As the New York Giants ready themselves at the University of Albany to defend their Super Bowl Championship I am taking a look at a few position battles that might come into play in the coming weeks. I already covered the backup running back fight which you can read here. Now, I will take a look at the third wide receiver battle that should be one of the more interesting and impactful battles in all of camp.
There is no doubt who will be the top two wide receivers on the Giants this season. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are among the best wide receiver tandems in the entire NFL. However, the Giants lost Mario Manningham to free agency this offseason and are basically holding an open audition for every receiver not named Nicks or Cruz to claim that spot.
Domenik Hixon is the favorite to win the third wide receiver spot. This will be his seventh season in the NFL and Hixon has been an effective receiver when on the field for the Giants. However, it is his ability to stay on the field that is a cause for concern. He is coming off of his second ACL surgery in as many years and the Giants might take it easy with him in training camp. However, they know what Hixon can bring to the table when he is healthy and that is a stable receiver who can have an occasional big game. Hixon is determined to stay healthy this season and contribute as much as possible so the motivation is there to make the most of this training camp, regardless of how limited he is. If healthy, he will certainly create problems for a secondary that will be preoccupied with Nicks and Cruz.
Rueben Randle was drafted out of LSU in the second round of this year’s draft and the Giants are extremely excited to have him. He has a ton of talent and, if he learns the offense quickly, could be a terror on opposing defenses in no time. The Giants have always been a bit cautious when it comes to integrating rookie wide receivers into the offense right away and they might take their time with Randle since there is no reason to rush him. However, if he shows he can understand the offense they won’t hesitate to use him either. He will probably start the year off in a reserve role and gradually see an increase in playing time if he shows he can handle it. If he lives up to his potential he could be the steal of the draft.
Jerrel Jernigan was drafted in the third round of last year’s draft and did not have a very good rookie campaign. However, that doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there. He was hampered by the lockout which cost him valuable time in mini-camps and had to try and go from a simplified offense at Troy to a complex one like the Giants’ without much time to prepare. This year will be different. Jernigan will have every opportunity to prove to the coaching staff there was a reason he was taken in the third round. He has excellent speed and can stretch a defense, especially is he is lined up across from a third or fourth corner or safety. With a full offseason under his belt he could show drastic improvement and might be a find as the team’s third receiver, able to break off a huge gain and change the complexion of a game very quickly. The Giants drafted him for just that reason, and Jernigan should make an impression this training camp.
Ramses Barden is an interesting player. He has a size/speed combo that make scouts drool. That was a primary reason the Giants took a chance on the Cal-Poly receiver in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft. At 6-6, 224 pounds, he creates a nightmare for opposing defensive backs to matchup against. However, he has yet to translate physical skills into results on the field. His route running has left much to be desired and he has dropped a lot of passes when has been a part of the offense. However, his size makes him an intriguing option, especially in the red zone. If Barden can finally realize his potential the Giants could have an absolute beast on their hands. He will need to have a great camp and strong preseason to show the coaching staff he is ready for an increased role.
The Giants also have Dan DePalma, Jullian Talley, Isaiah Stanback, and David Douglas in camp and all will be fighting for a roster spot. Talley is a New Jersey native and UMass product like Victor Cruz was and he has some thinking he could be the next Cruz. While that is unlikely, he does have talent and is similar to Cruz in several aspects, especially in stature. Cruz is listed at 6-0, 204 pounds while Talley checks in at 6-1, 194 pounds. He will be interesting to watch in camp and could make an impression. Stanback is entering his 4th season in the NFL and is hoping to finally stick on a roster. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and has bounced around from the New England Patriots to the Seattle Seahawks before landing with the Giants in 2011. Stanback is pretty versatile as a football player, having played mostly at quarterback at the University of Washington. The Cowboys saw value in him as a wide receiver and kick returner and nabbed him in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He could be an interesting option if the Giants put him on the final roster but he will have an uphill battle to fight.
Ultimately, the Giants have a ton of talent at the receiver position. Mostly, it is unrealized talent but that should change during this training camp. There are plenty of options for the third receiver position and the coaching staff will be dealing with several motivated players anxious to fill that spot. In the end, I think experience wins out and Hixon claims that spot but I definitely see an increased role for Jernigan and Randle will see a decent amount of playing time, especially later in the season. I am also interested to see what Barden can offer since this might be his last chance to stick with the Giants.