Offseason Breakdown: New York Giants Wide Receivers (Part I)
Everyone knows that the New York Giants two studs at wide receiver are Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. But there has been a changing of the guard behind these two each of the last two seasons. In 2011, the #3 receiver on this team was Mario Manningham. That season, Manningham had 39 receptions behind Cruz (82 catches) and Nicks (76 catches). In 2012, Cruz (86 catches) and Nicks (53 catches) still led the way again despite Nicks’ injury woes. Interestingly, Domenik Hixon had the same number of receptions as the #3 receiver as did Manningham the year before with 39.
Manningham (free agent to 49ers in 2012) and Hixon (free agent to Panthers in 2013) are gone. The leading contenders to replace Hixon as the #3 wideout are Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, and Louis Murphy.
Randle, the team’s second-round draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, is probably the favorite to win the job. Randle had only 19 receptions for 298 yards and three touchdowns his rookie season. His best games were against the Cleveland Browns in Week 5 (six catches for 82 yards) and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 (four catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns). But Randle, who just turned 22 in May, has an excellent combination of size, athletic ability, and hands. Randle is not a burner, but he is fluid and smooth with just enough speed to threaten a defense vertically down the field. In that regard, he’s similar to Nicks. Like most young players, Randle needs to continue to improve his route-running and realize that professional football is indeed a serious business that requires a heightened level of commitment.
With Nicks recovering from offseason arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, Randle has been getting work with the first team.
“It’s a lot better to get a feel for how things are going to be,” Randle said of lining up with the first team. “You get on the same page with Eli, so it’s a fun thing. But also it’s work. You’ve got to continue to go out there and get better and just do the best you can. I’m a lot better than where I was last year. I’m a lot more comfortable with what I have to do and understanding the offense. I’m out there playing a lot faster and making a lot more plays.”
With Cruz still unsigned, Jerrel Jernigan has also been getting reps with the first team. Jernigan was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Giants. Because Jernigan is diminutive in size (5-8, 189lbs) and has been unproductive in his first two seasons (three catches total), he has drawn unfavorable comparisons by Giants fans to a previous draft bust, Sinorice Moss. Jernigan does lack size, but he is a quick, fluid athlete. In college, Jernigan was an extremely productive receiver who was dangerous with the football after the catch.
Jerngian’s development may have been hampered by his college offense at Troy. Receivers in spread offenses usually do not run the full route tree so it was a much bigger mental jump for Jerngian than it was for Randle. Regardless, the Giants are expecting Jernigan to step it up in 2013. Right now, he’s the number one back-up in the slot position behind Cruz.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Jerrel Jernigan and what he can do inside,” said Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride this month. “I think it’s about time that he steps up and I think we feel he has enough ability and he’s been here now long enough. Until Victor (Cruz) gets back, he’ll be the main guy inside at the slot position. It’s a chance for him to shine and step forward and do the things that we believe he can do…It’s going to be a great opportunity for him.”
“Jerrel’s also got to be able to help us,” said QB Eli Manning. “He has speed, he has skills, been in the system now a number of years so hopefully he can step up and fill a role for us.”
“I’ve been here three years,” said Jernigan. “I know the offense and it’s time for me to go out there and make some plays and contribute to my team… My confidence is always high. I never get down on myself. No matter what any article says, I still know what I can do.”
Louis Murphy was signed by the Giants as an unrestricted free agent from the Carolina Panthers in March 2013. Murphy was originally drafted in the 4th round of the NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders traded Murphy to the Panthers in July 2012. In four NFL seasons, Murphy has played in 57 games with 24 starts. In 2012, Murphy played in all 16 games with five starts with the Panthers. He finished the season with 25 catches for 336 yards and one touchdown.
Murphy has good size for a receiver (6-2, 200lbs) and he is a deep threat with very good speed. The knock on him has been his inconsistent hands.
“I think he’s gonna add another dimension to our offense,” said General Manager Jerry Reese back in March. “We have a scout named Jeremiah Davis and he talks about guys being a knife. This guy is a knife. This guy can take the top off your defense. He’s an interesting guy. He gives us a different dimension in our offense. If we have the same guys, if we have Nicks back healthy and we have Cruz back this guy gives you a deep threat that we haven’t had. We haven’t had a guy who can run like this guy.”
In the first Organized Team Activity (OTA) practice, Murphy showed off that speed by getting behind the defense and catching a 50-yard touchdown pass from Manning. “That’s what I like to do,” said Murphy. “I can do a lot of things. I can go inside, play outside. I can do it all. But they do like to stretch the field and I like doing that.”
Barring injury or the unforeseen, Randle, Jernigan, and Murphy should all make the 53-man roster. But which of the three is going to see the most playing time during the 2013 regular season? The competition for the #3 spot has already begun and will reach its climax in training camp and the preseason in August.
(Part II of the wide receiver preview will focus on Ramses Barden, Brandon Collins, Kevin Hardy, Kris Adams, and Jeremy Horne).