With New York Giants training camp beginning in late July, BigBlueInteractive.com breaks down each of the team’s positional groups until the players report at Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Wide Receivers
2014 YEAR IN REVIEW: Perhaps the two biggest story lines of the 2014 season for the New York Giants were at the wide receiver position. First came the devastating knee injury to Victor Cruz in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles on October 5. Cruz was lost for the final 11 games of the season and it remains to be seen if he will ever return to his pre-injury form.
The other major story line was the rapid emergence of Odell Beckham as an NFL superstar. Cruz and Beckham only played in two games together in 2014 before Cruz was lost for the season. Beckham had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, and he did so in only 12 games after missing most of training camp and all of the preseason. Indeed, Beckham became the only reason many Giants fans looked forward to tuning in in what otherwise was a very disappointing 6-10 season.
Aside from these two headliners, while Rueben Randle came on strong late, he did not have the type of season expected or hoped for, and the former 2nd rounder remains frustratingly inconsistent. Jerrel Jernigan, who came on very strong at the end of the 2013 NFL season, reverted back to his old disappointing form and was placed on IR after only two games. Preston Parker not only surprisingly made the team but became the new #3 receiver after Cruz was lost. Corey Washington was a preseason star who was little-used once the real bullets started flying. Marcus Harris impressed in training camp but missed the season with a hip injury. The Giants signed veteran Kevin Olgree in October, but he did not see much action. Julian Talley, Juron Criner, and Chris Harper were practice squad players.
In the end, it was Beckham and not much else at the crucial wide receiver spot. Other teams knew that too and still could not stop Beckham.
ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: The Giants released Kevin Ogletree in May after re-signing him in February and waived Marcus Harris in July. The team chose not to re-sign Jerrel Jernigan in free agency. The Giants signed Dwayne Harris from the Dallas Cowboys and drafted Geremy Davis in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. They also signed Ben Edwards, who was eligible to play in the NFL in 2014 after graduating from the University of Richmond, but sat out the year recovering from an ACL knee injury.
TRAINING CAMP STORY LINES: The two main stories are obviously going to be Beckham and Cruz. Can Beckham make the same impact or better in 2015 or will he regress? How will he handle the attention both on and off the field? How much of an impact will he make on the win-loss record? Beckham was once again nagged by a hamstring issue that caused him to miss most of the spring practices.
The other main story is Cruz. The Giants have repeatedly said that they are optimistic about his return to form, but there are no guarantees that may never be the same player again. If he isn’t the same player, it will be a big hit to the team as Cruz was one of the few impact players on the Giants. Cruz may also not be long for the Giants given his high price tag. But if Cruz does return to form, he and Beckham and Randle could form possibly the best receiving corps in football and help carry the team to the playoffs. So much of the team’s success depends on Beckham and Cruz. It will be interesting to see how much work Cruz gets at training camp and in the preseason. He appears to have made tremendous progress in his rehabilitation.
Randle also will also be under the spotlight. Although he had his best season to date in 2014, he was still inconsistent and was benched twice for disciplinary reasons. But he also exploded in the last two games, catching 12 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown. Plus it’s a contract year for Randle. If he plays like he did in the final two games, that will be a big asset for the Giants.
Corey Washington also made a lot of noise in the spring practices. “He has made some plays and has a better understanding of the offense in his second year and playing faster,” QB Eli Manning said. “I think he has always had the ability to make the great catch and run the go routes and fades but just kind of adding the complete package to his game.”
ON THE BUBBLE: The Giants will probably keep six wide receivers. Barring injury or unforeseen events, Beckham, Cruz, Randle, and special teams extraordinaire Dwayne Harris are the sure bets. That leaves two spots for Parker, Washington, Davis, Edwards, Criner, Talley, and Harper.
FROM THE POSITIONAL COACH: Sean Ryan on Odell Beckham: “A lot of different things (make him tick). Certainly going against a great challenge makes him tick. Last year, we would do a thing where every Friday I would give him a listing of the rookie receivers because it was a heck of class of rookie receivers. How many catches and yards and touchdowns they had, and certainly Week 5 he was down at zero and the other guys were up there. I think he thrives on challenges. You go out to Seattle and it is him versus Richard Sherman. I think that is what makes that guy tick. He is a true competitor…I think we were as creative last year as I have ever been and as we have ever been with any player, and certainly a rookie. This guy lined up in the slot, as the number one strong, the number one weak, in the backfield; we would motion him into the backfield, from the backfield. (Opponents) can plan for him, but the first thing is they have to find him.”
Ryan on Rueben Randle: “I thought Rube did a nice job. He is another guy that he is a really intelligent football player. The game makes sense to him, and things happen for him. He processes stuff really quickly and I think the more tape he watches and the more practice snaps he gets, the quicker that stuff happens for him and the quicker reactions he makes and I would say that is really what has shown up to me. The more football he plays, the better he gets. He sees things very quickly.”
Ryan on Corey Washington and Preston Parker: “I thought Corey Washington had an excellent spring. I thought he had an excellent spring in the classroom and in the meetings. His attitude was outstanding. He worked. He got better and we will compile all the catches, but he is right up there. I am not sure if he didn’t lead the pack in catches and productivity for the spring. He certainly stood out to me. I thought Preston made some great strides, in particular playing in the slot. He is seeing things a little bit better. He is seeing defenses, reacting to blitzes better, so I thought Preston did a great job. I think those two guys really stuck out to me.”
PREDICTIONS: Why have the Giants struggled so much since 2011? Because they haven’t had enough top NFL talent. Super Bowl-caliber teams need strong overall rosters but they also need impact players. It’s no accident that there has been a noticeable lack of NYG presence on “Top 100″, All-Star, and Pro Bowl lists. Two guys who can be impact players are Beckham and Cruz. And for the Giants to have any realistic shot at the Super Bowl, these two – along with Eli Manning – must carry the offense similar to what Manning, Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks did in the 2011 regular-season.
Beckham seems “Lawrence Taylor”-like to me. If he can do for the offense what LT did for the defense in the 1980’s, this is going to be a fun. I just hope the limelight doesn’t go to his head because that and injury appear the only things that can derail him.
As for Cruz, in a weird way, the injury may end up positively impacting his career. Since peaking in 2011-12, Cruz wasn’t playing up to the same level before the injury. The contract and limelight may have gotten to his head. Now Cruz will have to fight to prove the doubters wrong. He’s no longer the media darling. Beckham is. If his body doesn’t fail him, Cruz could rebound in a very big way. In the clutch, Eli trusts him. I think Cruz will be ready for opening night.
The Giants are in a catch-22 situation with Randle. If he has a big year, it’s hard to see him wanting to re-sign with the Giants next offseason unless the team decides to part ways with Cruz. On the other hand, if he remains inconsistent, the team may not want to keep him. Regardless, it’s a big year for him financially, and because of that, I expect him to play well.
“This is a big year for me, and I’m looking forward to being the player I know I can be,” said Randle. “I get it now. I know what’s expected of me, and now I’m just going to go out there and prove it every day. That’s my main focus.”
My ultimate prediction is that this trio will combine with Eli Manning to get the team back into the playoffs in 2015. Beckham, Cruz, and Randle have a higher upside than Cruz, Nicks, and Mario Manningham.
One final note. It seems as if the Giants may have an offensive role in mind for Harris too. They may move him around a bit like they do with Beckham to take advantage of his elusiveness with the ball in his hands after the catch.
FINAL DEPTH CHART: Beckham, Cruz, Randle, Harris, Davis, and Washington. The tough call here is on Preston Parker. He could push Davis or Washington.