New York Giants: Top 5 Free-Agent Fits at Wide Receiver
With the NFL Scouting Combine just about wrapped for this year, the New York Giants and the rest of the NFL will soon be turning their full attention to the upcoming free-agency period which begins on March 9.
The Giants, as readers no doubt know, have a lot of needs across the roster and a lot of cash—Over the Cap projects New York as having about $58.9 million in salary-cap space, a number that could swell north of $60 million if the team works out a lower cap number for receiver Victor Cruz before the start of free agency.
To help get you ready for free agency, I’m going to focus on a different position of need for Big Blue and give you five players who, if the price is right, might be a good fit.
Let’s start with wide receiver.
Rueben Randle is set to become a free agent. Despite the wideout's age (24), it was interesting that in his combine press conference with the media, head coach Ben McAdoo was reluctant to say the least about Randle’s return while being more definitive about Cruz’s return from two significant injuries.
Whether that means McAdoo and the Giants have decided to move on from Randle—and that wouldn’t be surprising if they have—remains to be seen.
The problem, though, is with the 29-year-old Cruz still very much a question mark, there’s really no one on the roster right now who could serve as a complementary receiver to Odell Beckham Jr.
Cincinnati’s Mohamed Sanu, who played his college ball at Rutgers, has been mentioned as a potential Giants free-agent target by CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora. Sanu has caught just 62.1 percent of his career receiving targets for 1,854 yards, 901 of which have come after the catch. The biggest concern with Sanu? He has 11 career touchdowns and 22 career dropped passes.
Rishard Matthews, Miami
Although he only played 533 snaps last year, Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews quietly put together a solid season that saw him best teammate Jarvis Landry’s completion percentage—Matthews caught 72.9 percent of his pass targets to Landry’s 71 percent—and yards-per-reception average (5.7 to Landry’s 5.2).
In addition, both Landry and Matthews came up with four touchdowns apiece, though Matthews had one fewer drop (six) than Landry and was the target on just one of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s interceptions versus the three intended for Landry.
Where Matthews pales in comparison to Landry is in elusiveness—he managed to create just three missed tackles versus the 28 Landry created.
Matthews probably won’t generate much in the way of yards after the catch—he’s averaging 4.6 YAC over his career—and he did miss time last season with a rib injury.
Matthews probably isn’t worth outrageous money, though on a team with cash to spend and a glaring need for production at the No. 2 receiver spot, it would be hard not to consider Matthews if the Dolphins aren’t able to re-sign him.
Travis Benjamin, Cleveland
At first glance, Travis Benjamin’s career numbers aren’t all that impressive. In four seasons, he has caught an average of 51.9 percent of the pass targets thrown his way, with his best season being in 2015 when he caught 58.6 percent of his pass targets.
How much of that is a result of the unstable quarterback play that has plagued the Browns for years needs to be taken into consideration.
All things considered, Benjamin looks like he’s made chicken salad out of chicken gizzards. Benjamin is the only one of the 2016 unrestricted free-agent receivers to top 900 yards in 2015.
Of his 966 yards last season, 363 came on deep passes of 20 or more yards. In addition, four of Benjamin’s eight deep receptions went for touchdowns. Benjamin had five touchdowns in 2015, and he finished fourth in the NFL with six catches of 40-plus yards.
Benjamin, who was also a punt returner for the Browns, finished fourth in the NFL (minimum of 15 returns) with an average of 11.6 yards per punt return.
According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Benjamin’s agent, Ron Butler, told NFL Network that contract talks with the Browns have broken off and the 26-year-old receiver will hit the market on March 9.
It’s unclear what Benjamin is seeking with his next contract, but if the Giants are looking to add another deep threat, it might behoove them to set up a meeting with Benjamin.
Bryan Walters, Jacksonville
If the Giants want to shore up their depth at the slot position just in case Victor Cruz either doesn’t make it back or contract talks on a revised 2016 cap number hit a snag, a potential candidate who might be able to provide help is Bryan Walters of Jacksonville.
Walters, who can also serve as a punt and kickoff returner, has bounced around the league in his still-young career. He spent two seasons with the Chargers (2010-2011) as an undrafted free agent.
Walters (6’0”, 195 lbs), signed with Jacksonville last season and finally seemed to get things off the ground. As the Jaguars’ slot receiver, he caught 27 balls for 319 yards and one touchdown before struggling with injuries toward the end of the season.
Before then, Walters had the best catch rate (87.1) among slot receivers who took at least 25 percent of their teams snaps in that role.
While the Giants obviously hope to have Cruz back for the slot role this year, they need to protect themselves with a backup plan just in case something goes awry.
Based on one season’s worth of production, Walters might be worth a modest short-term contract—perhaps even a one-year, “show me” deal that the Giants have seemed to hand out like candy over the last couple of offseasons.
Jermaine Kearse, Seattle
Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse might just be one of the more underrated pending free agents this year.
Last season, he produced a 126.1 passer rating when he was targeted—the fourth-best for any NFL wide receiver.
To put that number into perspective, that was better than Odell Beckham Jr.’s 114.1 NFL Rating last year. Also, Kearse’s plus-7.4 cumulative grade earned from Week 14 onward (including playoffs) was the seventh-best for wide receivers.
That kind of production is hard to ignore, especially since other than Rueben Randle’s 106.5 rating, not one other Giants receiver topped 100.0 last year.
A potential one-two punch of Kearse and Odell Beckham Jr. for the next five years or so could potentially take the Giants’ passing game to new heights.
Marvin Jones, Cincinnati
If the Giants are intent on signing a Bengals receiver, Marvin Jones is the way to go. Although he missed the 2014 season with a broken toe—Bengals team reporter Geoff Hobson reported that Jones had a pin inserted into the fifth metatarsal of Jones’ foot—the receiver rebounded in 2015 with his best season in terms of receptions (65) and yards (816).
In fact, Jones’ 12 missed tackles last season led the Bengals’ receivers by a mile, with Green’s six being the closest mark.
If comparing Jones’ production to that of Green—Jones played in 925 snaps to Green’s 958 last season—both have caught 69 percent of their pass targets, with Jones’ yards-after-the-catch average (4.6) besting Green’s (3.9).
If Jones hits free agency, he should be the Giants’ top target at receiver, and it shouldn’t even be close.
Unless otherwise noted, all advanced analytics are via Pro Football Focus.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.
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