With Hakeem Nicks’ most recent injury to keep him out of action for an estimated 12 weeks, Coach Coughlin’s oft-used phrase, “next man up” will surely be put to the test. In Nicks, the New York Giants stand to start the season without one of their most explosive playmakers. While the Giants will most definitely miss Nick’s stats (1,192 yards, 7 TDs, 15.7 YPC in 2011), its the intangibles that he adds that will be missed the most. Sure, Cruz had a breakout year (1,536 yards, 9 TDs, 18.7 YPC), but does he come close to reaching those numbers without Hakeem drawing as many double teams on the other side of the field? Opposing defenses can’t double team everyone, as made apparent by Manningham’s playoff performances. I’m sure you’ve heard the video with Belichick telling his defense to take Cruz and Nicks out of the Super Bowl. His defensive unit complied, focusing mostly on Nicks and Cruz, allowing Manningham to run free in the second half. Does Jake Ballard become a known TE in this league without the presence of Nicks and Cruz demanding the defense’s respect like they do? To drive this point home even more, remember that the Giants’ running attack was mediocre last year. Even without defenses focusing too much on the run, Hakeem and Victor gave defensive coordinators fits. It’s these intangible factors that will be missed more than anything reflected on the stat line.
Hakeem Nicks has some big shoes to fill. Perhaps the WR with the most similar stature would be 2nd round pick, Reuben Randle. While not jaw-dropping, his collegiate stats should be taken with a “grain of salt” as he was playing with run-of-the-mill QBs his entire career with LSU. In OTAs and some of his highlight clips, you can see flashes of explosiveness that reminds me of Nicks. They are both tall, lean receivers with deceiving speed. Eli tends to bring the most out of everyone he’s throwing the ball to and I am looking forward to see what he can do with the additional reps he will be getting in training camp in Nicks’ absence.
Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan are relative unknowns: The former due to plaguing injuries and the latter due to severe lack of experience. Barden possesses the physical attributes to dominate the receiving game, but has yet to prove he can do it. Jernigan came from the small school of Troy, and with such a limited offseason induced by the lockout, has not been given time to mature to what he can potentially be.
Domenik Hixon is coming off back-to-back ACL injuries and is as huge a question mark as any rookie or second year receiver on the team. If his knee is close to 100%, I can see him being a reliable target for Eli again.
I have to wonder if the Giants are missing Devin Thomas nearly as much as I am right about now. I really liked what he brought to the team on Special Teams and believe he would’ve became a solid contributor given enough of a chance.
The mantra of “Next Man Up” will be spoken repeatedly this offseason, and make no mistake – someone will step up. The pieces are there – young, unproven players, veterans returning to action, a retooled running game and TE. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.