After failing to step foot on the field for the better part of two and a half seasons, Jernigan burst onto the scene towards the end of last year. The former third-round pick caught 19 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for a 49-yard score.
But where is Jernigan now? Odell Beckham Jr. was drafted, Trindon Holiday signed, Mario Manningham re-signed and Victor Cruz is now healthy. Is there a home for Jernigan; or will he get buried on the depth chart?
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QUESTION- From Jay in Toronto: Is there anything you’ve seen from Jerrel Jernigan so far to make you think he is continuing where he left off at the end of the season, or do you think that was a fluke? What do you see his role being on the team after the Giants drafted Odell Beckham Jr., do you think he can be a big contributor?
CONNOR HUGHES/Big Blue Interactive
It’s tough to see someone ‘flash’ or take much out of non-contact practices. To be honest, Jernigan hasn’t shown much more than Marcus Harris or Trindon Holliday.
With that being said, I’m not terribly sure last year was a fluke. Whether it was or wasn’t, I don’t see where he fits into the offense.
Jernigan plays primarily slot, a position Victor Cruz is most natural in. The Giants drafted Odell Beckham Jr. in the first round to be an ‘outside wide receiver’ with Rueben Randle, leaving Cruz in the middle. Where does that leave Jernigan? The bench.
In the past, the Giants haven’t been big fans of four wide receiver sets, that could change this year, but I see that as the only chance Jernigan has at getting on the field other than injury. It’s not that he can’t play, it’s just I don’t see an open spot for him.
Jernigan’s final three games of last season was an eye opener – to the Giants, to the fans and maybe even to himself. It prompted owner John Mara to publicly provide a statement of support in his post-season State of the Giants. Jernigan proved capable of getting open and, most importantly in my mind, an ability to make tough, contested catches despite his size. It had Mara wondering what took so long for the 2011 third-round pick to get on the field, a completely reasonable question considering his performance.
No doubt, Jernigan showed that he can play at this level. He was the No. 2 scoring fantasy wide receiver over the final three weeks of the season with 19 catches, 237 yards and two touchdowns. It was an impressive three-game stretch during the first time in his career that he really received extended playing time.
In my opinion, it wasn’t a fluke. Jernigan (5-8, 189) can play. His biggest problem, however, is that his ideal position is as a slot receiver. That happens to be the spot where the Giants’ top receiver, Victor Cruz, thrives. And Cruz isn’t going anywhere.
Jernigan, even though some of his success last season came on the outside, is better suited for the slot. Once again, he’s unlikely to get that opportunity much this season as long as Cruz is healthy. That leaves him on the outside competing with first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle for playing time. Advantage … first-round pick, and Randle has been ahead of Jernigan on the depth chart since the day he arrived.
So, for now, Jernigan looks like an insurance policy rather than a significant contributor. He’ll be the backup plan in case something happens to Cruz, Beckham and Randle.
EDWARD VALENTINE/Big Blue View
Jernigan has the elusiveness to be a punt returner, but can’t consistently catch the ball. He has the ability to be a kickoff returner, but fumbled that chance away last year.
As a receiver, he is a slot guy and Victor Cruz is better. If Jernigan was better than Cruz, he would have been playing. If he was better on the outside than Hakeem Nicks, Reuben Randle or Mario Manningham before he left for the San Francisco 49ers he would have been playing. Fact is, he wasn’t.
Now, as for what to expect from him this season I just don’t know. Are we going to see the guy who caught 13 passes in his first 29 NFL games, of 19 in his last three? I think we will see a guy who has figured that, yes, he can play in the NFL. Do I think he will be a star? No. It will be interesting to see if he can get open if the Giants ask him to play on the outside more, or if Ben McAdoo will find ways to pair him with Cruz on the inside. It will also be interesting to see how many snaps Jernigan plays, since he is likely the No. 4 wide receiver.
I would think the Giants would be thrilled with 35-45 catches from Jernigan in 2014.
RALPH VACCHIANO/Daily News
Well first, there’s nothing we’ve really seen from Jerrel Jernigan since the end of last season that would be able to really tell us anything. The few practices the media have attended have been light practices and the Giants are obviously busy installing a new offense, so it’s hard to really analyze him. Probably the biggest tell about his status, though, is that they drafted a receiver in the first round. If they were comfortable with him as their third receiver, I’m not sure they would have done that. So the simple answer is this: Barring injury, his role is as the fourth receiver at best, behind Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Beckham.
I don’t know if I’d label his end of the season a fluke, though. It wasn’t the one-game flash we used to see from Ramses Barden. It was an impressive, three-game stretch. I don’t know that he’ll get that type of opportunity again, but I think it showed that he can be useful and productive in the right situations. He can be a weapon, and that’s important in this pass-happy era. A fourth receiver isn’t a huge part of an offense (when everyone is healthy) but it’s another player the defense needs to worry about. He showed speed, an ability to play above his 5-8 height, and the ability to get open and do something after the catch.
So maybe the Giants will occasionally work him into the slot, either to spell Cruz or to let Cruz do more on the outside. Maybe he’s just a change-of-pace guy for certain plays, depending on how he fits into Ben McAdoo’s scheme. Maybe he’s mostly on the field in spread formations (which would be a help so they don’t always have to spread with extra running backs or tight ends). But I think they’ll find a use for him. He probably won’t consistently be the six-catch, 80-yard guy he was at the end of last season, but he could be good for a catch or two per game, he could be a valuable replacement when necessary, and might even have a few big plays in him as the year goes along.
PATTI TRAINA/Inside Football, Bleacher Report, Sports Xchange
I’m probably going to be in the minority, but I don’t believe Jernigan is a lock to make the 53-man roster. I think he’s limited to filling two roles on this team, that as a slot receiver and as a return specialist.
Since the fourth and fifth receiver (like the fourth and fifth cornerback, safety, linebacker, etc.) usually needs to be able to contribute something on special teams, I think that Jernigan might be facing an uphill battle to stick if he can’t show that he’s able to do both roles.
I wrote about Jernigan possibly competing as a kickoff receiver for Bleacher Report last week. One thing I’ll add here is he’s had opportunities in each season he’s been in the league to emerge as a return specialist and that’s yet to happen, most likely due to ball security issues.
All it seems to take for head coach Tom Coughlin and special teams coordinator Tom Quinn to replace a return specialist is one strike. When a return specialist has a nine percent fumble rate in his career, that’s not a good stat.
I do not think that both Trindon Holliday, who in case you’re wondering, has an eight percent career fumble rate as a return specialist, and Jernigan are both going to make this roster.
Holliday looked very good during the spring, but we need to temper our enthusiasm because as we all know, there are no pads allowed during the spring.
One other thing that we need to bear in mind is that in Ben McAdoo’s offense, Rueben Randle could very well be the other receiver we see working from the slot (besides Victor Cruz, who’s among the best in the NFL right now working from the slot). I think they like to try to create size mismatches in the slot, and so we’ll see if anything comes out of the talk of Randle seeing more snaps from the slot.
So to answer the last part of the question, no, I don’t see Jernigan being a “big contributor” if he makes this team. I think your “big three” will be Rueben Randle, Cruz and Odell Beckham.