No, I did not mix up Giants wide receivers.
That's right, not only will Hakeem Nicks have a better fantasy season in 2012 than Salsa-sensation Victor Cruz, but he will be a top 5 ranked wide receiver in fantasy at season's end.
Nicks, the fourth year pro, has an average draft position of 31st overall according to ESPN. He is currently the 10th wide receiver taken. If you could get Nicks in the beginning of the fourth round—where he is going in standard leagues on ESPN—you should pick him and don't look back.
Now that would be value.
In 2011, Nicks was limited early due to injuries, opening the door for Cruz's emergence from nowhere. Despite being the second most targeted Giant, Nicks was very productive, accounting for 76 catches, 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 regular season games. That was good enough for 12th among wide receivers.
But Nicks was unstoppable in the playoffs. During his dominant performance, Nicks caught 28 balls for 444 yards and four touchdowns (in four games), leading the Giants to a Super Bowl win.
Why was Nicks such a dominant force in the playoffs?
Part of the reason was Victor Cruz. By the time the playoffs rolled around, one thing was clear to defensive coordinators league-wide: don't let Cruz touch the football. Defenses were widely successful in stopping Cruz, as he was not on regular season pace during the postseason. However, Nicks exploited the single-team looks with all the attention on Cruz and had a ridiculous run of big-time games during January.
It seems likely that Nicks will continue to get those opportunities this season, as defenses have certainly focused on Cruz while preparing during the offseason. But just how good were Hakeem's numbers during that time?
If his statistics from the 2012 Playoffs (four games)—when defenses turned their focus to Cruz—were calculated over a whole 16 game season, here would be his numbers:
176 receptions, 1,776 yards and 16 touchdowns
If Nicks had those numbers this past season, he would have been the top wide receiver in the NFL, rated higher than Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, who, during his incredible 2011 season, had 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. Nicks is most likely not going to have as great numbers as Johnson, but certainly has a chance to be among the elite in 2012.
I'm not saying he's Megatron, but he's no Bumblebee either.
There are many reasons why Nicks will have an even better year this year.
Firstly, he is 24 and seems to be just entering his prime. He is as dynamic as anybody with his unique combo of strength, blazing speed, and extraordinary (and enormous) hands. He is the longest tenured Giants receiver and has the full trust of the coaching staff and teammates alike.
Nicks is also catching balls from now two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, coming off his best season ever, as he threw for 4,933 yards. If that number doesn't speak for itself, consider this: it was the sixth highest total in NFL History. It is safe to say Nicks has an elite quarterback tossing him the pigskin.
In addition to all the attention on Cruz, other changes have given Nicks an even greater chance for a monster year in 2012.
Nicks is sure to be Manning's top red zone target. With no tight ends having starting experience and the departures of Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham and Jake Ballard (combined for 16 total touchdowns last year), Nicks will be counted on to punch the ball into the end-zone. And there will be plenty of opportunities to do so. Due to his broad frame and sure hands, Nicks scored 11 touchdowns in 2010, playing just 13 games. He is all but certain to match, and likely surpass, that total this season.
New York has the hardest schedule in the league this year, but that should actually work to the benefit of the Giants receiver. The team will be playing against many of the top offenses in the league, which means there will be plenty of points on the board by both teams, and offensive shootouts nearly every week. There will be plenty of points to go around, and Nicks will undoubtedly capitalize on these opportunities.
In fantasy football, wide receivers are usually the hardest to predict. Unlike quarterbacks and running backs, the top ten varies greatly from year to year. It is crucial for fantasy owners to get a top wide receiver they can depend on and is set up to have a great season. He must be able to be counted on week in and week out.
That's why Hakeem Nicks is the guy to draft in 2012.