Has there ever been a more pleasant surprise in New York Giants history than Victor Cruz’ 2011 season? If seventh round picks are the NFL draft’s equivalent of lottery tickets, Jerry Reese’s acquisition of the salsa-dancing phenomenon as an undrafted free agent was like winning the lottery without even buying a ticket.
Twenty seven wide receivers were taken in the 2010 NFL draft, and while some have bright futures ahead of them, none have had the instant impact (nor the meteoric rise) of this former UMass Minutman. The Patterson, New Jersey native first put Giants fans on alert with a three touchdown performance in the 2010 pre-season against the Jets. But Cruz was placed on the IR with a slight hamstring tear and never played a snap during the regular season (it’s likely that the Giants decided to stash Cruz away for the season rather than cut someone).
It wasn’t until week three of the 2011 season that Cruz made his mark. With Steve Smith jumping ship to the “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants hoped that someone in the group of Cruz, Domenik Hixon, Jerell Jurnigan and Ramses Barden would step up as the third receiver behind Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. But when the injury bug bit Hixon and Manningham, Cruz was forced to make his first NFL start in hostile territory. Matched up for most of the game with high-priced free agent acquisition Nnamdi Asomugha, Cruz stunned the football world with 110 yards and two highlight reel touchdowns, including the game winner.
Cruz went on to top the century mark six more times on his way to recording one of the greatest single-season performances in Giants history. He continued to help the Giants with huge play after huge play, showing the kind of after-the-catch skills expected from a first round pick, all the while Giants fans hoped the magic wouldn’t run out. His 99-yard touchdown against the Jets set a Giants record (obviously) for longest reception and his 74-yard touchdown against the Cowboys helped clinch the NFC East title. By the end of the regular season, his 1536 yards had shattered the previous franchise record for receiving yards.
He continued to shine in the postseason; his 5 catches and 74 yards helped the Giants upset the 15-1 Packers, and his dominant 10-catch, 142 yard performance was key to the team’s overtime victory in the NFC Championship game. He put an exclamation point on his breakout season with one final touchdown in the Giants’ Super Bowl 46 victory.
There's a good chance he'll never post a season with numbers nearly as gaudy as this one, but he has proven that he is a legitimate top-tier playmaker. Cruz has a bright future ahead of him, filled with more highlight reel catches and end-zone salsa dances. Not bad for a guy who never heard his name called on draft day.