Over the past few seasons, the New York Giants passing game has expanded ever so slightly. No longer dependent on the ground game for offensive success, the Giants have allowed quarterback Eli Manning to win games on his arm.
For the majority of Manning’s NFL career, the Giants have hovered around an offensive breakdown in which they run the ball 45 percent of the time and throw it 55 percent of the time. The most run-heavy offense directed by Manning was the 2008 team, which ran the ball on just under half of its total snaps.
Manning’s passing attack has swelled in recent years, presumably reaching its pinnacle during the 2011 Super Bowl season, when the Giants threw the ball on 60 percent of their snaps. Last season, that number leveled out a bit—42 percent (run), 58 percent (pass)—but there is still a clear emphasis on the passing game, especially since Manning appears to be in the prime of his career.
Considering the importance Manning’s aerial attack has on the team’s overall success, it is necessary to take an advance look at his biggest targets in 2013.
After he was hampered by foot and knee injuries for the entire 2012 season, Hakeem Nicks looks to make a healthy recovery in 2013.
Nicks is the Giants’ clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver, when healthy. He has freakishly large hands, which complement his thick frame well. He can beat man-to-man coverage more consistently than any other New York receiver.
However, Nicks’ durability is always in question. In his four seasons with the Giants, Nicks has never suited up for all 16 games. His most productive season came in 2011, when he played in 15 games, catching 76 balls for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns. He is entering a contract year, and the organization will certainly assess his question marks when developing a new deal.
Projected Statistics: 67 catches, 1,050 yards, 5 TDs
Cruz has been in the spotlight for two seasons now, and opponents will know to key in on him in 2013. During his short career, Cruz has been most productive in the slot, but he also has the ability to make plays on the outside.
Cruz isn’t as physical as Nicks, and that makes him less effective against a team’s top cornerback. He is most effective when there is at least one other receiver on the field who must be respected, possibly even double-teamed. Regardless, Cruz has found a way to get the job done, breaking 1,000 yards receiving in both 2011 and 2012.
Projected Statistics: 70 catches, 950 yards, 9 TDs
In his second season as a professional, many fans expect Rueben Randle to have a breakout year.
Randle is the largest of New York’s wide receivers, making him a veritable threat along the sideline and in the end zone. The former second-round pick should see an expanded role in 2013, as Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden will both be out of the picture.
If Randle develops into the pass-catcher whom the Giants expect him to be, New York may possess one of the most dangerous receiving trios in the league. It is almost certain that Randle will eclipse the reception (19) and yardage (298) marks he set during his rookie campaign.
Projected Statistics: 41 catches, 610 yards, 6 TDs
An under-the-radar acquisition, Louis Murphy has the speed to stretch the field, opening up everything underneath for Manning, while also providing the offense with a tantalizing deep threat.
Murphy was a fourth-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2009, primarily because of his sub-4.4 40-yard dash time. In 2010, Murphy’s most productive NFL season, he gained only 609 yards receiving. He has never played in a top-tier offense, though, so some close work with Manning could result in a statistical spike for Murphy.
The speedster worked with Cam Newton in Carolina last season, catching only one touchdown pass on 25 total grabs. In each of Murphy’s four seasons, however, he has averaged over 13 yards per catch. Murphy could be the Giants’ big play threat in 2013.
Projected Statistics: 22 catches, 370 yards, 3 TDs
The Giants surprised everyone by replacing tight end Martellus Bennett with an even more productive pass-catcher in Brandon Myers.
Manning likes to find his tight end when the pocket breaks down, and Myers should be an easy target to find; he is 6'4" and weighs in at 250 pounds. Myers caught almost 80 passes last season, but he only caught 32 passes in the previous three seasons combined.
Much of Myers' 2012 production came when the Raiders were already trailing, with the opposing defense sitting back in a prevent defense. Because of this, Myers' statistics may have been a bit inflated. It’ll be interesting to see how close he comes to matching last season’s numbers while playing with the Giants
Projected Statistics: 48 catches, 560 yards, 8 TDs
The Other Guys
Some other players will have to emerge from the pack to round out Manning’s 2013 passing attack.
Wide receivers Jerrel Jernigan, Kris Adams, Brandon Collins and Kevin Hardy are also currently under contract, but that will certainly change before training camp is over.
Jernigan is the only one who has caught a pass with the Giants, but he will be in a make-or-break year in 2013. Through the draft and undrafted free agency, the Giants will flesh out their preseason roster with young receivers, creating even more competition at the position.
At tight end, Bear Pascoe, Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell will be in the mix. None of those three have extensive pass-catching experience at the NFL level, though. Out of the backfield, running back David Wilson and fullback Henry Hynoski will both be effective in the receiving game.
The Giants “supporting cast” (all pass-catchers other than the top four wide receivers and starting tight end) accumulated 71 receptions, 692 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.
Projected Statistics (combined): 70 catches, 650 yards, 2 TDs
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.