The New York Giants were the champions of the National Football League a season ago, despite being beset by a number of injuries in training camp and the preseason. History appears to be repeating itself in at least one aspect, as the injury bug hit Big Blue hard again when star wide receiver Hakeem Nicks went down with a foot injury Thursday during organized team activities.
The injury, which the team's website reports is a fracture of the fifth metatarsal in Nicks' right foot, could have a huge impact on both the Giants' chances of repeating this season and fantasy football leagues across the land, especially dynasty formats or "early birds" that have already drafted.
The fourth-year pro, who racked up a career-high 1,192 yards a season ago, will have surgery tomorrow to have a screw inserted into the broken bone. The Giants' website says the recovery period for this injury is in the neighborhood of 12 weeks.
However, it's worth noting Nicks has a history of lower leg injuries since joining the Giants, and The Star-Ledger reports that after New York cornerback Prince Amukamara broke the same bone as Nicks on Aug. 6 of last year he didn't put in a full practice until almost 15 weeks later.
That would place Nicks' availability for the beginning of the regular season very much in doubt, and those doubts significantly alter the fantasy value of not only Nicks, but also the Giants' other wideouts.
In my first set of fantasy football wide receiver rankings here at Bleacher Report this month, I had Nicks ranked eighth, just behind teammate Victor Cruz. This injury, and the cloud it casts over Nicks' 2012 prospects, knocks Nicks down towards the bottom of the top 15 in redraft leagues, and even there Nicks now presents a much riskier draft choice than he did previously.
The injury may be enough to bump Cruz a spot or so, but even though the third-year pro may see some more targets in Nicks' absence it's awfully hard to justify a bigger jump than that if only because of the who's who of wide receivers ahead of him.
The big "winner" in all of this from a fantasy football perspective would seem to be rookie Rueben Randle, who just went from late-draft flier to a fantasy lottery ticket. At the very least Randle's learning curve will be shortened significantly as he gains extra first-team reps. That will help also help him develop a rapport with quarterback Eli Manning, which could lead to added statistical production from the slot this year.
At most, if Nicks' injury lingers and Randle is inserted as a starter, fantasy owners could be looking at WR2 production for a fraction of the cost. We could easily see a tipping point this summer where Randle becomes the first rookie wide receiver taken in fantasy drafts, depending on how Nicks' surgery and rehab progresses.
As Nicks' draft position drops and Randle's climbs, fantasy owners will face an interesting dilemma: Which player presents the better chance for a reward that outweighs his risk?
Until Nicks goes under the knife and we have a little better idea of the severity of his injury I'm not ready to pick a dog in that particular fight, but there's little doubt that both the New York Giants and many fantasy football teams took a major shot Thursday.
Here's a post-injury look at my top 20 fantasy wide receivers for 2012.
1.) Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
3.) Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
5.) Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
6.) Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
7.) Victor Cruz, New York Giants
8.) A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
9.) Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers
10.) Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
12.) Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints
13.) Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
14.) Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
15.) Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
16.) Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys
17.) Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
18.) Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills
19.) DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
20.) Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos