Let's see here.
Six-foot-1. Meh, could do better. Just about average.
208 pounds. Meh, could do better. Just about average.
4.53 40-yard dash. Actually not that good. Kind of slow.
He's no Amani Toomer. He's no Plaxico Burress. He's no Victor Cruz.
He's the forgotten man in the national media, who are slobbering over Dez Bryant's "potential" or salivating over Desean Jackson's speed. He's never, ever mentioned among the top WRs in the game. Hell, he's almost an afterthought when talking about these WRs anyway.
Let's take a look at Hakeem Nicks' stats for his first three years and compare them to WRs that are often thought of as "good as", "better than," or my personal favorite..."have a much higher ceiling than" our superstar.
First, lets look at Hakeem Nicks:
2009 (14 games): 47 rec, 790 yards, 16.8 YPC, 6 TDs
2010 (13 games): 79 rec, 1052 yards, 13.3 YPC, 11 TDs
2011 (15 games): 76 rec, 1192 yards, 15.7 YPC, 7 TDs
Now, a player that is often regarded as one of the top WRs in the game, Vincent Jackson (last 3 healthy years):
2008 (16 games): 59 rec, 1098 yards, 18.6 YPC, 7 TDs
2010 (15 games): 68 rec, 1167 yards, 17.2 YPC, 9 TDs
2011 (16 games): 60 rec, 1106 yards, 18.4 YPC, 9 TDs
Let's take a look, now, at Desean Jackson's first 4 years in the NFL:
2008 (16 games): 62 rec, 912 yards, 16.6 YPC, 2 TDs
2009 (15 games): 62 rec, 1156 yards, 18.6 YPC, 9 TDs
2010 (14 games): 47 rec, 1056 yards, 22.5 YPC, 6 TDs
2011 (15 games): 58 rec, 961 yards, 16.6 YPC, 4 TDs
Jeremy Maclin is often thought of as Hakeem Nicks' main rival:
2009 (15 games): 56 rec, 773 yards, 13.8 YPC, 4 TDs
2010 (16 games): 70 rec, 964 yards, 13.8 YPC, 10 TDs
2011 (13 games): 63 rec, 859 yards, 13.6 YPC, 5 TDs
And now my favorite, Dez Bryant, ye of greater fame but lesser production:
2010 (12 games): 45 rec, 561 yards, 12.5 YPC, 6 TDs
2011 (15 games): 63 rec, 928 yards, 14.7 YPC, 9 TDs
As you can see, just based on the raw stats here, Nicks is awfully close to VJax. If he stays healthy, his numbers look pretty much identical. He's outplayed Desean Jackson last year, and their career stats look pretty comparable. Nicks ends up beating out Maclin every year and destroys Bryant as well. So much for that.
But those are just raw stats. Volume stats, if you want to be fair about it. Take a look at this great fanpost here by AntonioNickerson, a Cowboys fan.
It was intended as a post for Dez Bryant, but it proves Nicks' brilliance just a bit more. It compares production of 1st round WRs through 2005 in their first two years. Hakeem Nicks was among the top performers in all categories, but what really took me by surprise that Nicks has led those WRs in TDs per game and Yards per game. And yes, this list includes the current top WR in the league, Calvin Johnson.
FootballOutsiders, which has its own methods of determining success via their DYAR stat, ranked Nicks as the 6th best WR in the league in 2010, and 9th in 2011. You can find their stats and methodology here: http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/wr
Taking a closer look into last year's numbers, what made what Nicks did so impressive is when he produced his plays. When the Giants were behind, an astonishing 74.2% of his catches went for 1st downs. When behind, he had 13 plays of 20+ yards and 3 of 40+.
He did his best work in the 4th quarter, with 4 TDs (more than any other quarter) and 7 catches of 20+ yards (more than any other quarter). We credit Eli Manning for being incredibly clutch. He can't do it alone.
On top of that, Nicks is consistent. In the past two years, he's had only 6 games of less than 50 yards. That's it. For the most part, he's always shown up to play, and almost always produces.
Finally, I'd be remiss without talking about Nicks' performance in the playoffs. Just take a look at this:
vs ATL: 6 rec, 115 yards, 2 TDs
vs GB: 7 rec, 165 yards, 2 TDs
vs SF: 5 rec, 55 yards, 0 TDs
vs NE: 10 rec, 109 yards, 0 TDs
444 yards (2nd most in NFL playoff history - behind only the great Larry Fitzgerald). 4 TDs. 3 out 4 games surpassing 100 yards (and the one game he didn't he was injured early in the game).
Everybody remembers Mario Manningham's catch from the Superbowl, but Nicks had the quietest 100 yard game in recent memory. Nicks is a statistical monster, even if nobody realizes it. It's not easy to be a 1200 yard WR in this league, yet Nicks achieved just that last year (well almost, but we can round up 8 yards!).
Okay, so we looked at the statistical aspect of Nicks' game. Let's look at some games of his (the ones available on YouTube by the very great resource NYGiantsCentral)
I've described what I look for in a WR in this fanpost about Rueben Randle, right here:
Let's take that methodology and look at some plays and why I think Nicks is just swell.
