When the New York Giants selected Jerrel Jernigan in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft they knew they were selecting a raw but potentially dynamic talent as well as someone who could help out on kick returns. So far, with two full seasons under his belt the 5’8” receiver has failed to impress in the passing game and has been a disappointment on special teams.
Jernigan still has two years left on his rookie contract but time could be running out for Jernigan to find a niche with the Giants. Last season, Jernigan caught his first NFL pass and ended the season with three catches for 22 yards, hardly eye-popping numbers.
This could be the make or break year for Jernigan to finally break out in either the passing game or special teams. With last year’s special teams standout David Wilson destined to be the starting running back it is unlikely the Giants would risk Wilson’s health in the return game. That potentially leaves the door wide open for Jernigan to take over the kick returner duties.
Last season, Jernigan only returned one kick but he took it for 60 yards. In 2011, he averaged 23.3 yards per return on eight kickoffs so there is some production there. This year he will need to enter training camp and take a firm hold of the job from the start. As far as being a factor in the passing game, the odds are stacked against Jernigan. He would have to pass Louis Murphy, Ruben Randle to see significant playing time behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Is it possible? Certainly. However, it isn’t likely that Jernigan will be anything more than a number four receiver this year but can easily be the fifth receiver.
If Jernigan doesn’t make an impression this season he could find himself looking for a job before his rookie contract is up. The ball is in Jernigan’s court. A solid season on special teams could save his roster spot and possibly open the door for a bigger role in the passing game. Will Jernigan finally have the breakout year many were expecting or will he be forced to wear the “bust” label around his neck? The Giants would love to have an answer one way or another and it should come this season.