Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Five lingering questions: Wide receiver
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
The New York Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far this offseason, adding 14 free agents from outside their organization and re-signing 10 of their own. But free agency is no cure-all, as we've all heard countless times. So each day this week, we'll take a look at one question that still remains following the Giants' spring splurge. Today we ask:
Do they have enough at wide receiver?
Hakeem Nicks was a huge disappointment in 2013. Counted on to be a do-it-all No. 1 receiver on the outside, he was a non-factor in the passing game. He couldn't win against single coverage, which allowed teams to devote double-coverage to Victor Cruz and take him out of the game as well. Rueben Randle benefited to some degree with six touchdown catches, but Randle had his own struggles to read defenses in concert with quarterback Eli Manning, and the times when they weren't on the same page resulted in some bad interceptions.
Nicks is gone now, off to Indianapolis as a free agent, and the only receiver the Giants signed is former Giant Mario Manningham, who spent the past two years fighting injuries in San Francisco. Manningham can't be counted on, which means Randle is the top candidate to step up and fill the role they hoped Nicks would fill last year. Randle hasn't yet shown the kind of ability Nicks showed when he was at the top of his game, but the Giants hope that a third year of development will elevate Randle to that level.
So, can he? Randle has the size and the physical skills for the job, but he struggled with the intricacies of the old offense. It's possible that new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is implementing a simpler system that won't rely as much on the ability of the receivers to read defenses the same way Manning does at the line of scrimmage, and that simplifying things in that way will make it easier for Randle. But we don't know that for sure, and if Randle continues to run different routes than Manning expects him to run, Manning's not going to keep throwing him the ball. Randle remains the most important question mark at receiver.
There's also Jerrel Jernigan to consider. He had a couple of big games in relief of an injured Cruz at the end of 2013 and could be in line for a bigger role this year. In the old offense, he was seen strictly as a slot receiver, and therefore wasn't going to see the field unless Cruz got hurt. But McAdoo's offense, if it bears any resemblance to the one he helped run in Green Bay, is likely to operate closer to the line of scrimmage and rely more on the ability of its playmakers to catch the ball quickly and operate in space. That could allow for Jernigan and Cruz to be on the field at the same time, and could result in more opportunities for Jernigan.
Much of this also depends on what the Giants end up doing at tight end, and the success they're able to have throwing the ball to running backs in the screen game. Those are questions that have yet to be answered, and those answers will go a long way toward determining whether they have enough at wide receiver. But to me, a lot of it depends on Randle. If he can be a viable downfield threat, it'll open up more possibilities along the way for Cruz, who could be a monster in a West Coast-style offense. If he can't, then they could end up muddling along again as teams focus on Cruz as the one viable threat the Giants have at the position.