New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz has been the subject of much debate this offseason, as the team and player work toward a contract extension to keep Cruz on Broadway for the foreseeable future.
Questions have been bandied about concerning the type of player Cruz is, and, concurrently, the type of money he deserves to make: Is Cruz's skill-set unique? Is he a one-of-a kind wide receiver?
Well, not only is Cruz unique, but he's one of the very best receivers in all of football.
Let's examine why Cruz is a one-of-a-kind player:
Production in first two seasons
In fact, when you compare him with the elite wide receivers in football over their first two seasons in the league, there isn't much of a debate: Cruz belongs in the conversation with them.
In Cruz's first two seasons of production, he caught 168 passes for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns. He averaged an incredible 15.6 yards-per-reception (YPR), buoyed by his penchant for big plays (more on that later).
Compare that with the first two seasons of production for arguably the three best receivers in football: Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green.
In Johnson's first two seasons (2007 and 2008), he caught 126 passes for 2,087 yards and 16 touchdowns, while averaging 16.4 YPR. Cruz has him beat in yards and touchdowns, while Megatron slightly edges him out in YPR.
Yes, Cruz had the added benefit of playing with one of the league's best quarterbacks in Eli Manning, but there is simply no reason to marginalize what he's been able to accomplish. It's quite incredible.
His ability to beat teams from inside or outside
One of the main criticisms levied at Cruz has been the "slot receiver" label that has been attached to receivers like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola. While the slot receiver can be a critical cog in any offensive machine, it's been somewhat of a financial scarlet letter, with Welker and Amendola both receiving contracts this offseason in the $6 million range annually.
The reason why Cruz can ask for more money than Welker and Amendola received is because he can contribute at an elite level from either the inside or outside. Just read what B/R's Matt Miller wrote about Cruz in his NFL 1000 series.
While Welker's best YPR in New England was 12.9, Cruz's career total beats that by nearly three whole yards. That's a lot of yardage when accumulated over a full season's worth of catches.
One person who agrees with the argument that Cruz deserves to make more than Welker? Giants co-owner Steve Tisch.
Not a bad guy to have in your corner.
His big-play ability
Cruz has also shown the kind of big-play ability that coaches and fans alike covet, making several game-changing catch-and-runs over the past two seasons.
His 99-yard touchdown against the Jets on Christmas eve in 2011 turned the Giants season around and helped them toward a Super Bowl title.
He also caught the opening touchdown in the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI triumph over the New England Patriots, helping Big Blue to their fourth Lombardi Trophy.
For more of Cruz's playmaking acumen, see the video below.
Overblown comparison to Giants teammate Hakeem Nicks and former Giant Steve Smith
Another major criticism thrown Cruz's way is that he's not even the best receiver on his own team, with that moniker belonging to Hakeem Nicks. Reports have even stated the Giants view extending Nicks as a higher priority than extending Cruz.
There's no doubting that Nicks is a fabulous player in his own right, but to shortchange Cruz because of Nicks is, well, shortsighted.
In fact, in the four games that Nicks has missed over the past two seasons, Cruz has played very well.
In the regular season game in New England in 2011, Cruz caught six passes for 91 yards in a Giants victory.
In Week 3 last season in Carolina, Cruz caught six passes for 42 yards in a 36-7 Giants romp.
In Week 4 last season in Philadelphia, Cruz caught nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in a 19-17 loss.
In a Week 5 home game versus the Browns, Cruz caught five passes for 50 yards and three touchdowns.
All in all, those are pretty darn good numbers for a supposed "number two" receiver to put up in the absence of the alpha dog.
And then, there's the ill-fated comparison to former Giants wide receiver Steve Smith, who had one incredible season in 2008, catching 107 balls for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns.
There is no comparing the two players. Smith was a slot receiver. Cruz can do it all. Cruz averaged more YPR and scored more touchdowns than Smith, and has dominated in the postseason. Cruz is the superior player, and anyone who says differently needs to get a clue.
Cruz is one-of-a-kind
Whether it's comparing Cruz's numbers with the elite receivers in the NFL or looking at his ability to produce from either the inside or outside at a Pro Bowl level, there can be no doubting the uniqueness of Cruz's game.
He's one-of-a-kind, and the Giants would be wise to lock him up for a long, long time.