3 Candidates to Be This Year's Victor Cruz
Before the Super Bowl title, the salsa dancing and a New York Giants record-setting season with 82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns, Victor Cruz was just another undrafted free-agent wideout floating in NFL obscurity with hundreds of others.
In 2010, wearing the No. 3, Cruz did have one night of national fame when he torched the New York Jets for six catches, 145 yards and three touchdowns in a Monday Night Football preseason game.
However, a severe hamstring injury ended his season before he ever recorded his first NFL catch.
Stories like Cruz don't pop up often, but they're more prevalent in the NFL than you'd think.
Miles Austin, Wes Welker and Steve Johnson are a few of the most overlooked pass-catchers who have blossomed as professionals.
So, who has the best chance to be 2012's version of Victor Cruz?
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
After playing on a resurgent, Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos team that beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs and received an influx of media attention in 2011, Demaryius Thomas is far from obscure.
However, like Cruz, the former Georgia Tech standout dealt with injuries early in his career and frankly, hasn't been the explosive receiver the Broncos thought they were getting when they drafted him in the first round of the 2010 draft.
After two years in Denver, Thomas averaged 27 grabs, 417 receiving yards and three touchdowns a season.
His true breakout year could come in 2012.
Peyton Manning will be throwing him passes. It's safe to say he's a slight upgrade over Tebow.
Though Eric Decker may emerge as the team's chain-mover and go-to target, Thomas' rare blend of menacing size and deceptive speed could lead to his arrival as one of the premier big-bodied deep threats in the league.
The explosive potential is evident. In 2011, Thomas amassed a 17.2 yards-per-catch average, just a yard-and-a-half lower than Cruz's ridiculous 18.7.
Armon Binns, Cincinnati Bengals
Armon Binns' path to the Cincinnati Bengals' roster is reminiscent of the way Cruz found himself as the New York Giants' No. 4 receiver to start the 2011 season.
After a solid career with the Cincinnati Bearcats, the All-Big East selection wasn't picked in last year's NFL draft. Soon thereafter, he was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars but was cut in early September.
The Bengals decided to give the hometown product a shot and made room for him on the practice squad on September 20.
He didn't appear in a game for Marvin Lewis' club last season, but figures to have a more significant role in 2012.
Playing alongside stud wideout A.J. Green, someone who'll garner plenty of opposing secondary attention, Binns will likely be in a position to succeed against one-on-one coverage.
At 6'3'' and 210 pounds, Binns has the stature to overwhelm smaller corners, and as the video clearly demonstrates, his downfield ball skills are tremendous.
Though the Bengals have a supremely gifted, stretch-the-field deep threat in Green, Binns could become a fine complementary option who develops into a dangerous big-play receiver that no one outside of the Bengals' organization saw coming.
Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers
Vincent Brown was picked in the third round by the San Diego Chargers in the 2011 draft, but was buried on the depth chart last year behind the likes of Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and even Patrick Crayton.
He appeared in only 12 games and had four starts.
The former San Diego State Aztec standout didn't test out super fast at the NFL combine, running a disappointing 4.71 in the famed but often over-hyped 40-yard dash, but he did average 18.6 yards per grab during the last two seasons in college.
In a Thursday night loss to the Oakland Raiders, Brown flashed his promise when he reeled in five receptions for 97 yards and an acrobatic touchdown.
With Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd being established wideouts on the Chargers' roster, complementary YAC receivers Eddie Royal and Roscoe Parrish and a wildly productive quarterback under center in Philip Rivers, Brown has a legitimate chance to explode in 2012.