The Great Debate: Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt (or Edwards or Boldin or...)
A week after the draft (now seriously jonesing for some football), I have decided to share my thoughts about the Giants' alleged wide receiver woes.
I knew going into the draft the Giants were seriously looking at several prospects at WR for their first pick, most notably Jeremy Maclin, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Hakeem Nicks, and Kenny Britt (in order of pre-draft grade).
There was also the possibility that the G-men would package some of their many picks for a veteran wideout like Braylon Edwards or Anquan Boldin.
Being a native of NJ and a law student at Rutgers, I was completely elated when the Giants were up to pick and Kenny Britt was still on the board. Here was a tall, lanky receiver that was extremely productive in college on a team without a lot of weapons and who fit the mold of the kind of receiver the Giants lost in Plaxico Burress.
So I was a tad disappointed when neither a proven veteran nor my homeboy became part of Big Blue.
Instead, the Giants selected Hakeem Nicks, a 6'0" receiver who didn’t place anywhere near the top of the combine drills (especially the 40, where he was even slower than the taller Britt), scored an 11 on his Wonderlic (the lowest out of the WR class), and who showed up overweight to his personal workout (supposedly a hamstring injury led to his weight gain).
So the debate and comparison commenced: Who was a better pick, Nicks or Britt—or should the Giants have passed on both and gone for a veteran WR? Granted, Nicks had a slightly better grade going into the draft, but how much better can he be than Britt being that Britt got selected with the very next pick by the Titans?
If you listened to the Giants' brass post-draft, their comments would lead you to believe that they felt Britt was a reach as a first rounder, too much of a project. However, how much more of a project could Britt be than any other rookie WR given rookie receivers' lack of success?
The Giants under Jerry Reese have an excellent track record of evaluating prospects, highlighted by the 2007 Draft, where almost every pick contributed to the Giants' Super Bowl run.
However, the Titans are no draft dummies either (e.g. Chris Johnson last year, who went under everyone's radar to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie RB).
On the surface, both receivers seem equivalent, with Britt possibly being a better fit due to his size. Both played in pro-style offenses and had equally productive three-year careers on equally mediocre teams playing in BCS conferences:
Britt: 178 receptions, 3,043 yards, 17 TDs
Nicks: 181 receptions, 2,840 yards, 21 TDs
Both had equal amounts of help to produce those outstanding numbers. Britt was aided by an NFL-caliber QB in Mike Teel, who was a late round selection by the Seahawks (though I was really surprised Teel got drafted, having watched his erratic play in college and the fact Graham Harrell and other notable QBs didn't get drafted).
Also, Britt was paired with another NFL-caliber WR in Tiquan Underwood. Lastly, in 2007 Britt had the benefit of one of the nation's top running attacks in Ray Rice.
However, Nicks had a good supporting cast as well. He was part of a WR corps that had three WRs (and one TE) taken in the 2009 Draft: Brandon Tate, Brooks Foster, and Nicks. Nicks may not have been the best receiver on his team last year.
At the beginning of last year, Nicks was being overshadowed by Brandon Tate, who was putting up sick numbers before blowing out his knee. Tate ended up being selected by the Patriots in the third round despite having tested positive for marijuana at the combine.
Whenever Belichick actually uses one of his picks (and doesn't trade it away), it is very telling as to the caliber of player selected.
One can see the production vs. support argument in one of two ways. Either Nicks compiled his stats BECAUSE defenses had to focus on all the other weapons, or Nicks was productive IN SPITE of the support since he had to share the plays with the other two receivers.
Also, one can argue the Nicks played in a slightly better conference than Britt because the Big East only has West Virginia and Louisville as perennial powerhouses (look at the number of ACC players vs. Big East players drafted in 2009).
The bottom line is that Nicks put up huge numbers last year after Tate went down, becoming the sole focal point of opposing defenses in a conference that had some pretty good defenses (e.g. Wake Forest, BC, VA Tech, etc.).
