Talk about the New York Giants these days and the conversation eventually turns to Victor Cruz. You might even say it's all Cruz all the time when it comes to the Giants as they prepare for Sunday's NFC Wild-Card game against the Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. ET/FOX).
Everyone wants to know about Cruz' meteoric rise from undrafted free agent out of UMass who had never caught an NFL pass entering this season to franchise record-setting, salsa dancing mega-star who is feared by fans of opposing teams, has his touchdown dance copied by opposing players and hears chants of 'CRUUUUUUUUUUZ' from adoring fans every time he catches a pass.
Cruz' incredible play on the field (82 receptions, a franchise record 1,539 yards) and his magnetic personality (see his Madison Square Garden halftime salsa dance) have vaulted him to stardom.
Check out what Jason Kirk of SB Nation Atlanta had to say about Cruz in a recent chat I had with him.
"This Victor Cruz guy is an individual I'd rather have no part of," Kirk said. "He will get two touchdowns on Sunday, I'm confident."
Over at SB Nation's Falcons website, The Falcoholic, the folks there are wondering just how good Cruz is. 'Falcoholic' uses a variety of Football Outsiders stats and comes up with the following thoughts:
- "I think you'll find that Victor Cruz, in spite of his great season, is not on the level of Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald."
- "... due to the nature of [Atlanta cornerback] Brent Grimes, I think Cruz can be mostly a non-factor."
- "I do not fear Victor Cruz ... I think Cruz can be shut down."
Some of you will take offense to these comments, I'm sure. I don't because the writer uses the information at his disposal and his knowledge of the Falcons to offer a well-researched opinion. What I marvel at, though, is how much attention a guy who had never caught an NFL pass before this season -- and wasn't even drafted -- is now commanding.
Falcons' wide receiver Roddy White, a three-time Pro Bowler who has at least 100 catches in each of the past two seasons, offered his own thoughts on Cruz.
The Falcons receiver told reporters that the Paterson native is in for a "rude awakening" next season when teams begin game-planning to stop him after his breakout season.
But White added: "Any time you put up those kinds of numbers, he’s going to be in for a really good pay day. But he deserves it. Any guy that goes out there and puts up 1,500 yards, that’s remarkable."
Giants quarterback Eli Manning is already noticing teams changing the way they play Cruz.
"Some teams are kind of doubling him, driving him with a DB and a safety," Manning said. "Some teams are going to play him a little differently. I don't know if that's what Atlanta will do, if that's their style. Some teams have been making sure they keep two guys over him."
Cruz, of course, replaced Steve Smith when Smith bolted -- foolishly, it turns out -- to the Philadelphia Eagles. When I look at Cruz, I see an improved version of Smith. Sort of a Steve Smith 2.0, if you will.
Both are 6-feet tall, with Cruz weighing about 10 pounds more. Comparing Smith and Cruz when Smith was Manning's go-to guy in New York, both are superb route-runners who can work themselves free, and both excel in the slot.
Cruz, though, has two things Smith never had. The first is escapability. Where Smith was always a 'catch and fall down' guy, Cruz is a 'the play is only getting started when he catches the ball' guy. For Smith, the catch was the play. For Cruz, he is looking to make a play once he gets the ball -- and he has the moves and speed to get it done.
The other difference is Cruz's ability to make plays deep down the field. Smith's career-best yards per catch average is 11.4. Cruz has averaged 18.7 yards per catch this season. That isn't necessarily speed, largely it's will and toughness you would not think Cruz possesses by simply looking at him.
How long can Cruz' incredible ride last? Atlanta's White doesn't know, despite whatever he may say. Neither do I. No one does.
We don't know when, or if, Cruz may suffer the first debilitating injury to his legs -- robbing him of some of the speed and shiftiness that makes him special. All of the attention Cruz is getting from the media and the public is heady stuff for a 25-year-old who has never seen this type of treatment before, and no one knows how well he will handle it in the end. If and when he gets the rich contract White spoke about it is impossible to predict how that might affect his willingness to lay himself on the line to make plays.
All we know for sure is that the coming out party sure has been a lot of fun. Let's hope the dancing continues for a long time to come.