Jerrel Jernigan certainly finished off the season on a high note for the New York Giants. The wide receiver was the most explosive player in Sunday's 20-6 win over the Washington Redskins. He scored a touchdown each for the passing and rushing game. For a player who has hardly seen any action since he signed with the Giants in 2011, Jernigan has left the team wanting to see more.
Giants president John Mara wasn't even sure why Jernigan hadn't been given many chances earlier in the season, telling Paul Schwartz of New York Post:
I’m not sure why it took us three years to find out Jerrel Jernigan could play. Sometimes you have to put younger players in the game and give them a chance. It would have been nice for him to get in a little bit earlier. That’s not my decision.
After being drafted by the Giants in 2011, he didn't record a single reception within the regular season or postseason. In the 2012 season, Jernigan then only had three receptions for 22 yards.
Jernigan again barely saw any play time during the first half of the 2013 season. He collected just 18 yards with three receptions, all of it happening between two games, a 38-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers and a 36-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Then, during three games against the Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, Jernigan started to see more playing time. Suddenly, he wasn't just getting five-yard receptions. He started receiving 21, 24 and 29 yards a game.
Still, none of the compared to the last three weeks of the season. With Cruz out due to a knee injury, Jernigan was able to connect more with Eli Manning. In a lost game against the Seattle Seahawks, Jerningan recorded 67 receiving yards with an average of 9.6 yards per reception.
Those numbers improved over the next weeks.
In the Giants' 23-20 overtime win against the Detroit Lions, Jernigan contributed 80 total receiving yards and a touchdown with six receptions. And in the last game of the season, he outdid himself by having 90 receiving yards on six receptions. Jernigan averaged 15 yards per reception.
His longest catch was a 30-yard pass from Manning. Jernigan then caught a 24-yard touchdown from Manning a few plays later with seven minutes left in the second quarter. Catch the touchdown pass at the 00:32 mark in the video below. The NFL rated Jernigan's catch No. 2 of the week.
And for the first time, Jernigan did some rushing as well. He rushed twice for 57 yards, averaging 28.5 yards per carry, and even scored a touchdown. His longest run was 49 yards for the touchdown.
He scored both a passing and rushing touchdown on the day.
Over the past three weeks, Jernigan caught 19 receptions for 237 receiving yards. He also rushed for 57 yards. He has a season total of three touchdowns. Some people, like Mara, have brought up the question: Why hasn't Jernigan been able to play significant time over the past three seasons?
The truth of the matter is that he was probably given small opportunities but never impressed the coaches too much. Besides, it's hard to get recognized when a player is so far down a depth chart. He has practically been buried behind players like Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Mario Manningham and others.
If the Giants like what they have seen in Jernigan over the last half of the season, then maybe they should think about giving him a bigger role next year.
It's a bit doubtful that the Giants would keep Nicks next season. Even though Nicks himself would consider staying, according to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. If the free agent does go, maybe it would be an opportunity for Jernigan to show the Giants that he can fit into the scheme of things.
Of course, we have only seen a sample size of what Jernigan can do. He can either be ready to take over a wide receiver slot, or he can just as easily be a fluke. The Giants should certainly monitor him during the preseason and go from there.
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