Coming off their Super Bowl championship 2011 season, the New York Giants are primed to create the NFL's next dynasty. In their minds, there is no reason they cannot win the next five or more Super Bowl titles.
One rising star that has already established himself as one of the NFL's best receivers is Victor Cruz. After missing the entire 2010 season on injured reserve, Cruz began playing more and more after Domenik Hixon and Mario Manningham both got hurt.
He started nine of the 16 games in which he played and had an amazing breakout season with 82 receptions, 1,536 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
With a big raise coming up after his current contract is up, Cruz should continue to be one of the most exciting players in the league in the 2012 season. Here are 10 reasons why he will be the Giants' best players this fall.
Unlike last year, Cruz will not have to worry about competing for a starting spot at wide receiver. The two starting spots will belong to him and Hakeem Nicks, with Domenik Hixon backing them up, assuming he stays healthy for the first time in three years.
After being signed as an undrafted free agent, Cruz had never experienced the security and peace of mind of knowing that he will have a guaranteed starting spot.
He also will not have to worry about being benched or even released. He will be here to stay which could help Cruz mentally. He can focus on his game without having to worry about what could happen if he does not succeed on every play.
Despite Cruz's breakout season in 2011, his teammate Hakeem Nicks is still the most established Giants receiver. As a result, Nicks is likely to get better coverage from opposing secondaries.
Thus, an opposing team's second cornerback will probably cover Cruz because he may be still viewed as a one year wonder.
This of course depends on what type of defense each team plays and how they maneuver their pass coverage. Regardless, both Cruz and Nicks will get solid coverage from the opposition, but Nicks will probably get the better of a team's two starting cornerbacks.
With former teammate Mario Manningham now a member of the San Francisco 49ers, look for Cruz to become quarterback Eli Manning's new safety net receiver. In other words, Cruz will become the one player that Manning can depend on to be open on any given play.
For Cruz, this will mean more targets and potential receptions, which of course should lead to more touchdowns. The Giants won't even need to necessarily use Cruz as a consistent deep threat because—as evidenced by his 99-yard touchdown in Week 16 of last season against the New York Jets—Cruz can create long touchdowns with his legs as well.
On that play, 89 of those 99 yards were after reception, which goes to show how agile Cruz is.
The Giants' 2012 offense will return almost everyone from the 2011 championship team. Manning has now proven himself to be one of the top five quarterbacks in the league.
With two Super Bowl titles and two Super Bowl MVP awards under his belt, he really does not have much else to prove.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has consistently been a good running back, but one that also had injury and fumbling issues over the years. Fans will probably expect more of the same from him.
The offensive line is one of the best in the league. Since they are also also younger than before, this group won't necessarily have to prove as much as they did last season.
Jake Ballard and the Giants' other tight ends are not considered to be the very best in the league, so expectations for them will not be particularly high in 2012. Although, Ballard can definitely outperform all expectations once again.
As for Nicks, he has already proven that he is one of the 10, if not five best receivers in the NFL. He is going to be a perennial Pro Bowler for years to come.
This leaves us with Cruz, the one player on the Giants' offense that has only had one good season. Cruz has by far the most to prove in the 2012 season amongst all Giants' offensive players.
Assuming he stays healthy, he will not disappoint anyone and could have an even better season in the fall.
For years, the heart and soul of the Giants has been their defensive line. This of course was thanks to soon-to-be Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, who is widely considered the greatest defensive end ever.
After Strahan retired, the spotlight went to two more potential Hall of Famers in Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. They both have consistently been two of the top defensive ends in the league and have propelled the Giants' entire defensive line to being the best group in the league for many years.
The defensive line is already at the top of the world compared to others. 2012 will be the year the D-line shares the spotlight. That will be Victor Cruz's job this season.
The Giants' defensive line will still provide plenty of exciting moments all year long. But with nothing more for them to prove, the focus will shift to Cruz because many people may not expect him to have a great sophomore season.
Immediately following the Giants' Super Bowl victory last February, talks instantly began regarding whether Cruz deserves a raise.
Cruz will only be making $490,000 in 2012, which is the final year of his current contract. After the huge season he had in 2011, he will definitely need to put up similar, if not better numbers in 2012 to ensure that his next contract is on par with those of other top NFL receivers.
Furthermore, many of the Giants' other star players already have large contracts. Cruz is younger and needs to keep earning his way towards being one of those highly paid superstars.
Cruz has this chip on his shoulder that most of his starting teammates do not have. Look for Cruz to use this as extra motivation and to help him have an even better season in 2012.
With head coach Tom Coughlin and pretty much his entire coaching staff returning for the 2012 season, this will only help Cruz get better. He will be able to spend more time developing better relationships with his coaching staff.
A year ago, it wasn't guaranteed that Cruz would emerge into a starting receiver or if the Giants' coaching staff would still be together today.
However, Cruz and the Giants' coaching staff exceeded expectations and no one will be going anywhere after winning Super Bowl XLVI.
Again, Cruz will be able to work with the same coaching staff instead of starting over with a new group.
A season ago, the NFL and the NFL Players' Association were in a battle over the impending NFL lockout. Throughout the entire 2011 offseason, there were many uncertainties for all players as to whether there would be a season at all.
In late July, the collective bargaining agreement was settled and the season went off without a hitch.
Cruz and the rest of the NFL will not have to worry about any lockouts this year. Cruz can stick to his rigorous workouts and offseason conditioning programs and there is every reason that he will be in even better shape for the 2012 season.
In order for wide receivers to have great seasons, they need their quarterbacks to have great seasons. That said, Cruz's 2012 season could could largely depend on how well Eli Manning plays.
Manning has gotten better and better in the past five years so it would be fair to predict that he will have an even better season this year.
Manning is more poised than ever before, makes more consistent passes and has emerged as a team leader for the Giants. Now that he has led the Giants to two Super Bowl championships during his career, he has become one of the elite quarterbacks in the league.
With Manning projected to have another great season in 2012, this will only mean more chances for Cruz to catch more passes. This formula should work very well for everyone in the Giants' offense.
For the past few seasons, the Giants have been relying more on their passing game on offense, and less on the running game.
The Giants' running game hasn't been too solid since Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward each ran for over 1,000 yards in 2008. Since then, Ward departed, Jacobs regressed into a loud-mouthed underachiever and Ahmad Bradshaw became the starter despite a history injuries and fumbling.
In other words, the Giants' rushing attack went from one of the best in the league to one of the worst within four years.
The Giants' passing game has become one of the most dangerous in the league. Eli Manning has Cruz and Nicks to work with, plus third receiver Domenik Hixon and tight end Jake Ballard.
Look for the Giants to stick with the passing game in 2012, with more than 60 percent of all offensive production coming from the pass. It's quite obvious that the Giants do not trust their running game enough to rely on it in clutch situations.
They could use an upgrade to give them another top running back alongside Bradshaw. But unless Bradshaw stays healthy and stops fumbling, the Giants will keep relying heavily on their passing game to score touchdowns. This means more attention for Victor Cruz.