Regardless of What Giants Say, Victor Cruz Is More Important Than Hakeem Nicks

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 4, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 21:  Victor Cruz #80 is congratulated by teammate Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants after Cruz scored the game winning touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins on October 21, 2012 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Giants defeated the Washington Redskins 27-23.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

As Victor Cruz and the New York Giants appear to continue to agree to disagree on Cruz's value, with the Pro Bowl wide receiver slated to become a restricted free agent in just over a month, the Giants are reportedly focusing instead on the team's other star receiver. 

The front office has prioritized Hakeem Nicks' contract over Cruz's, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Hearing that isn't surprising, when you consider that owner John Mara said just last week that Cruz isn't the team's only priority to kick off the offseason.

Still, you have to consider the game being played here. The Giants could be posturing as they attempt to gain some extra leverage on Cruz, who may or may not get bites elsewhere as an RFA under the highest tender (in the same position last spring, Mike Wallace wasn't touched with a 10-foot pole). 

Obviously the Giants would rather negotiate with a man coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued season than one who is just returning from the Pro Bowl. Nicks has less leverage than Cruz overall, so this is good business.

But should the Giants actually prefer Nicks to Cruz? Of course not.

As you can see in the chart to the right, Cruz's numbers destroy Nicks', even when taking into account the time Nicks has missed due to injury. Those dropped passes must be a huge factor for the Giants, then. And I don't blame them, because Cruz has only been thrown at 24 more times than Nicks has since the start of 2011 (288 to 264, including the playoffs). 

But overall since that point, Nicks has caught 59.5 percent of the passes thrown his way, while Cruz still wins that battle with a percentage of 65.6—despite all of those drops.

The point is that Cruz still generates more yards and receptions per pass route run (PFF), and by a fairly significant margin.

Throw in that drop habits can be fixed, that Cruz is a unique threat from the slot and that Nicks has never made it through a full 16-game season, and I have a hard time buying that Nicks is the more valuable player, regardless of the fact he's almost two full years younger than Cruz and a former first-round pick.

Yes, Nicks is smoother overall, but that doesn't count for everything. Some say he's a better deep threat, but the numbers certainly don't indicate that's the case. Since 2011 on passes that traveled at least 20 yards, Cruz also has a sizable advantage over his fellow starting wideout. That says a lot, considering how much time he spends in the slot.

The point is that I think it's harder to find a talent like Cruz than a talent like Nicks.