Ultimately, the pick of Nicks over Britt may have come down to relationships and "fit." Tom Coughlin and the Giants staff have longstanding relationships with Butch Davis, the UNC head coach, who gave Nicks glowing recommendations. Davis runs a pro-style system, and Nicks was heralded as the most pro-ready receiver (even over Michael Crabtree).
Britt trained with Rod Smith, ex-Bronco receiver, who recommended Britt to Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger (Smith's ex-OC in Denver). So the Titans may have been targeting Britt regardless of whether Nicks got drafted.
Further contributing to the Giants favoring Nicks was Britt's supposed diva attitude and poor showing at the Giants' personal workout of Britt.
Perhaps the Giants felt playing at home would be too much of a distraction for an allegedly immature underclassman. New 20-something-year-old millionaires often don't fare well when pushed and pulled by their hometown entourage.
Despite Britt having the body type of Plax, the Giants must have felt that Nicks was a better fit for their system and had a better chance of contributing on day one.
After considering all this information, I have concluded that Nicks was the right choice in terms of value at the pick (of course, it all ultimately comes down to what they do on the field). I encourage all Giants fans to watch the online clips of Britt and Nicks, which I have done multiple times.
Despite the stats and measurements, Nicks just simply passes the eyeball test over Britt. These highlight reels are the best face that people can put together for either player, and Nicks is clearly more impressive. Nicks is constantly doing more with less, making people miss, separating from DBs after he catches the ball, refusing to go down, and catching bad throws.
On the contrary, Britt for his size is getting tackled way too easily, catching the ball and going down, catching the ball with his body, and not extending his hands to catch over defenders.
In sum, Nicks plays taller with his short thick frame, whereas Britt actually plays smaller than he is. Check out the size of Nicks' hands in the article picture. They are almost the size of the defender's head.
Additionally, the Nicks pick makes sense when put together with Ramses Barden—Nicks the polished receiver paired with Barden the project receiver.
Had the Giants picked Britt, who was perceived as a project, the Giants may not have drafted Barden—who could end up being a better "big" receiver than Britt—or they would have had two projects to develop with similar skill sets.
Britt is the better bet to develop into a "big" receiver than Barden because he played at a better level of competition, but this is not a given. For example, Marques Colston is a big receiver out of Hofstra (I-AA) who is significantly better than Dwayne Jarrett, a big receiver out of USC.
Whether Nicks and Barden are better than Braylon Edwards or Anquan Boldin, since those are the picks that would have had to be given up, is yet another debate. In the short term I would say no, but for the long-term health of the Giants' roster and cap situation, I would say yes.
People are overlooking that Edwards or Boldin, though they are veterans, would still need time to get acclimated to the offense and develop chemistry with Eli Manning. Plus, both would command hefty contract extensions.
Edwards is going to be a free agent in 2010 anyway, which could be an uncapped year, so the Giants may still be able to land him if the young WRs don't pan out.
Barden and Nicks may be the younger clones of Edwards and Boldin (I know that's a big maybe), so why would you give up that potential for Boldin or Edwards when they may be acquired for less?
Reese is very shrewd. He was able to get the price he wanted for Jeremy Shockey by not panicking and trading him before or during the draft. By the way, Shockey barely played last season, and that trade turned into Clint Sintim and Barden.
I believe part of the reason the Giants faltered without Plax is because so much of their offense was dependent on Plax. With a training camp to establish another way to run the offense, the Giants can certainly compensate for the loss of Burress.
Remember that most teams don't have a Plax-like receiver, and yet the Steelers and Colts win consistently with smaller receivers. When Kevin Gilbride ran the run and shoot back in the day with the Oilers, he never had a stud WR, but rather a bunch of solid receivers that ran really good routes.
Of course, their success was based on having Warren Moon, and so too, the Giants' success will be predicated on Eli becoming a consistent weapon himself rather than just an adequate player aided by other weapons.
No matter how you look at this debate, Nicks and Britt will be compared for as long as they are in the NFL. One thing is for sure—all Giants fans should be excited about this upcoming season. I would love to hear what the community thinks about this debate. Cheers.
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