For the first three years of Ramses Barden's NFL career, the opportunities were limited. Drafted by the New York Giants in 2009 out of California Polytechnic State University, Barden only had one reception in three games during his rookie season that year.
In 2010, Barden had five catches within three games before injuring his ankle in November, which ended his season. During the Giants' Super Bowl run in 2011, Barden had nine receptions but remained near the bottom of the wide receiver depth chart.
In this past offseason, though, third receiver Mario Manningham did not re-sign, which opened the door for Barden and other receivers, such as Domenik Hixon and Reuben Randle, to all step up. Furthermore, Hakeem Nicks has had to deal with injuries recently and will miss his second consecutive game on September 30 against the Eagles.
As a result of Nicks' injury, plus the injury sustained by Hixon in Week 2, Barden was finally given a chance to prove himself in a starting role against the Panthers. He ended up having a breakout performance that included nine receptions and 138 receiving yards in the Giants' blowout victory. In Week 2 against the Buccaneers, Barden had one 24-yard reception.
With the Giants' receivers having sustained injuries this early into the season and Barden getting his first real opportunity to contribute to the Giants, he could be in for a big season.
Here are five reasons why Barden will continue to play well this year and have a breakout season.
Again, the Giants have already had to endure quite a few injuries in the first three weeks of the season.
Two of these injured players are receivers Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon.
As a result, Barden will be starting this week alongside Victor Cruz. It's unknown how long Barden will be the Giants' second receiver, because Nicks will hopefully be back by Week 5, barring any setbacks. However, if his injuries get worse, Barden will remain the second receiver.
If Nicks gets healthy, though, Barden will likely become the third receiver. He has been due for such an opportunity and will look to make the most of it. Furthermore, Hixon has been plagued with injuries for the past few seasons, and Reuben Randle has barely gotten any playing time, as evidenced by his lone reception in Week 3.
Regardless of when Nicks gets healthy, Barden should be getting quite a bit of playing time throughout the year due to Hixon's health in recent years.
At 6'6", Barden is one of the tallest receivers in the league.
With most defensive backs being between 5'8" and 6'0" on average, Barden has quite a size advantage on the field.
Furthermore, his vast wingspan can make passes that aren't completely accurate easier to catch, thanks to longer hands—and fingers in particular.
Barden can also jump higher if passes are thrown rather high and dive toward passes that would likely be too far for most others. His size alone makes him an easier target for Eli Manning, especially if both Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are being covered well.
All in all, Barden's size is something the Giants can definitely take advantage of, which makes him that much more valuable to the team.
In his fourth season in the NFL, Barden's opportunities have been quite limited.
With just 15 total receptions in three seasons, Barden was due to get more playing time at some point, and it looks like now will be his time to shine.
With that being said, Barden will try to do everything he can with the opportunities he has right now. He knows that any kind of starting job with the Giants is something he can't afford to take for granted, even after his breakout game against the Panthers.
Look for Barden to be as much of a perfectionist as possible with his routes.
While Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks both had great seasons in 2011, the Giants offense would not have been the same without the contributions of Mario Manningham, their former third receiver.
In 12 games last year, Manningham had 39 receptions, including four for touchdowns. He also added 523 receiving yards and 13.4 yards per catch.
With Nicks already being an established star and Cruz having a breakout season, Manningham became Eli Manning's new go-to receiver in critical situations. In other words, Manningham had the role that Steve Smith once had a few years ago.
With Manningham now on the 49ers, Barden is going to be the Giants' new third receiver and someone who can cause problems for opposing defenses. Cruz and Nicks will almost certainly be covered more often than not, so Manning can use Barden's size to help the Giants gain yards. That is because the opposing defenses will not be as likely to cover Barden as well.
In Week 1, the Giants' defensive backs had great coverage on both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. However, it ultimately worked against them, because they let the Cowboys' third receiver, Kevin Ogletree, catch multiple touchdowns and have the best game of his brief career.
Ideally, the Giants would love to have Barden play like that all season and be a difference-maker on the field. Mario Manningham certainly was a difference-maker in last year's Super Bowl, with the amazing sideline catch he made. Now it's Barden's turn to be a clutch receiver for the Giants.
Arguably the best quarterback in the NFL thus far into the season, Eli Manning is skilled enough to make any receiver he has become one of the best in the league.
Look no further than the year Victor Cruz had in 2011.
Prior to his breakout season, Cruz only played in three games in 2010, which was his rookie season. He had a great preseason that year, but he did not have a catch in those three regular season games before he injured his hamstring and missed the rest of the year.
Then, in 2011, Cruz began the year as the Giants' fourth receiver. However, after both Domenik Hixon and Mario Manningham got hurt, Cruz got a chance to start, and he contributed more than anyone would have expected.
At the end of the regular season, Cruz remained the starter and had 82 total receptions, nine touchdown catches, 1,536 receiving yards and 18.7 yards per catch. He continued his great season throughout the playoffs as the Giants won the Super Bowl.
Cruz is quite gifted, but as an undrafted free agent, he really had to work hard to get to where he is at now. Another thing that helped him was having an accomplished veteran like Manning throwing to him.
Manning made Cruz feel comfortable, and with Cruz's great work ethic, they instantly made a great passing duo. Without Manning under center, Cruz may not have had such a huge season last year.
The fact of the matter is that if Manning can make someone like Cruz a standout receiver, he can do that with any receiver he plays with. His current challenge is to help Barden become the best third receiver in the league.
Hopefully all the hard work between both Manning and Barden can pay off in a big way down the road.