The competition for both roster spots and playing time at the wide receiver position is one of the most fascinating things taking place during training camp for the New York Giants this month. In advance of Friday's preseason opener vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, let's look at the two phases of that competition.
The Big Three
We know who these guys are.
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr. is back to try to build on his incredible rookie season. Whether he regresses a bit or not in terms of per-game production, he will be a forced to be reckoned with. If he wins the battle with his hamstrings.
Victor Cruz is returning from his torn patellar tendon. He is unquestionably second-fiddle to Beckham now, but if he is healthy enough to be something close to what he was at his best, he's a dynamic Robin to Beckham's Batman.
Rueben Randle is the third receiver, and a guy some believe is just figuring out how good he can be after a 2014 that saw him catch 71 passes.
Now, let's look at the actual competitions that are taking place.
Two spots (probably), four candidates
In addition to Beckham, Cruz and Randle, KR/WR Dwayne Harris is the fourth receiver with a roster spot locked up. He is one of the league's best special teamers and the Giants spent extraordinary money ($7.1 million guaranteed) to sign him in free agency. The Giants would seem likely to keep six. If they keep seven they would have to sacrifice at another position, leaving themselves dangerously thin somewhere.
Seems like I have written this over and over, but that leaves four NFL-caliber wide receivers -- five if you want to count Juron Criner -- competing for two spots. Let's assess each candidate thus far.
Preston Parker -- Caught 36 passes last year, returned punts and kickoffs adequately. If you had to guess, you might think that Harris makes Parker obsolete in this group. Harris a better returner than Parker, plus he plays on coverage teams where Parker doesn't really contribute. The Giants also think Harris was under-utilized as a wide receiver by the Dallas Cowboys.
Corey Washington -- Yes, yes. The fan base loves Washington because he caught some touchdown passes during the 2014 preseason. Everyone should understand by now, however, that preseason superstars don't always turn into regular-season superstars. The same way 5-0 preseason records like the Giants had in 2014 don't always portend regular-season success. Washington had a great spring, but he's had a pretty mundane camp thus far. He is going to have to step it up, including ... wait for it because you know it's coming ... making some actual plays on special teams to stick around. The reality it even if he makes the team he isn't likely to play a ton of snaps unless injuries strike, so he has to contribute on special teams.
Geremy Davis -- The sixth-round pick from UConn keeps earning plaudits as one of the standouts of training camp. At 6-foot-2, 216 pounds he offers size and strength comparable to Washington, and appears to have a better aptitude and mentality for special teams.
James Jones -- With the depth they have at wide receiver, some wondered why the Giants added Jones when a roster spot opened early in camp. The 31-year-old isn't a speed guy, but he has 383 catches in his career (a career-best 73 last year) and he shows why with his route-running and knowledge. The fact that he spent seven years with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo with the Green Bay Packers can't be underestimated.
Who will it be?
There are four preseason games to go before this decision has to get made. Right now, I really don't know. There really is no right or wrong answer if all four are healthy, only what the Giants are comfortable with. I keep coming back to Parker as an odd man out, though it wouldn't surprise me at all to be wrong. My guess is McAdoo will push hard for Jones to stay, and that GM Jerry Reese will want at least one of the youngsters on the roster, if not both.
If the choice was being made right now I'd guess Jones and Davis make the 53. I humbly reserve the right to change my mind, however.
Who is No. 4?
Well, that sort of depends on who makes the roster. The Giants pursued Harris because they felt Dallas didn't use him enough in the passing game. That still might be the case, but Harris' status as the fourth receiver is hardly a guarantee.
Jones has those 383 career catches and seven years with McAdoo. If he makes the team you would have to think it is because he is going to play. Washington, if he makes the team, could work into a red zone role as the fourth guy. We really aren't going to know the answer here until the regular season starts and we see how the Giants deploy their pass-catchers.