I really want to dislike Victor Cruz as a fantasy football player this season.
Maybe it's because it's easy to assume Cruz can't duplicate his shocking 2011 season. Maybe you are banking on teams spending more time game-planning for him this year. Perhaps you think the loss of Mario Manningham on the outside will hamper Cruz's effectiveness.
Whatever the case may be, assuming Cruz will regress in 2012 is normal. It's also a very dangerous stance to take, as Cruz still holds the potential to be one of fantasy's top performers in 2012.
So which will it be, stud or dud? Elite receiver, WR2 or a bench warmer? Salsa or (production) dip?
Let's take a closer look at the fantasy prospects of Mr. Cruz—and avoid any and all salsa jokes from here on out as well. I promise.
One thing I really like about Cruz is that he was so deadly in the slot last season. Any time players flourish in a specific role in the passing game (see: Welker, Wes), they're always more likely to remain consistent in their output.
And Cruz was truly spectacular from the slot last season. He was second only to Welker (146) in slot targets with 115, per Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus. And before the Super Bowl last season, Dan Riccio of ESPN Stats and Info shed light on some very interesting numbers pertaining to Cruz:
- "Among tight ends and wide receivers, Cruz finished with the third-most yards after the catch during the regular season, trailing only Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski."
- "Cruz averaged 2.99 yards after contact per reception this year, the best in the NFL among wide receivers with at least 50 receptions."
- Cruz caught 76.8 percent of his receptions in the regular and postseason after lining up in the slot before the snap."
What do these numbers mean, though?
One of the primary critiques of Cruz—and one I'll levy below—is that Cruz can't possibly duplicate the five touchdown receptions he had of 68 yards or more, which limits his fantasy upside. But only two of those touchdowns (and just four of his receptions) came on passes that were thrown for 31 yards or more.
In other words, Cruz isn't a big-play-or-bust receiver. He had 69 receptions and 1,066 yards on passes thrown between one and 20 yards last season. That shouldn't change, meaning Cruz shouldn't see a major dip in productivity even if he doesn't have as many big plays.
Plus, he'll now have an expanded role out wide in two-receiver sets with Mario Manningham now a San Francisco 49er—meaning he should see even more targets this season.
And the Giants are smart enough to utilize him in the slot whenever they can. Expect the team to use plenty of three-receiver sets this year. With an established quarterback in Eli Manning and a weapon in Hakeem Nicks opposite him to keep opposing secondaries honest, and stability in the coaches and system, Cruz should remain a nice fantasy player this year.
Of Cruz's 205.9 fantasy points last season, 68.7 of them came from just five touchdown receptions, all 68 yards or more. Put another way, a whopping one-third of his fantasy value came from just five plays last season.
It's hard to imagine him duplicating that feat again this year. While I don't think he'll see a huge dip in productivity this season, as I outlined above, I also think it's a bit optimistic to think he'll be a top-four fantasy receiver again.
Victor Cruz or Hakeem Nicks?
There is also the danger that Nicks will be the better Giants receiver to own as defenses shift their attention toward Cruz. Perhaps even more dangerous are the constant double-teams Cruz will face if the injury-prone Nicks gets hurt again this season.
Plus, how you feel about Eli Manning comes into play here. If you think the player whose previous high in passing yards was 4,021 before he threw for 4,933 last year—or the guy who tossed 25 interceptions in 2010—will return to his career averages, Cruz could seriously suffer.
Warning: Not safe for work in the beginning because of Rex Ryan. I suppose you could argue not safe for defenses last season either.
America, you've gotten it right when it comes to selecting Cruz in your drafts.
In ESPN snake drafts, Cruz has an average draft position of 32.3, meaning he's a lock as a third- or fourth-round selection. While I would take him over Mike Wallace (28.5) and I'm torn between making him or Julio Jones (31.2) my 10th-ranked receiver, I think he's a no-brainer in the late third or early fourth round.
Good work, America.
Tweet That Says It All
He has a 90 ranking in Madden, you guys—that means he has to be good this year.
Yes, I think he's going to a drop in overall production. But no, I don't think he'll drop out of the top 10 for fantasy receivers this year.
With his obvious talent in the slot and the fact that he'll see even more looks on the outside, I think his targets and receptions will go up. Sure, he'll see a slight dip in total yards, but given how good he is after the catch, I still think he'll post a solid eight scores.
Don't fall into the trap of assuming Cruz will regress in a big way just because his 2011 was so surprising. I think he's a safer fantasy option than people give him credit for.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets have an ADP of one.