As the season approaches, we will take an in depth look at the defending champions.
Projected starters: Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz
Backups: Domenik Hixon, Rueben Randle, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan
Player to watch: Victor Cruz. Cruz exploded onto the NFL scene last year while having a record setting year for the Giants. He has become one of the most well-known and popular Giants players out there. Cruz is motivated to get out there and prove that he in no one-hit wonder. It will be difficult trying to top 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. Cruz has yet another season under his belt and has officially had his first training camp as a veteran player. Due to the lockout last year, Cruz did not have time to practice with the team as a whole, but look how that turned out. Cruz has been taking reps as the starting wide receiver with Hakeem Nicks out and Eli Manning has incredible trust in Cruz. It will be interesting to see if Cruz gets any more attention this year because of his tremendous season last year. If he does, it only helps the Giants out. With large targets in Nicks, Martellus Bennett and Rueben Randle, it will be tough for any defense to lock onto just on player.
Strength: The Giants have one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL with Nicks and Cruz. Nicks is expected to be ready for the season opener and when he is healthy he is capable of being one of the league most dominant receivers. With Nicks and Cruz at his disposal, Manning has two playmakers that can break a big play at any moment. Both Nicks and Cruz combined for 14 plays of 40 yards gained or more on catches last season.
After Nicks and Cruz, Domenik Hixon has the most experience of the backups. He has won the third receiver position and has great speed, good hands, and excellent route running ability. Ramses Barden has a great preseason and was one of the more dominant Giant receivers during the four games. Rueben Randle brings size and speed. It remains to be seen how much he will contribute to the Giants in his first season with the team.
Weakness: The loss of Mario Manningham will hurt this team if they cannot find a viable third receiver. Right now the Giants have two veterans starting and nothing in depth. They have good players but no one that can jump in and be a starter at any point in time. Manningham allowed Nicks or Cruz to take a play off, or to fill in when injury occurred. Manningham also took attention off of Nicks and Cruz when he was on the field. He dropped passes and was inconsistent, but had big playmaking ability.
If the Giants can’t find someone to replace Manningham, then there could be some trouble. The Giants drafted Randle with hopes that the rookie could replace Manningham. Until he has proved himself, Hixon will be the starting third receiver. Hixon is reliable and has a bond with Manning, but is also returning from a torn ACL for the second straight season. Barden could also slide in and make an impression. He is a massive receiver at 6’6” and is a good target for the red zone.
Hot or miss: Rueben Randle. If Randle is everything he is advertised to be, the Giants will have a new weapon at their disposal. It remains to be seen how long it will take Randle to become comfortable with the Giants system and play book. He did not win the third receiver position and will need some more time to grow and build with Manning. He could still emerge as a factor during the season. Remember, Cruz was a non-factor until week three against the Eagles.
About the Author
Written by Matthew Stapleton
Ridgewood, New Jersey