Heading into the NFL Draft, it was my belief that receiving prospect Hakeem Nicks was very underrated. Many compared him to Anquan Boldin, who caught 85 percent of his passes this past season within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Nicks, in my opinion, brings a lot more to the table than that.
North Carolina head coach Butch Davis weighed in on how he views Nicks: “He’s so different. We were were blessed when I was at Miami. We had some great guys in Andre Johnson, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne. And they’re all a little bit different.
"You don’t want to put the burden on a kid coming in his rookie year, but a lot of his physical attributes are very similar to Michael Irvin. He’s big, he’s physical, he catches the ball over the middle, he’s got the ability to play physical when people are draped all over him as they’re going to be in the National Football League.
"The corners are so good they’re going to stick to you like glue, so you’ve got to be able to separate yourself, not only with speed, but you’ve got to be able to be physical enough. I just think he’s a very, very talented, good player.”
Nicks ran every route that pro teams run while at UNC, and at a very successful level. Here is a breakdown of Nick’s performance in the pro route tree:
As you can see, Nicks is more than just an underneath presence—he knows how to get open down the field. The comparison to Irvin is much more accurate than is the Boldin one, because Irvin, like Nicks, caught passes all over the field.
Timed speed means little. When someone averages 35 yards per catch on corner routes, he knows how to utilize the double move and get open down the field.
Plaxico Burress relied on his physical prowess to run by defenders and get open. But he also was injured often. So while many people believe Burress is “irreplaceable,” I believe he can easily be replaced by someone who can stay healthy, be passionate about the game, and utilize his skill set to his advantage.
Nicks is not the only piece that the Giants added on offense from this draft. They also added receiver Ramses Barden out of Cal Poly, who, at 6'6", is even bigger than Burress.
Barden caught 50 touchdowns at Cal Poly and will be expected to become an immediate red zone target. With a tree like Barden out wide, opponents will be forced to consider moving another player out to defend the receiver in the red zone. Barden should compete for time as the "X" receiver as the season goes on as well.
The next addition is Travis Beckum, who played tight end at Wisconsin but will convert to H-back, a new position for the Giant offense. The H-back can line up anywhere—the backfield, on the line, or out wide. This will force the defense to decide whether to place a safety or a linebacker on him.
For those curious about the position, Redskins tight end Chris Cooley is an example of an H-back.
All told, the Giants will sport a deep threat over the middle, a monster red zone target, and a player who will cause fits for opposing defenses in terms of how they choose to defend him.
I would take all that over a receiver like Boldin who has been injured all but two seasons in his career, and catches most of his passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Boldin is very talented, but also demands an unreasonable salary. The same can be said for Braylon Edwards.
The Giants did not make the “wrong decision” by not bringing in either of those two players—it was never possible in the first place. Any link the team had to them was simply rumor.
In conclusion, I concede that it may take time for rookies to adjust, but I also believe that they will be major contributors from day one.
UNC's Davis went on to discuss on what he expects Nicks to do for the Giants:
“You know, I think all rookies struggle in some respects. I think the thing that will help almost any rookie is the team. Fortunately for him, the Giants are a terrific team. They’ve got a great defense, they can run the football, and anytime you can do the things they can do, that will help him."
"Now, I think one of the things that hopefully will help him from a mental standpoint is he’s been in a pro-style offense now for the last two years. Everything that we’ve done here (at Carolina) is pretty similar to the things we did when I was with the Cowboys and the Browns and Miami."
"So I think the volume of things he’s going to have to learn won’t intimidate him. Certainly learning to play at the pace and the speed and the length of the season that it is, all rookies are going to go through that."
"But absolutely, I think at the end of his rookie year I think he’ll have certainly earned the respect of being worthy of a being a first-round draft choice.”
The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers home-grew all of their receivers. None were “scary” at the outset of the 2008 season, but now Santonio Holmes is a legitimate threat because of the team’s willingness to develop him.
In 2009, someone among Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, Ramses Barden, and Travis Beckum will become that “scary” threat that defenses must account for, and will help the Giants in their chase for another Lombardi Trophy. Bank on it.