So what we'll do here is just take a small tour of a couple games of Nicks, starting with a very recent example in the Arizona desert. Forward to about 0:50. A small example of his adjustment skills. He will dive, jump, muscle, and squeeze his way to any ball within his catch radius. In this one, he's battling a contested ball with the Cardinal corner, and has the wherewithal to stretch out and jump for the catch.
Now forward to 1:20, for one of his favorite plays, the WR bubble screen. He's extremely slippery, and extremely strong. These plays are almost always at least 7-8 yard gainers for that reason, he can make moves in that limited tunnel and have the strength to fight off the first one or two guys that come after him.
3:36. He's got one of these plays every game that make you say "Ughhh. Unbelievable!" but not in the Al Michaels/Chris Collinsworth way. Just a thing of absolute beauty and power. Completely contested play, he had no business catching that ball, nor staying on his feet. That is what makes Hakeem Nicks so special. That combination of his adjustment to the ball, his physicality at the point of the catch, his strength to maintain the catch, and his balance to stay up and get extra yardage.
Hakeem Nicks vs Dallas (2010) (via NYGiantsCentral)
First off, let me be the first to say I got really pissed off when Troy Aikman said that Nicks is the Giants' version of Dez Bryant. No. No. NO. Dez Bryant can only hope to be what Hakeem Nicks already is. He starts off this video with a quick snapshot as to why he is a top WR.
Let me put it bluntly, Hakeem Nicks' blend of route running and body control is virtually unmatched by anybody else in this league. The only two players I'd put above him in this regard are Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson, both of whom are not human in their adjustment to the ball as well as their precision route running. Nicks showed that body control in this play. He's not the biggest WR at 6'1, 208, but he plays like he's 6'4 230. He starts off with a stutter move, quick slant on the outside, and the back shoulder throw by Eli is thrown before Nicks even turns around. He times it perfectly, gets elevation, and blocks out the corner for a perfectly indefensible pitch and catch.
The very next play in the video shows how he gets separation with his route running. He's not the fastest guy on the field, but he's got what I call "hidden speed." His cuts are based on timing, and they are so precise that his connection with Eli allows him to catch the ball as soon as he breaks out of cut, without having to wait. We see that here.
Don't even get me started on his strength while catching the ball. He's about as strong at the point of the catch as any WR I've ever seen. If its in his mitts, chances are he's going to hold on to the ball. We see that strength again at 2:05. Just so difficult to bring down during and after the catch.
Please watch 2:37 of this video now. No explanation needed. Seriously, just go watch it. Want to talk about catch radius? Yeah.
The biggest problem with Hakeem comes at around 2:50. He'll have those easy drops sometimes. Not too many times, but just lapses in concentration. He's nowhere close to Roddy White or Braylon Edwards in that respect, but just something to improve on.
As for the last play in the video, it didn't count because of a holding (much to the glee of our announcers no doubt), but Nicks rolls up everything that we've been talking about right there.
Here's a game versus the Texans. Go on over to the 2nd play or so. Another beautiful example how he strong enough to post up on the defender (in this case, 1st rounder Kareem Jackson) and take him out of the play.
Move on over to 1:08, and by now I think the Texans realized that they're going up against cheatcode. His hands are SO FREAKING BIG. Again, we see that adjustment to the ball, leap up, recover, maintain balance, take a great angle to the sideline, use a little wiggle, and get a massive gain. That just isn't fair. He plucks the ball from the air at its highest point almost like a vacuum.
Oh c'mon now. 1:25. Just stop it, Hakeem, you're scaring the children.
Do you guys want one more? One more? Aw, why not.
Hakeem Nicks vs Green Bay (2011) (via NYGiantsCentral)
0:21 - Once again shows his ability to separate when he NEEDS to separate. Separation doesn't mean maintaining a 5 yard cushion against the DB. It means when its time to catch the ball, your arms and the ball are away from the defender. Nicks' physicality provides a great way to create separation. Though he's sneaky fast, its his great hands and strength that got him with this one. Unfortunately he didn't stay inbounds, but that was amazing.
What also makes Hakeem so dangerous is that not only is he a great possession receiver, but he can be an equal powerful deep threat. He tracks the ball in the air as well as anyone. We see that at 1:00. We also see that strength to hold on to the ball once it lands in his hands.
And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention 2:20. Incredible tracking of the ball, great hands, amazing body control.
At this point, I sound like a broken clock. But hell, it works. You don't always need speed to separate. You need those adjustment skills, that strength, that body control. That's uncoachable.
I'm looking to see Hakeem (with more coverage rolled over to Victor Cruz) to really light this league on fire this year. 1300+ yards with double digit touchdowns should be attainable for him if he can stay healthy. Maybe this year is the year he finally gets his respect.
And if not, that's okay. Because beyond his fantastic football skills, he knows how to work the ladies too.
Hakeem Nicks: Quickest Hands in the NFL? (via ripparty)