Main Battle: Rueben Randle vs. Odell Beckham Jr.
To say the Giants passing game was dismal last season is an understatement. Eli Manning led the NFL with a career-high 27 interceptions and was plagued by poor blocking and inconsistent receiver play. Victor Cruz put in a valiant effort but ended up getting injured, falling just shy of his third-consecutive 1,000-yard season.
His running mate, Hakeem Nicks, left in free agency to the Indianapolis Colts following a subpar season in which he didn't find the end zone once. Nicks' poor performance and eventual departure creates a void need across from Cruz that needs to be addressed if the passing game is to return to its Super Bowl form.
If there was one good thing that came out of Nicks' troubles, it was the emergence of second-year receiver Rueben Randle. Appearing in all 16 games, with three starts, Randle had 41 receptions for 611 yards and six touchdowns. It was an admirable performance for a player who wasn't expected to be as large a part of the offense as he was.
Randle's 2013 season was not without its growing pains. According to Pro Football Focus, Randle had the highest interception rate among all receivers with more than 500 yards, with eight of his 76 targets leading to picks. This stemmed from issues he had running the wrong routes, an issue that has GM Jerry Reese reluctant to rely on him.
Randle will have the entire offseason now to really learn the playbook and put those issues to rest. However, he now faces a challenge from Odell Beckham Jr., his former LSU teammate Beckham, the Giants first-round pick, emerged as the third-best receiver in the draft following a season where he posted 59 receptions for 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns.
Beckham has great hands and is a good route-runner. He has excellent leaping ability and can make plays after the catch. He brings a playmaking ability to a Giants offense struggled for big plays when Nicks performance declined. Beckham's big-play abilities are evidenced by the fact that he averaged 19.5 yards per catch last season at LSU, a number that was second-best in the nation to Texas A&M's Mike Evans among receivers with at least 1,000 receiving yards in 2013.
Given his high draft status and his skill set, Beckham could seriously push Randle for the second receiver spot. Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reported that Beckham is currently learning the X receiver position, opposite Randle with Cruz manning the slot.
This battle primarily is for the second receiver in two-receiver sets. Both Randle and Beckham are playmakers and would work well in the second spot across from Cruz. Randle has an edge in height but Beckham is faster.
This is expected to be an extremely tough battle.
Randle looks like the early front-runner to play in two-receiver sets given his experience and his size (6'2" compared to 5'11"). However, much like with Amukamara, Randle will have a short leash. If Beckham starts outperforming him, Coughlin won't hesitate to pull the trigger and go with the rookie.
The receiver position ranks this high because, generally speaking, a quarterback is only as good as his receivers. Manning had issues with his receivers last year, and it showed with 27 interceptions. The position must be figured out if Manning is to play his best.