When the New York Giants released Plaxico Burress following the 2008 season, a void was created in their passing attack which needed to be filled immediately.
Throughout the offseason it was reported the Giants were pursuing veteran receivers Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards. Ultimately, however, a decision was made to use their first round draft pick (29th overall) to acquire the 6’1” and 215-pound Hakeem Nicks in hopes he could be Eli Manning's big-play threat.
Having played his college career at the University of North Carolina, Nicks was never known for having blazing straight-line speed. Instead, his reputation was as a physical player with great athleticism and huge hands which he used to snag balls out of the air in spectacular fashion.
He was well known for his highlight-reel reception in the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl, which was repeatedly shown on ESPN. Nicks made an acrobatic, one-handed, behind the back catch-and-run. Nicks showcased his talent with several other difficult receptions, and finished the game with eight catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
That athleticism is exactly what Nicks has delivered to the Giants. He began to prove that he was everything the Giants were looking for as a replacement for Burress. He led the team with an impressive average of 16.8 yards-per-catch, and ranked seventh among NFL wide receivers with 349 total yards-after-catch.
Overall, his 47 catches for 790 yards and six touchdowns over 14 games are very good numbers for a rookie; especially considering a strained hamstring caused him to miss some time in training camp, which resulted in a slow start to his season.
Nicks started coming on strong after week four, and he improved throughout the season. He finally took over as starting split-end week 14 against the Eagles, and it was this game that Nicks appeared to have cemented his role within the Giants organization.
Despite a couple of ugly drops on key plays during the second quarter of this nationally televised game, the Giants did not give up on him. Instead, Manning targeted him shortly after the miscues, on a crucial 3rd-and-4 play, and Nicks responded like a champion. He used his big, soft hands to snare the short pass out the air, then shook off the two defenders in coverage, and sprinted to the end zone for a 68-yard touchdown.
That play seemed to substantiate the selection of Nicks as a first round draft pick, as well as confirm that he was now a trusted starting receiver for the team. It also displayed a high level of confidence that Manning has for his new playmaker.
The future is promising for Nicks. He has landed in an ideal situation to utilize his best traits. Eli Manning will often throw the ball up, and let his big-play receiver go up and make a play, and now Nicks will become that guy. Also, as defenses focus on containing breakout receiver Steve Smith, Nicks should see plenty of single coverage which he can exploit with his aggressive style.
All this makes Nicks an ideal player to own in keeper and dynasty leagues. He is only 22 years-old, and will continue to improve as he gains experience and refines his chemistry with Manning. He has the skills, surrounding talent, and opportunity to become a top fantasy wide receiver for many years to come.
Expect him to improve upon his rookie statistics in 2010, but he may be another year away from a true breakout season. Consider him a low-end No. 2 to a high-end No. 3 fantasy wide receiver, with plenty of upside in re-draft leagues.
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