As part of our continuing position-by-position analysis of each of the four teams in the NFC East, we have been looking today at wide receivers. We conclude with a look at the wide receivers on the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Potential strength: With due respect to New England's Wes Welker, there was no team in the league that got from its slot receiver position what the Giants got last year from Cruz. He doesn't have Welker's track record or reliability as a possession receiver, but Cruz more than makes up that difference with his explosiveness and his ability to turn a short catch into a long touchdown. His backbreaking 99-yard touchdown catch against the Jets on Christmas Eve was the play that turned around the seasons of both New York football teams, and it was just one of many memorable highlights in a season that was absolutely studded with them. Cruz finished third in the league last year with 1,537 receiving yards, and his 18.7 yards-per-catch average was the highest in the league among players with at least 45 catches. His 82 catches led the Giants and ranked him ninth in the league, even ahead of Nicks, his stellar teammate.
Potential weakness: The Giants got by at times without Mario Manningham on the outside last season, but they were clearly better when he was there. Since Manningham has left for San Francisco as a free agent, the Giants will need to find a replacement. Cruz can certainly function on the outside, but moving him there would deprive the Giants of the remarkable mismatch advantage he gives them in the slot. They'd prefer to see someone like Hixon or Barden or the rookie Randle assume the role of Manningham replacement, but if none of those guys can step forward and do that they may need to move Cruz around and find a different solution in the slot.
Keep an eye on: Randle. The Giants' roster is a meritocracy, and it does value experience, so Hixon and Barden, and maybe even Jernigan, begin the offseason with an edge on the rookie out of LSU. But with Nicks sidelined until mid-August with a broken bone in his foot, there will be plenty of catches to go around in the offseason and in training camp. And if Randle, who didn't have a very good quarterback situation at LSU, can quickly develop a rapport with quarterback Eli Manning, he could show enough to overtake some of the more experienced options on the roster and claim that Manningham spot for himself.