The 2009 draft had one of the deepest, most talented classes of first round wide receivers of all time. Aside from Hakeem Nicks, this group included Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Darius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree and Kenny Britt. All but Britt were chosen ahead of Nicks. It has only been three years since then, and while each of these young receivers have experienced some level of success, if this draft were done today, Nicks likely wouldn’t make it out of the top ten.
In order for a late first round pick to be considered a great pick, they should be solid early in their career and develop into an elite player. Nicks has been an impact playmaker since his rookie season, and has since rocketed up the league’s wide receiver ranks. If this is as good as it gets for Nicks, it will already be more than enough to justify the use of a late first rounder. While he has missed six games during his first three seasons, he has still managed to average a strong line: 67 receptions, 1011 yards, and eight touchdowns per season.
But I feel that we’re still just scratching the surface with a player I’ve often described as “dripping with talent.” If he’s not in the top ten at his position yet, he’ll almost certainly be there this time next year. Nicks has shown flashes of brilliance, but due to injuries and the occasional dropped pass, he hasn’t quite put together a complete season just yet. But if his 2011 playoff performance is a sign of things to come, Nicks should blossom into a full blown superstar in the 2012 season.
The former Tar Heel came up huge during the biggest games of the year, including long touchdown catches against the Falcons and Packers in which he used his speed and strength to break past the defenders, as well as a Hail Mary touchdown catch to end the first half in Lambeau. Culminating in a dominant ten-catch Super Bowl performance, Nicks totaled 28 receptions, 444 yards and four touchdowns in four playoff games, which would project to 112 receptions, 1776 yards and 16 touchdowns over a full season. While expecting numbers of this caliber from anyone not named Calvin Johnson would be foolish, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nicks challenge some Giants receiving records as early as next season.
Apologies to the great Amani Toomer, but if Nicks stays healthy, he will be considered the franchise’s best receiver by the time his career is over. The fact that this is not a particularly bold statement speaks volumes to Nicks’ talent.