- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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There are few teams (if any) in the NFL that can match the New York Giants for the quality of their top two wide receivers, but they play one of them Sunday. The Atlanta Falcons' outstanding duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones is a vital reason the Falcons have the No. 4-ranked passing offense in the league this year. And when you look around the league to try and find starting receiver tandems that compare with the Giants' Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, Atlanta is usually where you settle.
So I thought we'd have a debate: Which pair is better? Which two would you rather have on your team?
Some food for thought:
So far this year, White ranks 8th, Cruz 11th, Jones 13th and Nicks 48th in receiving yards. White is ninth in the league in catches (and second on his own team, behind tight end Tony Gonzalez), while Cruz is 10th, Jones 19th and Nicks 50th. Cruz has caught nine touchdown passes, Jones seven, White five and Nicks three.
Nicks has had significant injury issues that have cost him games and limited his production when he's played. Jones has been banged-up as well, and it bears mentioning that White has missed practice the last two days with a knee injury and is being called a game-time decision for Sunday.
For their careers, in terms of regular-season numbers, Nicks has 252 catches for 3,686 yards and 27 touchdowns in four seasons. Cruz has 158 catches for 2,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons. Jones has 117 catches for 1,956 yards and 15 touchdowns in two seasons. White has 607 catches for 8,514 yards and 50 touchdowns in eight seasons.
In their postseason careers, White and Jones have combined for 29 catches, 257 yards and two touchdowns and have lost all three games in which they've played, including one to the Giants in January. In Nicks' and Cruz's postseason careers, they have combined for 49 catches for 713 yards and five touchdowns and have won all four games in which they've played, including the most recent Super Bowl.
It's also worth considering their quarterbacks' impact. Atlanta's Matt Ryan has never been without White, and the two best seasons of his career have been the last two, with Jones on the team. New York's Eli Manning won a Super Bowl throwing to Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer four years before he won one throwing to Nicks and Cruz. Those who would want to argue that the Manning is more responsible for the Giants' receivers' success than the Falcons' quarterback is for his receivers' success have some support for that argument.
Personally I think White's the most accomplished of the group, having excelled for the longest period of time. And if I were drafting right now, factoring in their ages and potential as well as present-day value, I believe I'd take Jones first and Nicks second. Nicks' injury issues scare me, and they're the main reason I can't elevate him over the Atlanta guys even though I'm a well-documented fan of his abilities, worth ethic and accomplishments. They're also the reason I have a hard time deciding whether I'd take him or Cruz in that draft. And if I had to pick one of these guys for whom to draw up a fourth-and-seven play with the season on the line, White's the guy I'd pick.
They are all fantastic, and this is definitely not a clear-cut decision (though I'm sure some in the comments section and on Twitter will insist it is). I think I'll take the Falcons' guys by a hair. They haven't done it in the biggest of spots, as the Giants' guys have, but that's not necessarily on them. I think in terms of overall ability and credentials, they have a slight edge right now. For me.
I welcome your thoughts, as always.