In 2013, the offense for the New York Giants struggled mightily. With the offensive line unable to provide much pass protection or running lanes for the backs, points were hard to come by. Victor Cruz produced consistently, but the lack of consistency from Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle derailed Eli Manning, as he threw a career-high 27 interceptions and career-low 18 touchdowns for a full season. With the inconsistencies and injuries at the end of the season, Jerrel Jernigan received a chance to show the Giants what he could do. He made the most of it, producing exceptionally.
In the final three games of the season, Jernigan was targeted 27 times, hauling in 19 of them. He recorded 237 yards and two touchdowns, while adding two rushes for 57 yards and a touchdown in the season finale against the Washington Redskins as well.
Jernigan showcased the versatility he could bring to the table for the Giants, as he lined up all over the field over those last three games. He could be found in the slot, outside the numbers and even in the backfield. Very few players can offer that sort of versatility, and it is something the Giants should work into their offense more, especially with more three- and four-receiver sets in the playbook this season under Ben McAdoo.
Jernigan was on the roster bubble last season, but that shouldn’t be a question this season. When Nicks moved on, it was assumed that Jernigan would be looking at an increased role this season, even with his regular position as slot receiver is being occupied by one of the best in the business currently in Cruz.
Jernigan may not be in danger of losing his roster spot, but he will have an uphill battle trying to get on the field. Cruz and Randle are ahead of him on the depth chart already, and 2014 first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. is expected to assume Nicks’ role from last season. That leaves Jernigan at the fourth receiver on the depth chart at best.
It is not that Jernigan isn’t talented; it is just that he is blocked by arguably the best player the Giants have in Cruz. If Jernigan continues working hard like he has in the past, there should be a role carved out for him this coming season. Last season, the Packers had seven players catch at least 25 passes, and there is no reason Jernigan cannot reach those numbers this season as well.
If Randle or Beckham Jr. struggle in the early going also, Jernigan can find himself with a bigger role. Cruz is able to play on the outside, so if need-be, the Giants can move him on the perimeter with either Randle or Beckham Jr., and allow Jernigan to work the slot. Beckham Jr. can also work the slot if needed, if the Giants feel Jernigan is better suited for the X or Y spot.
While Jernigan may not have a big role starting out, there is potential there for it to happen. Jernigan has a versatile skill-set that the Giants need to take advantage of, and the new offense McAdoo is bringing in should help showcase them.