A natural transition is taking place within the New York Giants' receiving corps, and the best thing the Giants can do now is step aside and let nature take its course.
Hakeem Nicks is a talented dude, but Rueben Randle is younger, possesses a higher ceiling, is less prone to injury and is already playing better football. Regardless of Nicks' health status moving forward, Randle should be the team's No. 1 outside receiver during the final five weeks of what appears to be an irrecoverable 2013 season.
Last week, we showed you how Nicks appeared to be getting less separation than ever, despite the fact the 25-year-old is supposed to be smack dab in the midst of his prime. He's yet to find the end zone this year, his reception percentage has dropped and his drop percentage has increased sharply. He looks slow and unenthusiastic. And now he's been hit again by the injury bug, which is something he hasn't been able to shake throughout his five-year career.
Randle, on the other hand, is finally coming into his own. He was solid as a rookie and was still productive early in his second season, but he was still making notable mistakes that have seemed to disappear of late.
For the first time this year, Randle started in place of the injured Nicks on Sunday against Dallas, earning a career-high 69 snaps and the highest Pro Football Focus (subscription required) grade among all Giants skill position players.
|Hakeem Nicks vs. Rueben Randle, 2013|
|PFF WR rating||68.3||84.8|
|Deep pass catch rate||23.1||33.3|
|Pro Football Focus|
Since the Giants' Week 9 bye, Randle has caught nine of the 11 passes thrown his way for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Five of those grabs have been for 20 yards or more, something Nicks has accomplished only 10 times in 10 starts.
Randle's routes keep becoming crisper, and his cuts have been sharp.
Good work in tight spaces and good awareness, too.
And he's quite elusive as well.
"I think getting Hakeem back will help get ourselves back on track," Cruz said this week, per Newsday. "He's another weapon out there for us that we definitely need. With him, myself, Rueben, with all of us on the same page and clicking on all cylinders we're a tough team to beat."
That's the right thing to say, because the players aren't supposed to think about life beyond the season at hand. But the reality is that there's a good chance the Giants will have to learn how to be themselves and win games without Nicks if he leaves town in the spring.
The Giants picked Randle in the second round last year for a reason. It's time to let him prove that he can be Cruz's partner in crime in 2014 and beyond. They already know what they have in Nicks, so why let him up his free-agent value at the expense of Randle's progress?
Let Randle continue to emerge while waiting to let Nicks walk, eventually earning the team a compensatory draft pick as a bonus.
There isn't a lot to look forward to Sunday night when the Giants take on Washington, but Randle deserves another shot to play from start to finish against a vulnerable Washington defense. And regardless of what happens there, the Giants would be smart to feature Randle indefinitely beyond that.