It goes without saying that Hakeem Nicks has had a mighty disappointing 2013 campaign with the Giants. Heading into a contract year with a full bill of health, Nicks seemed primed for a monster year, but has completely flopped as he’s yet to score a touchdown and only topped one hundred yards in a game just twice. Meanwhile, second year receiver Rueben Randle is making his case to be a full time starter for the Gmen as he leads the team in receiving touchdowns and is second in total yards. It’s logical for the Giants to let Nicks walk this offseason. Randle’s emergence gives them flexibility, while Nicks is injury prone and underperforming, and he may command a fairly substantial multi-year deal based on his past years of success. But if his market is soft, the Giants should take a hard look at bringing their once star wide receiver back for a second chance. It may not seem like it this season, but Nicks is a vital part to a Giants offense that has been unexpectedly dysfunctional this season, and I don’t believe they will improve much at all by letting Nicks hit free agent waters.
It’s easy to forget how dominant Nicks was prior to the 2013 season. He had two 1,000 yard campaigns and scored 18 combined touchdowns in 2010 and 2011. Going beyond the stats, Nicks consistently drew red zone targets with his wide, athletic frame, won jump balls that few receivers could contest with and drew defenders away from the ball to open up an effective run game. He has the natural talent to transform an offense. This year, however, that talent has not been on display. Dropped passes have marred Nicks’ year, and many people are arguing that his past string of lower body injuries have sapped his ability to separate from corners. With Randle reeling in most of the touchdowns, it seems like he’s taken on the role of scoring receiver and Nicks has become a fading figure in the offense. This does not tell the whole story, as Nicks still contributes in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
Sunday night’s game against the Redskins showed how Nicks’ presence can still impact how the Giants run their offense, such as on Victor Cruz’s touchdown catch. Before the play, the Giants lined up three receivers and a tight end, with Nicks in the slot. He ran a deep pattern on the right side of the field and the Redskins put two defenders on him because they needed to account for his size and red zone presence. The result: Cruz was left in single coverage and was able to split the defender and charge into the end zone. Nicks demonstrated two things on this play. First, he flashed his versatility, as he was able to switch between the slot and X positions, an underrated and valuable trait to have in your offense and something Randle does not offer at this stage of his career. Then, he showed that teams are still acknowledging his presence in the red zone. While he hasn’t scored a touchdown this year, teams know he needs to be accounted for inside twenty yards. And while Nicks has inexcusably struggled with catching the ball at times this season, Randle also shoulders some blame for the Giants’ offensive woes, as he’s been targeted on six of Eli Manning’s interceptions this season, often times running the wrong routes or dropping passes.
Looking at this situation realistically, this is not a shot at Randle or a plea to make a long term investment in Nicks. The fifth year pro has played well below expectations and Randle has flashed some big time talent. The Giants should not hand Nicks a fat contract, but if he comes at a low price it wouldn’t be the worst idea to take a chance that injuries haven’t sapped his twenty five-year-old wheels. With Cruz, Randle and a healthy Nicks on the field at once, the Giants offense could be lethal again in 2014 if Nicks is back to full form… and in a Giants uniform.