Hello Giants fans! This is my second piece in this "series" about players who are extremely valuable to the Giants, but are seemingly undervalued and not talked about by the general fanbase. Today's piece is about Mr. Domenik Hixon, a very talented veteran Wide Receiver who has suffered some setbacks during his career as a Giant. And by setbacks I mean two ACL tears. In the same leg. The fact that Hixon has come back and continued with his NFL career is admirable, but the fact that he has come back and consistently been a contributor to our offense is even more important.
This circus catch against the Rams is where Hixon tore his ACL for a second time. Some people said this would be the end of his career, but Hixon wouldn't let his injuries keep him down.
I love any picture that makes the Eagles look foolish. Also notice Hixon watches the ball all the way into his hands and makes the grab. Very nice.
In the offseason the Giants lost Mario Manningham to the 49'ers in Free Agency. As we all know, this vacated the third Wide Receiver spot on the Giants roster and began a very detailed discussion as to who would take over Mario's former role. Some candidates that were listed for the job included Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan, Ruben Randle, UDFA David Douglas, and of course the returning Domenik Hixon. Some predicted that Ramses would finally emerge, some thought Jernigan may use his speed to snag the role (that was me by the way), and some still thought that a rookie like Douglas or Randle would earn the spot and surprise us all.
It was Domenik Hixon that was the only player who really wasn't talked about all that much. Even our own Ed Valentine predicted that Hixon would not make the 53 man roster at the end of the preseason. And honestly who can blame him, or anyone who counted out Hixon? Two ACL tears in the same knee is a very big deal, and Hixon had always gotten by on his speed and Special Teams abilities more than he did his receiving talents. In fact let me remind you of the speed and elusiveness that Hixon once possessed.
See that? Hixon really used to have some burners before his injuries ultimately slowed him down. Yet despite being twice injured and none of the fans really giving him a shot, Hixon has stepped up and done a very nice job in the third receiver role for Eli and the Giant's offense.
Despite winning the third receiver role, there have been times this season where Hixon has played opposite of Victor Cruz as the second receiver due to injury to Hakeem Nicks. This is probably why Hixon is tied for third as far as receptions go, hauling in 22 passes this season. Hixon is behind only Cruz and Martellus Bennett, and shares the same amount of receptions with Hakeem Nicks.
Another stat that I find rather telling is the fact that Hixon is behind only Barden for having the most Yards Per Reception, and Barden's stats are skewed because he had only one big game, which came against the Panthers. Hixon averages 15.7 yards per reception, which tells us that he is either running very good routes and getting behind the defenders, or he is creating Yards After the Catch. From what I have seen Hixon's high YPC is due to him just running great routes and creating space on the field. You won't see a lot of shake and bake from Hixon this year, so he's getting by on his veteran ability to read the defense and be where Eli is going to throw the ball.
If you wanted to argue against Hixon having a good year, you could point out that he does not have a Touchdown reception so far this season. While this is true, Touchdowns can be a rather deceiving statistic. With weapons like Cruz, Bennett, and Nicks (sometimes), it's not odd that Hixon has not developed into a redzone target. Like I said above he doesn't have break away speed anymore so he won't turn an average catch into a huge play like Cruz does, and he doesn't possess the size to be a huge target in the endzone like Bennett. What Hixon has been good at this year is sustaining drives for the Giants and getting them into scoring position.
Style of Play
In my last post about Linval Joseph I was able to go into depth about his style of play because I had played Defensive Tackle before. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for my team), I have never played the Wide Receiver position before, so if my knowledge is a bit lacking please excuse my ignorance of the position.
One thing that I can say about Domenik Hixon though is that he is very adaptable. As I mentioned earlier Hixon has lost a lot of his speed and explosive burst after tearing his ACL twice, so he had to make the change from a speedy, elusive receiver into that of a possession receiver. The difference between the two is quite large, and Hixon has been able to bridge the gap between the two in an excellent manner.
Pictured above is a basic receiving route tree. The route difference between a possession receiver and a quick, speed type of receiver has its variances. Starting with the speed receiver, they will mostly run the longer routes since they can cover a lot of ground and "take the top off the defense". Mostly these receivers will stick with the Flag, Streak, and Post routes, but they can also be used to catch the defense off guard and run short slant routes, the outcome hopefully being that they can make some people miss and turn it into a huge play. This is about what Victor Cruz does when he plays the slot for the Giants. Screen plays also usually go to these receivers if they aren't going to the Running Back.
Possession receivers on the other hand will run about everything else, which includes the In, Out, Curl/Hitch, Slant, and Drag. The ideal possession receiver has very solid hands and uses crisp route running to create separation from the defender. If you're looking for examples of possession receivers in Giants history all you have to do is look back a few years to Steve Smith, or a few years further back in Amani Toomer. Toomer made his career off of being able to find soft spots in the defense and being in position to move the chains for the offense. Since Toomer mostly played the second outside receiver position (especially after the arrival of Plaxico Burress), I think he is the best comparison for Hixon. Smith was a slot receiver that utilized the middle of the field more than the sidelines.
One positive about Hixon transitioning into a possession receiver is that he has become more patient and seems to watch the ball into his hands more often, more concerned about making the catch instead of making the play. Now he's not immune to drops and he has had a few this year, but he certainly is a reliable target for Eli. I myself am slightly shocked when I see him let one go every once in a while. And please don't mention his big drop against the Eagles, that play should not define the man's career.
So far this season Hixon has been a pleasant surprise, being a reliable target and playing to what are now his strengths for the betterment of our offense. It's tough not to admire his toughness and determination to come back after many pronounced his career dead. While he might not light up the highlight reel, Hixon will put other players on the offense in position to make the big plays. It may turn out that he is replaceable down the road, especially with Ruben Randle being a highly talented player with a lot of potential, Hixon is going to be a quiet component to the Giants winning games this year and we're very fortunate to have him back as a Giant this season. And I'll leave you with this, because it is quite honestly an amazing catch.