Wide receiver is not only New York's most talented position, it's their deepest
The New York Giants will have to rely heavily on their wide receivers in order to be successful in 2013. With two all-pro caliber talents in their stable, there is no doubt this group is the strength of New York's team.
Both Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz have been tremendous in becoming two reliable targets for quarterback Eli Manning. The contrasting styles with which these players approach the game has proven to be an effective combination.
Behind Nicks and Cruz are some intriguing players entering different stages in their careers.
First, there's the young Rueben Randle, poised to break out after coming on strong late in 2012. Two players looking to supplant Randle for those ever-valuable third receiver reps are Louis Murphy and Ramses Barden. Unlike their superior on the depth chart, Murphy and Barden have yet to consistently find a place on the football field.
Based purely on talent and promise, there's a strong case to be made that this wide receiver corps is the best in the NFL. Here's a closer look at how the New York Giants' depth chart stacks up as the 2013 season rapidly approaches.
Ramses Barden showed a glimpse of what he is capable of against Carolina last season.
New York re-signed Ramses Barden late in May in order to add depth to its wide receiver group. The former third-round pick in 2009 out of Cal Poly is an ideal fit for the Giants' roster.
Despite failing to meet expectations thus far in his career, Barden helps fill several voids for Kevin Gilbride on offense.
With both Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz missing from OTA's, Eli Manning could use a familiar face during camp. This type of rapport is crucial in helping usher along younger receivers like Rueben Randle and newcomers such as Louis Murphy.
Don't let Barden's place on the depth chart fool you. The limited evidence of his time on the field is extremely impressive.
In Barden's lone start in 2012, a Thursday night game in Carolina (Week 3), he was targeted 10 times by Eli Manning en route to nine catches and 138 yards. This startling performance was supposed to signal that Barden had finally arrived, but he only managed four catches the rest of the season.
With their fifth wide receiver, the Giants have a talented player who is familiar with the offense. When called into action, Barden has also shown the ability to be effective.
Murphy could be a valuable deep threat for Eli Manning
A player who adds yet another dimension to New York's offense is Louis Murphy. The Giants were shrewd to sign this veteran heading into his fifth season in the league because of his ability to stretch the defense vertically.
In an offseason where general manager Jerry Reese resorted to signing players for veteran's minimum contracts, Murphy could prove to be quite the bargain in 2013.
While this player hasn't exactly been a model of consistency during his time in Oakland and Carolina, a connection with an established quarterback like Eli Manning will certainly help jump-start his career.
When Murphy has lined up with a talented quarterback in this league, they have unfortunately been immature or grossly inexperienced. If the QB had experience, they lacked any semblance of talent. Now, heading into his fifth season, Murphy will catch balls from a proven quarterback who gets the most out of his receivers.
There is very little downside to the offseason signing of Louis Murphy. Expect the Giants to get plenty of production in return for their $750,000 investment.
The Giants expect big things from Rueben Randle in 2013
No player will benefit more from the absence of Cruz and Nicks during OTA's than Rueben Randle. The second-year pro out of LSU relishes the opportunity to expand his role in New York's offense.
Randle was inconsistent during his rookie season and struggled to make an overall impact on the field. The former second-round pick is expected to elevate his game in 2013, especially coming off an offseason in which his reps have increased.
Randle caught 19 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns last season.
New York would ideally like to see this player fill the void left by Mario Manningham following their Super Bowl XLVI triumph. From experience, the coaching staff understands that patience is often the best tool to use when developing these types of players.
In Manningham's first NFL season he recorded just four catches. During his second year in the league, the former Michigan Wolverine caught 57 balls for 822 yards. That kind of jump in production is something the Giants are clamoring to see from Rueben Randle in 2013.
New York's wide receiver corps will be a scary outfit if Randle can thrive during his second season in the league.
This is yet another player who has the ability to make plays on all levels of the field due to his route running. Often times, the only thing holding a player with Randle's talents back is the attention to detail. With an extra year of maturity and experience under his belt, expect Rueben Randle to break out this season.
Victor Cruz is probably getting tired of his contract situation
The success of New York's receivers is due in large part to the way they compliment each other. In a group that feeds off one another on a play-to-play basis, Victor Cruz is the most important cog.
Although he is immersed in a contract stalemate, Cruz can be counted on to perform in 2013.
This isn't the most talented player on the Giants' depth chart. Nor the most physically gifted player. Yet somehow Victor Cruz has managed to become New York's most productive and durable wide receiver in the past two seasons.
Even if Cruz's contract squabble spills into the season, do not expect anything to distract him from putting up massive numbers. In the last two seasons, Cruz has combined for 168 catches, 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns.
For two very distinct reasons, Cruz will eclipse the 100-catch mark for the first time in his career in 2013.
The emergence of Rueben Randle on the outside will allow Cruz to line up almost exclusively in the slot where he thrives. This will give Eli Manning an extraordinary safety valve in key situations and also open up plenty of space for Cruz to operate on the field.
A longstanding contract negotiation which is seemingly headed nowhere is another factor which could spur Cruz. If he plays the year without a long-term deal, he will inevitably receive a monstrous contract following the 2013 season. The thought of playing for a Mike Wallace-type deal is the kind of incentive which Victor Cruz has never needed; but it certainly can't hurt.
When healthy, Hakeem Nicks is a phenomenal talent
The top guns in the NFL make their name on the outside. For that reason Hakeem Nicks is the Giants' No. 1 receiver. This is a player who is starting to become frustratingly tantalizing for the organization.
In the 2011 playoffs Nicks posted back-to-back performances which propelled New York to victory. Against Atlanta in the Wild Card round, he had six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. The very next week in Green Bay he recorded seven receptions, 165 yards and two touchdowns. An ability to carry a team and dominate opposing cornerbacks is what the Giants have come to expect from Hakeem Nicks.
Week 2 of the 2012 season best describes the vexation surrounding Nick's career.
In an early-season matchup against Tampa Bay, Nicks erupted for 10 catches, 199 yards and a touchdown. Following this spellbinding game, however, Nicks was never the same. Knee and foot injuries hampered the former North Carolina Tarheel for the remainder of the season.
Injuries are something Hakeem Nicks must overcome or avoid if he wants to be regarded as a top-flight receiver.
The types of plays this receiver is capable of making when healthy can be mesmerizing. As Nicks heads into a contract year, expect the Giants to utilize his talents on a consistent basis, as he is their "go-to guy."