If you were to put together a list of 10 players whose presence could make or break the Giants 2012 season, an exercise taken up in this space not too long ago by senior editor Rick Resch, it would be difficult not to include Hakeem Nicks or Terrell Thomas. Both players make their living mostly off what they do in the passing game, and any significant downturn in performance from either player could severely damage the Giants’ win total this season. It’s not hard to figure out why these two players are so important. Simply put, the Giants live and die by the pass. Their 295.9 pass yards per game average last season ranked fifth league wide—a positive metric, to be sure. But their potent passing offence was somewhat offset by a horrific pass defense, which gave up an average of 255.1 pass yards per game.
There’s no doubting Nicks’ positive impact on the former and the absence of Thomas contributing greatly to the latter. Nicks is Eli’s best deep target, and a player with some of the best jump ball skills in the league. Thomas, despite missing out on last year’s Super Bowl run, provides similar value on the defensive side of the ball, both in pass coverage and run game prevention. When Thomas suffered an injury during a preseason game last year, there were legitimate concerns over the viability of Big Blue’s pass defense going forward, concerns that—even with formidable performances from guys like Kenny Phillips and Corey Webster—proved remarkably prescient. So as reports surfaced of Hakeem Nicks’ broken foot during a late May OTA workout, there was justifiable apprehension over what the injury meant for the receiver’s long-term trajectory and his status for the upcoming season.
This week provided some clarity on both players’ state of health, with Thomas announcing on his site website that he is “all cleared” for training camp (On a side note, I highly recommend checking out Thomas’ personal site for a look at some incredibly slick audio and design graphics) and Victor Cruz, Nicks’ fantastic slot compliment, describing to reporters at the ESPY’s conversations with Nicks revealing his expectations to be ready for the Giants season-opener against the Dallas Cowboys on September 5.
For two players whose presence and performance will largely dictate how the Giants fare in 2012, this is altogether good news. The Giants are better off with Nicks and Thomas than without them: really, it’s that simple. It’s not every day that you come upon 6-1, 208-pound receivers with freakish athleticism, jumbo-sized hands and preternatural jump ball instincts or lockdown cover corners well-grounded in tackling and press coverage fundamentals. Neither player is indispensable, and Thomas’ absence last season was confirmation of the fact. But it’s hard to find a player on the roster as currently constructed capable of providing equal value at either position. With Nicks and Thomas healthy, those questions cease to matter. Many commentators were quick to heap praise upon Corey Webster and Victor Cruz for their brilliance last season, and while their plaudits are certainly well-deserved, Thomas and Nicks, if healthy, are capable of delivering similar performances with at least some measure of consistency. Giants fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief knowing two of their most important skill players, at least as far as we can tell in July, will suit up for Big Blue’s all-important season-opening clash against the Cowboys.