Hakeem Nicks, NFL Star Waiting To Happen
NFL stardom is fickle in nature. It takes a long hard road to reach, yet injuries and age can take it away in a heartbeat. In order to be a true NFL star, a player needs to be incredibly talented, productive, and valuable to their team's success.
The following is a list of four New York Football Giants that are poised for NFL stardom. These are players that I believe will have monster years, who at season's end will be considered top 10 players at their respective positions.
If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times, the NFL stands for "Not For Long." However, that phrase is a double-edged sword: as quickly as old stars fall by the wayside new ones are waiting in the wings to take their place.
Players on the Giants who are already stars, like Eli Manning and Justin Tuck, are not eligible for this list. Neither are the Giants rookies, who are far too raw and young to be able to accurately predict impact. Could Linval Joseph and Jason Pierre-Paul have star-making rookie seasons? Sure, but I also wouldn't put it past either of them to have redshirt type rookie seasons. Too hard to predict.
As a bonus, I have included a Giants player who I felt just missed the cut on being considered a star in the making.
Now here are the Giants' soon to be stars.
Nicks, a second-year wide receiver out of North Carolina, has all the tools to be considered one of the truly special NFL playmakers by season’s end. Entering the NFL draft, comparisons to Michael Irvin and Anquan Boldin were brought up, but personally I see more of an Andre Johnson type. Nicks is a player who can turn any route into a touchdown: hitch, slant, fade, double-move, fly route, the list goes on.
Now while it must be said that Nicks is not on Andre Johnson's level as an athlete, he is closer to Johnson athletically and as a player than to Boldin or Irvin.
One of the truly special things about Nicks is that he has a nose for the end zone. He is one of the rare NFL receivers who can juke a guy in the open field and truck another defender on the way to the end zone or he can fly by the secondary to get on top of them for a long-bomb touchdown.
Also, Nicks started to develop a reputation as a big-game receiver in college, and showed evidence that it was justified his rookie year with the Giants. Nicks might indeed be the rare player who can take it up another notch when the pressure is that much more intense.
Now, if you want an example of how good Nicks can be, watch his game last year against the Oakland Raiders. He was one of the few receivers all year to go man to man with Nnamdi Asomugha and come away the winner.
However, Nicks does have some baggage, his health. Nicks has had surgery to his wrist and ankle while dealing with constant issues with his hamstring.
So, while Nicks is primed for NFL stardom, he has to stay healthy to do it.
Bradshaw, a fourth-year running back out of Marshall, has drawn comparisons to the legendary Barry Sanders due to his ability to make something out of nothing. Let me say first off, comparing these two players is insane. Bradshaw might become an NFL star this season, but Barry Sanders was a legend from the day he stepped onto an NFL field. Take Bradshaw's talent, multiply it by 10 and then you have Barry Sanders. Let's not set the bar that impossibly high for Bradshaw.
That being said, Bradshaw, for a player that stands 5’9" and barely clears 200 pounds, has a unique skillset for an NFL running back. He has a fantastic blend of power, quickness, speed, and instincts.
All Bradshaw needs is a good looking seam and it’s off to the races. While his speed is not 4.3-elite, it is still 4.4 quality, and his lateral agility and cutting ability are ankle-breaking nasty.
Also Bradshaw, unlike a lot of fancy-feet running backs, isn’t afraid to lower his pad level and truck a defender. Despite his small size, Bradshaw has some of that Maurice Jones-Drew bowling-ball mentality in the open field. Due to his hard-nosed running style, Bradshaw, despite his fancy feet, is still a perfect fit for Tom Coughlin's power-running game.
Now, with all Bradshaw has going for him, his health, just like Nicks’s, is a serious concern. Bradshaw’s injury history is long, with multiple surgeries on his ankles and feet.
Last year, Bradshaw had a career year playing through pain and injuries in a backup role.
This year, he is supposedly healthy and in a featured role. Stardom waits.
Rolle, a sixth-year safety out of Miami, might be a curious addition to this list to some, considering he is one of the highest paid safeties in the NFL. However, while it is his sixth year in the NFL, it will be only his third playing safety.
Rolle was drafted by Arizona out of Miami to be a cornerback, which, to be honest, made no sense to me at the time. Rolle’s strengths coming out of school were his abilities to play zone, play physical, and tackle. Sounds like a safety to me.
Instead, Rolle spent the first three years of his career being called another first-round bust, but then someone in the Cardinals organization figured out what the rest of the NFL world had known all along: Rolle should play safety. Now, while last year Rolle put up good stats with the Cardinals, I still believe that he is only scratching the surface of his potential as an NFL safety.
Now out of Arizona and with the New York Football Giants, Rolle is playing under a defensive coordinator known for putting his secondary into positions to make plays. Last year in Buffalo, new Giants' defensive coordinator Perry Fewell took a rookie, second-round safety and put him into position to get nine picks in 14 games. Imagine what Fewell can do with Rolle, who is more athletic, intelligent, instinctual, and fundamentally sound than Jairus Byrd.
So, while Rolle played well enough last year to earn a fat contract from the Giants this offseason—a contract many claim was overpaying him—this season I expect Rolle to put up such incredible stats and play so well that people will begin to say he is underpaid.
Thomas, a third-year cornerback out of USC, was perhaps the lone bright spot for the black hole that was the Giants defense last year. Thomas led the team last year both in tackles and interceptions, a true rarity for a cornerback.
Thomas has very good long speed, but it cannot be considered elite. However, what make Thomas stand out athletically are his size, fluid hips, burst, Spider-Man long arms, and physical nature. Thomas plays the game with an aggressiveness that cannot be taught. He bullies wide receivers on their routes with the same enthusiasm that he punishes running backs.
So, while incredibly fleet wide receivers can get behind Thomas on fly-routes, Thomas is so physical and lays such a nasty jam at the line of scrimmage, that it almost doesn't matter.
Thomas’s versatility doesn’t end, however, at just covering and tackling. Thomas is one of the better blitzing cornerbacks in the NFL, displaying rare timing and first step quickness. It's rare that quarterbacks feel the need to locate a cornerback when running pre-snap diagnostics to key in on blitzers, but Thomas demands that kind of attention.
Now that Thomas is playing for coordinator Perry Fewell, whose reputation coaching secondaries is exceptional, Thomas is poised for true stardom.
Fewell will move Thomas all over the field, blitzing, covering the slot, dropping him into zones, and putting him on an island. Because of this, I believe Thomas is on track for a season where he posts even better stats than he did last year, hence stardom.
William Beatty, a second year offensive tackle out of UCONN would have made this list if he had established himself as the starting left tackle during training camp. That didn’t happen, and it appears that incumbent left tackle David Diehl will keep his position.
Last year, when Beatty was pressed into action as a rookie in place of right tackle Kareem McKenzie, Beatty performed admirably. This is important because even if Beatty does not start to begin the season, he will be the swing tackle, the backup for both tackle positions.
That is why he was given the chance to earn the starting left tackle sport, a job for which his athleticism is inherently suitable. But while last season was promising, Beatty’s preseason was not. As a left tackle this preseason, Beatty had difficulty holding the point of attack, was beaten for sacks, and even got a few penalties.
Perhaps Beatty, despite his athletic suitability for the left tackle position, may feel more at home in the NFL on the right side, but that is a topic for another article.
However, Beatty didn’t take advantage of the opportunity given to him this offseason, so he cannot be on this list.
However, I still expect big things from Beatty’s career, he just may need another year of seasoning before he is ready for NFL stardom.