In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.
No. 10 -- Victor Cruz, Giants WR
His position on this list makes my position clear on Cruz. I do not believe his 2011 season was a fluke. No, he may never finish third in the NFL in receiving yards again, but he's a legitimate star in a position to retain his stardom. He plays in a high-powered passing offense with a top-of-the-line quarterback who loves to throw him the ball. The receiver who plays on the opposite side, Hakeem Nicks, is one of the best in the league and prevents Cruz from drawing double coverage. And he can operate out of the slot position, where he gets silly-looking mismatches against linebackers and No. 3 cornerbacks.
But this is about more than just opportunity. Cruz has elite speed. He has good hands and the ability to catch the ball reliably (or else Eli Manning wouldn't like throwing to him, and we may never have heard of him). Like Nicks, he is an intelligent, hard-working player who's devoted to his craft and to finding and doing the things that will make him better. He and Nicks watch film together and talk about critical technique things from footwork to precision route-running to hand placement to how to find the ball in traffic before the defender does.
Cruz is ego-free and determined to get better. Combine that with his considerable physical talents and his very friendly surroundings, and there's little reason to doubt that he's in position to remain among the very best wide receivers in the league for a long time to come. The numbers he put up in 2011 make it clear that he's already in that category.
Rankings so far:
11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys
14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants