New York Giants: Next Chapter of Hakeem Nicks Saga Begins Sunday Night

Kevin BoilardCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2013

What kind of season can we expect from Hakeem Nicks?
What kind of season can we expect from Hakeem Nicks?USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday night, a fully healthy Hakeem Nicks will take the field at MetLife stadium as his New York Giants take on the Indianapolis Colts in the second preseason match-up of the summer.

After limping his way through the entire 2012 season, it will be refreshing to see No. 88 in blue stride down the far sideline at full speed—even if he plays less than a half.  As long as Nicks makes one leaping grab downfield or improbable snag in traffic, would it not be worth it?

All Giants fans want to see is a flash of those infamous 10.5-inch hands (finally) working in coordination with a pair of fully fit lower limbs.

Will Nicks find himself on the receiving end of an Eli Manning rainbow, like Victor Cruz did against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week?  Perhaps he will remind second-year man Rueben Randle of his old third-receiver role.He better hope.

All eyes will be on Nicks.

The former North Carolina Tar Heel was the first Giants wide receiver to be selected in the first round of the draft since 1997, when New York chose University of Florida product Ike Hilliard with the seventh overall pick.In eight seasons with the Giants, Hilliard, who also wore No. 88, compiled 4,630 receiving yards and 27 touchdown catches.Nicks has only four seasons of experience under his belt, but he is already within 1,000 yards of Hilliard's total.He matched his touchdown mark last year.

Nicks entered the league on the heels of Amani Toomer's career, the most prolific of any receiver's in Giants history.Toomer logged nearly 10,000 receiving yards in 13 seasons, all in New York.The newcomer had all the physical tools to become the next Toomer—maybe even greater than that.

Pain was but a nuisance in Nicks' back-to-back 70-catch seasons in 2010 and 2011.It was a rarity to see the big receiver at full strength, but, at the time, it didn't matter.He could manhandle opposing cornerbacks at will, and injuries never seemed to slow him down a bit.

He was superhuman—until 2012.

Mortality hit Nicks hard in the form of a broken foot.Later, the problem was compounded by a banged-up knee.A gimpier version of Nicks began taking the field week in, week out.New York's fragile offensive balance was thrown askew; the trickle-down effect was tangible.

Now, coming off the worst season of his career, the formula is slightly different. Nicks can't hang his hat on a 2011 postseason in which he averaged over 100 yards and a touchdown per game.He can't, of course, be trusted to stay healthy either.The 25-year-old is at a crossroads in his career.

Who, exactly, is Hakeem Nicks?

That's the question he hopes to answer in 2013.He has one season, the final of his rookie contract, to prove his ability, to figure out where he stacks up among the league's best pass-catchers.In six months' time, Nicks will be comparing offers from across the league; the difference between a mega-deal and a jumbo-mega-deal hinge acutely on his statistical output this year.

Nicks was a no-show at organized team activities in May, and he took his dear time to nurse his way back from a minor groin injury during training camp.Head coach Tom Coughlin showed visible frustration with both incidents, but those complaints were probably drowned out by eight-figures reassuringly whispered into Nicks' ear.

There's a good chance this could be Nicks' last season as a Giant.Cruz's new contract will allow New York to be competitive when he reaches free agency, but if Nicks demands top-dollar he is almost certainly a goner.

The only guarantee is that Nicks will be a Giant for the 2013 season.It is in both parties' best interest for him to make the most of the 16 regular season games to come.By the end, revelations will have been made, the landscape will have shifted and we will obtain a clearer picture of the young receiver's bright future.

We will catch our first glimpse when Nicks lines up split out to the sideline with the starting unit on Sunday night.


Kevin is a New York Giants featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a Team Journalist for Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter here.