixon are unrestricted free agents. Hixon will be coming off his second straight ACL surgery but the Giants likely could bring him back. Hixon could compete for the third receiver spot if Manningham leaves and help with the return game when he is fully recovered.

If Manningham leaves in free agency, the Giants could draft a wide receiver in April. Not only can they use the depth but they desperately need an electric returner on special teams as well.

Tell us below what your assessment of the receivers are.