A big question for the Giants these days is who will be Eli Manning’s favorite wide receiver?
The release of Plaxico Burress and the decision to let Amani Toomer enter the free agent market, have opened the door for the younger players to emerge.
There has been speculation that the Giants are looking to make a trade with the Cleveland Browns for Braylon Edwards.
If Edwards does end up playing for the Giants in 2009, he would likely pick up where Burress left off. They are close in size and athletic ability, and Manning would surely welcome having a big receiver to go up and get his chucks down field.
Some reports have indicated that the Giants are willing to give up the draft picks, but not the receivers the Browns reportedly want in return. Trade talks will continue leading up to the NFL draft, but there appears to be no progress despite some reports to the contrary.
There are plenty of rumors and speculation regarding this trade, but it is beginning to seem as if the Giants are content to fulfill their wide receiver need through the draft.
The Giants are said to be targeting either Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt with their 29th overall pick in the draft. Two players with size and athletic ability to potentially replace Burress.
However, if history is any indication, it would be wise to keep fantasy expectations to a minimum when analyzing rookie wide receivers.
At the moment, it appears that Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith are the front-runners for the starting positions at wide-out.
The primary beneficiary of Burress’ release may be Domenik Hixon, who had 28 receptions for 351yards and a touchdown in the final six regular season games while Burress was sidelined.
In addition, Hixon lead the Giants in receiving yards last year with 596, and also produced the highest yards-per-catch with a 13.9 average. This may be an indication that Hixon is ready to replace Burress as Manning’s deep threat.
Steve Smith was hurt most of his rookie year in 2007, but proved to be a reliable third down target for Eli Manning during the post-season. He was a solid contributor in every playoff game, including a five reception, 50 yard performance in the Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.
Smith continued to develop a rapport with Manning in 2008. Despite starting only four games, he lead all Giants with 57 receptions for 574 yards.
Smith is entering his third year, which is an important milestone for wide receivers in fantasy football. I expect that Smith will continue his growth, and could very well have a breakout year as Manning continues to look his way when a big play is needed.
Smith is more of a possession receiver, however, and his value will be much higher in points-per-reception leagues. With only one touchdown in 2008, and an average of just 10.1 yards per catch, I would be cautious drafting Smith if receptions are not awarded with points.
The other receivers on the depth chart with an opportunity to earn a starting role are Mario Manningham, Sinorice Moss, David Tyree, and Derek Hagan.
Mario Manningham struggled adapting to a pro-style offense as a rookie in 2008. His injuries in mini-camp and training camp slowed the learning process.
If Manningham progresses in making his reads, he has the speed to stretch the field and the skills to catch the ball from Manning.
He has a chance to earn the third wide receiver role. This limits his upside, but he does have the potential to have a few big games.
At best, consider Manningham a low-end number four wide receiver. That is being optimistic.
Sinorice Moss is a smallish receiver with excellent speed, who has the ability to be a big-play threat. However, he has been unable to capitalize on this potential since being a second round draft pick in 2006.
Injuries have limited him throughout his pro career, and he has not played a full 16 game season yet. His career total of 38 receptions for 403 yards and two touchdowns is not very inspiring.
Moss did show a glimpse of his talent in week five of 2008 when he scored both of his touchdowns in a 44-6 drubbing of Seattle. Unfortunately, he was unable to build off of that performance.
David Tyree suffered knee and hamstring injuries in 2008, ultimately ending the season on injured reserve without recording an offensive statistic.
Although he was a hero of Super Bowl XLII, Tyree will likely be relegated to special teams if he does manage to return from his injuries and make the Giants roster in 2009.
Derek Hagan was picked up in December of 2008 to add size and depth to the wide receiver corps after the Burress suspension.
He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 2006, but his promising off-season performances never translated into useful production on game days during the regular season.
The fact that Miami released him for his lack of desire is not very promising, especially since he was let go instead of under-achieving Earnest Wilford.
From a fantasy perspective, it does not appear that any of the Giants’ wide receivers will be dominant at their position. This is assuming they do not have Braylon Edwards, who despite his numerous dropped passes, would be a high-end No. 2 fantasy receiver.
Without a play-maker like Edwards, the Giants may lean heavily on Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, with Manning spreading the ball around equally to his receiving targets.
Plus, Manning has begun to develop a nice relationship with Kevin Boss in the red zone.
Boss had six receiving touchdowns in his first full year as a starter, and should continue to take touchdown opportunities away from the wide receivers.
As starters, Hixon and Smith could become valuable fantasy back-ups, and probably be considered high-end to middle number three receivers.
If the Giants do get one of their wide receiver targets in the draft, they would definitely warrant consideration. Caution is advised, however, and monitoring their off-season is crucial before making any decisions.
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