Let's continue our position-by-position New York Giants training camp previews by focusing on the wide receiver position today. In an NFL increasingly dominated by the pass, having a plethora of quality wide receivers has become less a luxury and more a necessity.
The Giants have Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, a young duo that is as talented and productive as pretty much any pair of wide receivers in the league currently in the league. NIcks broke his foot during offseason workouts and his status in unclear, although he insists he will be ready for the season.
It is largely the presence of Nicks, who has 155 catches the past two seasons, that makes the Giants' wide receivers dangerous. As good as Victor Cruz (82 catches, a franchise record 1,536 yards a season ago) is, it is the physical 6-foot, 210-pound Nicks who is considered the best receiver and the one whose size, hands and physicality make him the most difficult for defenses to take away from quarterback Eli Manning. The Giants will hold their breath and hope he is ready for the season, and that his foot injury does not limit his production.
The third wheel in the defending Super Bowl champion Giants' receiving corps a season ago is no longer with the team. Mario Manningham used free agency to net himself a lucrative deal with the San Francisco 49ers, leaving the Giants with question marks behind Nicks and Cruz. Devin Thomas, a kick returner and extra wide receiver last season, signed with the Chicago Bears during the offseason.
Here are your candidates for roster spots and playing time behind Cruz and Nicks.
Domenik Hixon (7th year), Brandon Collins (UDFA), Jerrel Jernigan (2nd year), Isaiah Stanback (5th year), Dan DePalma (practice squad last season), David Douglas (UDFA), Julian Talley (UDFA), Ramses Barden (4th year), Reuben Randle (rookie, 2nd-round draft choice).
Likely to make the squad: Randle, Barden, Jernigan, Hixon. Collins, Douglas and DePalma are waiting in the wings and seem like practice squad possibilities or guys who could sneak onto the roster if there is a season-ending injury.
Now, let's look closer at which players are likely to make an impact on the field in 2012.
The Giants have waited ... and waited ... and waited for the gigantic 6-foot-6, 23-pound Barden to force his way into a consistent role in the team's offense. Yet, the Cal-Poly grad has played only 17 games and has 15 receptions. This would seem to be Barden's final chance to make an impact with the Giants.
Hixon is a player the Giants love, but he has missed almost all of the last two seasons due to knee injuries. He spent the entire 2010 season on IR, and played only two games (with four receptions) before landing on IR again last season. It seems likely that the Giants will use Hixon as a fallback option at receiver if their younger players don't produce.
One of those young players is Jernigan, a third-round pick a season ago who did not catch a pass and made a small impact as a kick returner late in the season. Jernigan was thought of as a slot-type receiver when the Giants drafted him and he should get an opportunity to emerge as the third or fourth receiver.
Finally, there is second-round pick Reuben Randle. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is hoping that Randle, from LSU, can give the Giants the downfield passing threat Manningham brought to the attack.
Here is Gilbride discussing trying to replace Manningham:
"You need that third component so that when people start skewing and clamping down on Cruz and Nicks, you got a guy that, if it’s one-on-one, has the ability to get over the top and hurt people like Manningham did," Gilbride said. "Whether it’s JJ Jernigan, whether it’s or whether it’s , we need somebody to be able to do that. He looks, between his size and what looked like the speed he had on film, that he has the potential to do that. I have my fingers crossed. Hopefully somebody does."
Training camp should provide some clues as to which of these receivers is ready to step up and help the Giants in 2012.