Hakeem Nicks: Star Receiver's Absence Provides Long-Term Benefit for Giants

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIOctober 4, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants runs against Jerod Mayo #51 of the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Fantasy owners may be alarmed by the recent absence of New York Giants star receiver Hakeem Nicks, but it may be a blessing in disguise for the franchise itself.

The truth is, with Eli Manning under center, the G-Men always have a chance.

In the only contest where Nicks was in the lineup full-time, Manning threw for over 500 yards in a stunning comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That kind of explosion was expected from Nicks from Day 1 since he was a first-round pick in 2009. Nicks has delivered, and has established three-plus years of chemistry with the best clutch quarterback in football right now.

Taking all of that into account, Manning and Co. have a chance to break in another rookie receiver who will be filling in for Nicks: rookie second-round pick Rueben Randle.

Although he only has one catch for four yards in the first four games, Randle will definitely have an opportunity to step up in Week 5. At 6'2" 208 pounds, he has prototypical size for a physical NFL receiver who can make the tough catches over the middle. He also has the ability to stretch the field and make acrobatic catches.

Randle's muscle will serve him well against a Cleveland Browns secondary on Sunday that is still stung by the absence of No. 1 cornerback Joe Haden. None of the other Browns that would be lining up opposite Randle are above 5'10", and Randle has the muscle to beat them in press man-to-man coverage.

The height advantage would be even more of an asset to the 6'6" literal Giant Ramses Barden.

However, according to a report by Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger, Barden may not play this week due to a concussion.

What's also advantageous for Randle is that superstar wideout Victor Cruz will be attracting a lot of attention in the form of double-teams. More one-on-one matchups for Randle is a likely repercussion of the way Cleveland shifts its coverage.

Manning will surely have protection from his well-established offensive line, and it will be up to Randle to use his strength to gain separation. The matchup is definitely in Randle's favor, because Sheldon Brown has lost at least a step, and Buster Skrine is fast and talented but inexperienced. Dimitri Patterson will likely draw the duty of marking Cruz for the majority of the game.

Judging from the big 100-yard games from Cruz and oft injured receiver Domenik Hixon against Philadelphia on Sunday night, most of the Browns' focus will be on the duo Manning trusts most in his current receiving corps.

The Browns are sitting at 0-4 and will be playing desperation football to salvage any resemblance of a season, but the Giants themselves need to take care of business at home to keep pace in the NFC East.

Not only is this a game that should be ripe with opportunities for Randle, but it's also key that New York doesn't fall into a "trap game" scenario against an inferior opponent.

For the Giants to come out on top, they will turn to what they do best, which is passing the ball against an overmatched secondary. Cleveland's front four stymied Ray Rice on Week 4's edition of Thursday Night Football, but were shredded by Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. Manning happens to be the top signal-caller the Browns have faced all season.

With Nicks, the Giants would have even more of an advantage. Without him, Randle may have lucked into a set of circumstances that translate to his NFL coming-out party.

As the old saying goes: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." —Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

The Giants may be down on their luck right now in the face of adversity, but if we've learned anything about the New York Football Giants in the Eli era, it's that their lesser-known receivers can do some extraordinary things at extraordinary times.

Whether it's breaking out in a nearly unprecedented way like Victor Cruz...or, you know, the Helmet Catch.