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Position review: Production didn’t match the names at wide receiver for Giants

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Figuring out the reasons for that is the hard part

NFL: Preaseason-New England Patriots at New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The wide receiving group of Odell Beckham Jr., finally healthy and returning former star Victor Cruz and exciting second-round draft pick Sterling Shepard were supposed to be the unstoppable force in an explosive New York Giants’ offense in 2016. We all know it didn’t work out that way for the Giants.

Let’s continue our position-by-position profiles by looking at what went wrong there, where expectations were likely flawed, and what the Giants can do to improve at wide receiver in 2017.

2016 season

Odell Beckham Jr. posted a terrific-looking stat line of 101 catches, 1,367 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. Reality is, though, all of his numbers were down from his first two seasons. Beckham played in 16 games for the first time, but had career-worst averages in many categories. Among those were yards per reception (13.5), touchdowns (10), receptions per game (6.3), yards per game (85.4) and catch percentage (59.8). Beckham also had a career-high six dropped passes in the regular season.

Shepard and Cruz, on paper, were a higher-upside duo that Rueben Randle and Wayne Harris as the second and third wide receivers. Things didn’t really work out that way:

2015 (Randle/Harris combined)
93 receptions, 1,193 yards, 12.8 yards per catch, 12 touchdowns

2016 (Shepard/Cruz)
104 receptions, 1,269 yards, 12.2 yards per catch, 9 touchdowns

Cruz and Shepard basically equaled Randle and Harris. Perhaps expectations were too high for Cruz coming off two serious leg injuries and for Shepard as a rookie.

Harris, a year after proving to be a capable wide receiver with 36 receptions and four scores, was forgotten. He had one catch. Roger Lewis Jr. flashed, but had just seven catches and was really a non-factor at the end. Tavarres King was ignored until Week 17.

2017 free agents

None

Offseason decisions to make

Obviously, the first thing the Giants need to do is decide Cruz’s fate. He carries a $9.4 million cap hit in 2017, and it would be stunning — not to mention foolhardy — for the Giants to pay him that much. Will they ask him to take a pay cut? Will Cruz agree to one for the second straight year? Will the Giants just cut him and move on?

Beyond that, the Giants need to decide why they didn’t get the production they anticipated from their wide receivers. In 2015, the Giants had 53 passing plays of 20 yards or more, and 16 of at least 40 yards. In 2016, those numbers were 46 and 11, respectively. The Giants passed for 26 yards fewer per game in 2016 than they had a year ago.

Did the Giants misjudge the talent they had? Did they misuse it? Was the play-calling too vanilla, too predictable? ESPN says some in the locker room apparently believe that to be the case. Do they need a bigger wide receiver to complement Beckham and Shepard? That is something yours truly believes the Giants need to consider.

All season all we heard was that teams were playing the Giants in a fashion (two high safeties) that did not allow their passing game to function the way they wanted it to. All season we waited for an adjustment in philosophy or personnel packages to counter-act that. It never came.

Draft/FA priority level

Medium. Maybe high. My guess is finding a big target on the outside who can win one-on-one matchups and make difficult catches in traffic is something the Giants will try to accomplish. The answer could come be either finding a wide receiver who fits the description, or by drafting a hybrid tight end to cause matchup issues for linebackers or safeties.

We will have to wait to see just how high of a priority the Giants believe this spot to be, but it won’t be a surprise at all if some of the personnel changes at this spot.