Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The state of the Giants at wide receiver
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
It is possible that New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz will be unable to play this week in Detroit (or next week against the Redskins for that matter). Cruz left Sunday's game with a concussion and a knee sprain, and while it's possible he'll be fine to play the final two games, there's at least a chance he will not. Cruz is leading the Giants in targets, receptions and receiving yards by wide margins, and while he hasn't scored a touchdown since the Week 4 game in Kansas City, he's basically the only person involved in the Giants' passing game who's having any kind of consistently decent season. If the Giants don't have him available, the best you can say is that at least they can't score any less than they did Sunday, when they were shut out for the second time this year.
Cruz signed his long-term deal last offseason and is a significant part of the Giants' future at wide receiver. But questions abound in the wideout ranks after Cruz, both short-term and long-term. Here's a look at where the Giants stand at the position with two meaningless games left before a critical offseason:
Hakeem Nicks. One of the reasons the Giants took a (relatively) hard line in their negotiations with Cruz was that they viewed him as an excellent slot receiver but viewed Nicks as the true No. 1 -- the big, do-it-all threat on the outside -- and they wanted to save some money to try and re-sign Nicks when he became a free agent at the end of this season. Never could they have imagined he'd turn in this lousy and lackluster a performance. Through 14 games, of which he's played 13, Nicks has just 50 catches for 794 yards and no touchdowns. Coach Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, while not naming names, have made pointed comments in recent weeks that revealed a clear disappointment with Nicks. One possible reason for his down year is Nicks has been trying to protect himself so that he could reach free agency in full health, and if he does that he's likely to get the big-money deal he seeks from someone. But it's extremely doubtful the Giants will be the team to give it to him. Unless there's no market at all and he comes crawling back at a reduced price, Nicks likely has only two more games left as a Giant.
Rueben Randle. He could see an increase in targets over the final two games if you figure Cruz's targets have to go somewhere and Nicks can't seem to get open. Randle has had some flashes this year and actually leads the team with six touchdown catches. But as is their wont, the Giants have been hesitant to rush their young second-year man into a larger role. They never intended him as a Nicks replacement but rather as a Mario Manningham replacement. But depending on what they do at this position in free agency and the draft, they may have to go into 2014 hoping he can be a Nicks replacement after all.
Jerrel Jernigan. The 2011 third-rounder has been an unreliable disappointment. But if Cruz is out, Jernigan is likely to take over as the slot receiver and see a lot of looks from Eli Manning. He looked good in relief of Cruz in that role Sunday. And while his hands and his overall slow development have vexed the Giants, he could be facing a two-game audition for a spot on next year's team or a nice job somewhere else.
Louis Murphy. The fact the Giants had to sign him and have kept him on the team all year in spite of his lack of a contribution is a testament to their lack of depth at the position. This is why, regardless of what happens with Nicks, you can expect them to address wide receiver at some point in the draft. This is one of several key positions at which they must re-stock the pipeline.
Free-agent options. Lots of free-agent wide receivers if the Giants decide to go that route. Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin is out there. He's missed this season due to a torn ACL, and I imagine the Eagles would bring him back, but if he's healthy, the Giants could take a low-cost chance on the guy who went 10 picks ahead of Nicks in the 2009 draft. Other possibilities include Seattle's Golden Tate, who'd help as a punt returner as well, as we saw Sunday. And Denver's Eric Decker is likely to be a hot commodity as the kind of big-bodied wideout every team's fans wishes it had for red-zone work, though it'd be unlike the Giants to get into a bidding war for the top guy on the market at the position.
The draft: Currently, the Giants are projected to hold the No. 11 pick in the first round. Someone like USC's Marqise Lee, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, Clemson's Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M's Mike Evans could be an option there or early in the second round, depending on who comes out and how things rise and fall between now and mid-May. I wouldn't be at all shocked to see the Giants address this position in one of the first two rounds, given how badly they need depth there and the possibility that they could be looking for an immediate starter as well.