New York Giants: 5 Under-the-Radar Players Who Could Break out in 2012
Before the 2011 season began, everyone was worried about the departures of Steve Smith and Kevin Boss as free agents.
Remember when everyone wanted to get on Jerry Reese's case for letting them walk without an offer?
And then a couple of months later, every fan forgave him because he had two backup plans in Jake Ballard and Victor Cruz waiting in the wings.
Ballard had a very nice season before tearing his ACL during Super Bowl XLVI.
Cruz was the one who really broke out and came out of nowhere to emerge as a star for the Giants en route to their Super Bowl XLVI victory.
If not for guys like Cruz and Ballard, the Giants likely don't get to and win the Super Bowl.
Now in 2012, who will be this year's Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard?
I see five potential breakout candidates who are under-the-radar and could have a great 2012 season for the Giants.
The diehard fan knows who James Brewer is, but the common fan is asking, who?
James Brewer has a chance to become the Giants' starting right tackle with the departure of Kareem McKenzie.
The Giants brought in Sean Locklear to compete for the spot as well, but Locklear I think will be more of the Kevin Boothe-type backup who plays guard and tackle.
The second-year tackle out of Indiana has a chance to win the right tackle job and add some size and youth on the right side of the offensive line.
You might know the name Marvin Austin.
He was supposed to be a first-round draft pick for the 2011 season, but got dismissed by the University of North Carolina due to receiving improper benefits.
He fell to the Giants in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, but never played in his rookie season because of a torn pectoral muscle in the preseason, which sidelined him for all of 2011.
Austin is now healthy and has yet to take an NFL snap, but many still expect him to have the talent to be a force on the defensive line.
The Giants already have Chris Canty and Linval Joseph as the starters, but Austin could mix into the rotation and give the Giants another pass-rusher and run-stuffer on the line.
If healthy, I'd expect big things from Austin.
2012 is a make-or-break year for Ramses Barden.
He's either going to be the next Plaxico Burress or Siorice Moss for the Giants.
At 6'6", he has the size to be a great receiver like Burress, but he's barely been an impact player since being drafted in 2009.
With Mario Manningham departing to the 49ers and Hakeem Nicks recovering from a broken foot, Barden really can use the preseason and training camp to try and step up for the Giants.
Justin Tuck did that back in 2007 when Michael Strahan held out of training camp, and Tuck benefited from the opportunity.
Could Barden be like Tuck and take advantage of being a useful receiver in the Giants system?
Most of us know Mark Herzlich's story.
He had a rare form of bone cancer that he defeated, went undrafted out of Boston College, but was picked up by the Giants in 2011.
He won a spot on the team in training camp and was one of the feel-good stories for Big Blue.
He played in 11 games and started in two when the linebacker spot got depleted due to injues.
Now in his second year, Herzlich just doesn't want to be a backup or a special teams player; he wants to be a starter.
He already beat cancer and is living his dream by playing in the NFL.
He could contest Michael Boley and Keith Rivers for their starting spots on the depth chart.
In 2011, Jerrel Jernigan was primarily used on special teams as a kick returner.
But he's got a lot of speed and potential; plus, with the injury to Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham departing via free agency, Jernigan could get a chance to play more in the Giants offense.
Some people see Jernigan as a DeSean Jackson/Steve Smith-type talent with his speed and ability to make a play in the open field.
Jernigan was a starter when he was at the University of Troy, so he does have plenty of experience at the position, just not in the NFL.
If Jernigan can play anywhere near the level of Jackson (minus the immature attitude) or Smith, then the Giants would have found a hidden gem in their wide receiver corps.