The New York Giants wide receivers suffered a tremendous loss on Thursday when Hakeem Nicks fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. After last offseason and the flurry of devastating injuries that plagued several key players such as Jonathon Goff, Prince Amukamara and Osi Umenyoira, one can not help but to get nervous that a repeat could be in store this offseason.
Obviously, nobody wants to see such a great talent like Nicks get hurt; however, his absence will give other members of the Giants' young receiving core an opportunity to get more reps in practice and more experience in preseason games. Let's take a look at who the Giants will turn to while Nicks is rehabbing his foot, and we will also examine how they can benefit from the increased exposure they will receive.
Victor Cruz - Cruz shocked the world last year when he came from nowhere to break Amani Toomer's franchise receiving record; however, he benefited immensely from the attention defense's had to pay to Hakeem Nicks and even Mario Manningham. With Manningham gone and Nicks injured, Cruz will see increased attention from defenses in both practice and early preseason games. Furthermore, Cruz saw most of his success last season while playing in the slot. The injury to Nicks will force the Giants to explore playing Cruz on the outside, which could increase his versatility throughout the season.
Rueben Randle – The rookie 2nd round pick out of LSU has received rave reviews from the New York Giants coaching staff, and could be the greatest beneficiary of Hakeem Nicks' absence. Without Nicks in the lineup, Randle will be taking first team reps throughout training camp. Increased first team reps can be invaluable experience for a rookie, and will also help him build chemistry with quarterback Eli Manning.
Domenik Hixon – Hixon is coming of two seasons of back-to-back ACL tears; however, he is healthy again and hopefully able to contribute to the team. If Hixon still possesses that break away speed that we have seen from him in the past, he could be a natural replacement for Mario Manningham, who was always a deep threat down the field. Without Nicks for at least the beginning of training camp, Hixon will have increased opportunities to showcase his ability.
Ramses Barden – Barden can be viewed as a poor man's Plaxico Burress. He does not possess tremendous speed or elite catching ability, but he stands 6'6 and weighs 224lbs. Barden is a physical player that is capable of taking advantage of smaller defenders. This year is a make or break year for Barden, the 4th year player out of Cal Poly, who has been plagued by injury throughout his career. With Nicks out of commission for an extended period of time, this could be Barden's last opportunity to prove his critics wrong.
Jerrel Jernigan – The second year 3rd round pick out of Troy saw very few opportunities to showcase his abilities last year. Although Tom Coughlan and Jerry Reese talked about Jernigan as a potential option at the 3rd receiver earlier in the preseason, they went ahead and drafted Rueben Randle anyway. Look for Jernigan to come into training camp with a chip on his shoulder and take advantage of whatever opportunities he is given.
Although Hakeem Nicks' initial prognosis called for a 12 week recovery, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that he could be back to full strength within 4-6 weeks. Schefter's report could be optimistic because the Giants surely will not rush such a key asset like Hakeem Nicks back on the field before he is one hundred percent healthy, and it is likely that he will miss at least a portion of training camp.
Immediately after Nicks went down, speculation arose that the Giants could look to free agency to add depth, and Plaxico Burress' name was even floated out there. It would be uncharacteristic of General Manger Jerry Reese to make a flashy signing at this point of the offseason. Therefore, it is more likely the Giants will look within their current receiving to core step up until Nicks recovers fully.
The increased reps that are going to be given to the younger receivers such as Randle, Jernigan, and Barden could enable one of them to have a breakout year similar to that of Victor Cruz last year.When Nicks returns, he will be coming back to a receiving core that will be more NFL ready than it otherwise would have been. Look for the New York Giants receivers to continue to be extremely dangerous in 2012.
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