After a reception-less rookie regular season, Cruz got his first (and second) NFL reception in Week 2 of 2011, had a breakout game in Week 3 and then never looked back. In Week 3 Cruz had only three receptions, but two of them were for scores, including a 74-yard touchdown.
Cruz finished the season with team highs in receptions (82), yards (1,536) and touchdowns (nine). In fact, his 1,536 yards set the franchise record for most yards in a season.
From Week 3 until the end of regular season, Cruz was remarkably consistent, even though he feasted on big, some would say fluky plays. He had five touchdowns of 68 yards or more last year. With those long touchdowns, Cruz averaged 18.7 yards per reception, which tied with Oakland's Denarius Moore for third in the league.
That helped Cruz to finish with 12 games of 74-plus receiving yards in the final 14 games of the season.
No other player had as many games with at least 74 receiving yards as Cruz during that stretch. The only other player to reach double-digit games with 74-plus yards during that span was Detroit's Calvin Johnson (11).
Even if he averages fewer yards per reception and does not have as many 40-yard receptions (nine in 2011, second in the NFL), Cruz should still be able to produce overall numbers that put him near or inside the top 10 receivers from a fantasy perspective.
Cruz finished second on the team in targets (131), behind Hakeem Nicks (133), last year. While duplicating his number of long touchdowns and 40-plus-yard receptions (nine) will be difficult, I expect both Cruz and Nicks to see similar numbers of targets in 2012.
Considering Nicks is a more talented and dynamic receiver (and hence drawing more of the attention from opposing defenses), Cruz should see more one-on-one opportunities than Nicks.
With New York's "elite" quarterback, talented receiving corps and solid running-back duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie David Wilson, opposing defenses are going to be forced to be honest in defending the Giants' balanced offense.
Cruz, who is from nearby Patterson, N.J., may have set the standard too high in his breakout second season, but he's a legitimate low-end WR1 and even better as a WR2 in 12-team leagues.
I'd rather have Nicks than Cruz, but Cruz is likely to get less safety help or double coverage. Partly due to that, he has the potential to outperform Nicks again.
The 25-year-old Cruz is due to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season.
Assuming he stays in the Giants offense long term, however, Cruz should be a borderline WR1 or better for the foreseeable future.
Projection: (Receiving) 80 Receptions, 1,105 Yards, 7 TDs
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