Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are Fantasy Must Haves (at the right price)

Dynamic Duo - Nick Laham

The current wealth of the New York Giants wide receiving corps is discussed today, as well as compared to an overall pass happy league. While the Giants Dynamic Duo may produce huge fantasy numbers this year, how do we know where to draft them?

The importance of drafting a Wide Receiver high in fantasy drafts has never been lower. With the NFL making rule changes every time you turn around. The defense has never been more at a disadvantage. Quarterbacks are free to pick apart toothless secondaries and rack up numbers that have never been seen in the modern game, while defenses have to play Roger Goodell’s version of flag football. The game is safer for the receiver, but almost impossible for a defensive back.

The reason I have the wide receiver position as a low draft priority is not because of a lack of production, but the exact opposite. There is production everywhere. Wide receivers can step up off the streets and became productive fantasy receivers. Just look at Danario Alexander and Cecil Shorts III last year. Alexander was a balky knee free agent who found his way into many fantasy lineups while Shorts III was a small school (Mount Union) after thought that played at an elite level for a number of games last year. Alexander averaged 92.5 yards and .833 TDs from week 9 to week 14 when he became the only reliable target for Phillip Rivers in San Diego. Shorts III averaged 90 yards and .625 TDs from weeks 7 through 15 when he finally became a full time starter for the Jaguars. For comparisons sake A J Green who finished as one of the top fantasy wide receivers last year and is projected in my top 6 this year averaged 84.375 yards and .6875 TDs over the course of 16 games. It just goes to show you that production can come from anywhere in the draft or on the waiver wire when it comes to the wide receiver position.

NFL teams used to have one fantasy relevant receiver, but now some teams feature as many as three high-round draftable wide receivers. The addition of Wes Welker in Denver makes for a great competition for targets between him, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. While many teams feature fantasy stud bookends like the Giants, some teams still sadly have no sure fire fantasy starters such as the NY Jets, and the Oakland Raiders, but these are the exceptions to the rule.

I currently only have six wide receivers as my clear cut WR1s and 20 others as low-end WR1 to WR2 status. That’s 26 wide receivers who are virtually interchangeable. There are draft tiers within the 26, but overall it’s hard to separate the masses. I have never seen a list that screamed at me to wait more than this year’s wide receivers list. I have a few wide receivers that could make a charge up to top 3 statuses with improved play either by themselves or by their quarterbacks. Larry Fitzgerald could make the leap back up to elite if Carson Palmer resembles the guy we knew in Cincinnati and falls in love with Fitzgerald as a target. While Dez Bryant closed out last season like a man on fire and could continue his maturation into becoming a top 3 fantasy wide receiver. Last, but certainly not least, is Roto-darling Julio Jones. Jones has been trumpeted as the next Calvin Johnson for two years now, but the presence of Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez always make his targets and production less than expected. (Not to mention his balky hamstrings)

We, as Giants fans, are living in a golden age of fantasy wide receiver relevance. We have two wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz who could easily play up to WR1 status and at worst are excellent WR2 options. The only draw-back for a lot of us is "Giant fan draft bias" in a lot of our leagues. What I mean by "Giant fan draft bias" is we may have to reach a little during the draft to get our Giants’ wide receivers as there are usually a few fans of the Giants in our local in-person drafted leagues. Reaching a little for Hakeem Nicks over say Vincent Jackson is not a big deal. Nicks or Jackson could and should play to WR1 status and you might as well have a Giant to root for doubly on Sundays. But taking Victor Cruz over Calvin Johnson may be a mortal sin. I have to check on that, but I’m pretty sure.

Giant fan fantasy GMs have had a long drought at the wide receiver position, as far as having a clear cut WR1 to draft and root for. Plaxico Burress was a high end WR2 in his heyday with the Giants while Steve Smith was a WR1 in PPR leagues during the 2009 season. Amani Toomer had a nice run as a WR2 from 1999 to 2003 as he averaged 1,169 yards receiving and 6.5 touchdowns, but only threatened WR1 status once. Toomer’s 2002 season of 1,343 yards receiving and 8 TDs was the standard of New York Giants fantasy receiver production before the current dynamic duo.

Just to prove a point let’s have a trivia question.

Question: Which decade saw more Giants' 1,000-yard wide receivers (and who were they) the '80s or '90s? Answer provided at the bottom.

While Burress could be counted on for touchdowns and Smith for receptions, no one could combine the overall receiver skills that both Nicks and Cruz possess. They can both challenge the 100-reception plateau and should easily reach 1000 yards. They can score from anywhere on the field and both could make a run at the league lead in touchdowns. The emergence of Rueben Randle as a third receiver and the additions of Brandon Myers and Louis Murphy should also free up Nicks and Cruz to become even more valuable moving forward. Not to mention they are both vying for lucrative long term contracts.

Nicks played as mostly a decoy last year as foot and knee issues held up his production (692 yards and 3 TDs). Cruz was forced to carry the load and showed some inconsistency in his game as he had some drops (fourth in the league with 12) and frustrating play. Mike Francesa recently intimated that Cruz had lost a step while speaking on his radio show, but I did not see that when I watched the film. I saw a team that was not able to free up their weapon on enough occasions as Nicks was injured and Hixon was playing on two bad knees. Ramses Barden received the same attention from secondaries as he did in free-agency, none, when he was forced into the lineup. This lack of a secondary option forced Cruz into facing double and triple teams and bracket coverage in many games. Cruz and Nicks should be hungry as they are both in contract years and could push the Giants passing game to heights never before reached.

Not since Homer Jones during the 1967 season have the Giants had the No. 1 overall fantasy wide receiver. That drought could easily come to an end if the Giants fire on all cylinders this season. The best part is it could be Cruz or Nicks who makes the leap to league leader and we, as Giants’ fans and fantasy GMs, can reap the benefits. Barring injuries and contract holdouts I project Victor Cruz to post 1,280 receiving yards with 9 touchdowns and Hakeem Nicks to go for 1,330 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. I like both in the third to fourth round in most redraft formats. If you can get Nicks in the top of the fifth round count yourself lucky and ahead of the game as his injury history might see his stock fall.

You can follow me on twitter @coachesser or contact me on my Facebook page CoachEsser’s Playbook with any questions or comments. You can also go to my website, www.coachesser.com, to see my latest rankings and articles on fantasy sports. My first pre-season rankings will be up on July 1st as I wait for mini-camps and OTAs to come to a close.

Trivia Answer: The 1980s had two Giants receivers hit the 1,000-yard mark as Earnest Gray had 1,139 yards in 1983 and Lionel Manuel had 1,029 in 1988. Amani Toomer was the only Giant to catch passes for more than 1,000 yards during the 1990s when in 1999 he had 1,183 yards receiving.

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