Here’s the scenario: It’s Week 3. Two of the Giants’ top receiving options are out with injuries and a young WR steps in, ready to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime.
That was in 2011, and the WR was Victor Cruz. His three catches for 110 yards and his first two career TDs led the Giants to their third win of the season. And a star was born.
Thursday night: Same story, different star.
Creating space. Adjusting to tipped balls. Running crisp routes and displaying strength at the line of scrimmage and athleticism after the catch. The fourth-year WR did a little bit of everything.
Barden finished the Giants’ 36-7 beatdown of the Panthers with nine catches for 138 yards. He had seven catches for 123 yards in the first half, out-receiving the entire Panthers corps, as Cam Newton had just five completions for 90 yards before the break. He was limited most of the second half simply because the Giants stuck to the ground game to control the clock the way he controlled the scoreboard from the start, and he failed to reach the end zone because the other breakout story of the Giants' night, RB Andre Brown, capped off a couple of Giants drives with TDs.
The Giants drafted Barden in the third round of the 2009 draft out of I-AA Cal Poly, and the combination of a deep Giants WR corps and a broken ankle that sent him to IR in 2010 doomed him to relative anonymity among Giants pass-catchers.
“Ramses made a bunch of catches—had some big plays,” Eli told NFL Network after the game. “He wanted an opportunity, and he got it, and he stepped up and made a bunch of plays.”
And while it speaks volumes about Barden’s resolve to use the Thursday night stage to shine, it begs another question altogether.
What are the Giants putting in the WRs' water?
Cruz broke out in 2011 as a legit NFL superstar. Hakeem Nicks is coming off back-to-back 1,000-plus yard seasons. Mario Manningham made a David Tyree-esque catch (also a Giant at the time) to help seal a Super Bowl XLVI win for Eli and Co.
Perhaps it’s coincidence. Maybe it’s coaching. Maybe it’s Eli.
Either way, Barden took the Thursday Night Football stage and used it has his personal NFL resume. The young receiver with a reputation for not being able to beat press coverage worked the Panthers' undersized corners and likely cemented his role as the Giants' No. 3 wideout in the process.
"It’s nice having that guys who’s 6’6, can go over the middle, showed some toughness, to take some hits from the safeties and hung in there," said Eli. "He is a weapon, and when Hakeem gets back, we’ll find spots to put Ramses and get him in there to make plays."
And though it's unlikely Barden is the NFL's next superstar, he'll certainly cause a stir on the fantasy waiver wire this week, especially with Eli on the other end.