The New York Giants will need major production from their receiving core if they plan on returning to the playoffs. The emergence of running back David Wilson will provide a more balanced attack for the G-Men, but as long as they have Eli Manning under center, their greatest strength will be moving the ball through the air.
Starting wide-outs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are proven playmakers with the ability to puzzle, frustrate and dismantle any and all defenses in the NFL. The recent problem, however, has been keeping them on the field together at the same time.
Nicks hasn’t played in all 16 regular season games once in his career. However, he still managed to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in 2010 in just 13 games. The former first-round pick also finished with a career-high 1,192 yards in 2011 in 15 games.
Last season, a lingering knee injury took its toll. Nicks tried to play through it at times, but clearly wasn’t 100 percent. In his absence, Manning struggled to find a consistent target other than Cruz, and the offense sputtered along.
The 2013 season will be a crucial one for Nicks. He is in a contract year, and needs to show that he can remain healthy enough for the Giants to sustain a run. Nicks battled a groin injury in the preseason, but is believed to be at full strength heading into the regular season.
In the offseason, Cruz was rewarded a six-year, $46 million dollar deal. Last year, Nicks’ injury allowed defenses to narrow their focus on slowing down the undrafted slot receiver, but even with the extra attention Cruz compiled 86 catches, 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Salsa King of New York suffered a bruised heel in the preseason, but is predicted to start the opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
The two star receivers complement each other well because of their varying styles of play. Nicks has a larger frame and is more physical on the outside, while Cruz uses his speed to torch opposing defenses. Both guys can make big plays, and a Super Bowl victory in 2011 puts the duo’s true potential on display.
The man behind door number three is Rueben Randle. Randle will play a vital role for the Giants, and could be the final piece of the puzzle. Good defenses have a shutdown cornerback, but great defenses have two of them. Most teams are not well-equipped enough to stop a legitimate triple threat.
Randle is entering his second season out of LSU, and is on the verge of putting his stamp on the Giants’ offense. He had a tremendous offseason, taking advantage of the absences of Nicks and Cruz at OTAs, where he continued to develop a nice chemistry with Manning. Randle is going to be the benefactor of the attention defenses will be forced to give Nicks and Cruz.
Ultimately, the success of Randle could also decide Nicks’ future with the Giants. A breakout season from Randle, and another injury-plagued season from Nicks, could mean the Giants and Nicks parting ways. Cruz was rewarded a long-term deal, and it will be tough for the Giants to pay Nicks the kind of number-one-receiver money he could be looking for.
The Giants’ offense will surge this season, as defenses struggle to cover the varying threats of Nicks, Cruz and Randle.
Daniel Brennan covers the New York Giants for Rant Sports.