The rash of injuries at the receiver position in 2010 forced the Giants to bring in an almost entirely new rotation by season’s end. By January, the team had added 3 new receivers that weren’t on the roster on opening day. Two of which (Devin Thomas and Michael Clayton) were not on the roster during training camp. Add them and newly drafted WR Jerrel Jernigan to last year’s contenders and the Giants receiving corps is suddenly more crowded and complicated than ever.
So let’s compound the problem. It was during this week last year that I wrote an article discussing the limbo that Domenik Hixon found himself in. The agile and deceptively fast receiver was lost for the entire season thanks to a non-contact injury on brand new turf. He would have been a solid #2 option on many other squads in 2010. Had he been healthy, he would have been relegated to 4th string duty with the Giants as a result of their considerable depth at the position.
A year later, Hixon is healthy and has openly declared his determination to help fix the team’s lackluster return game. Unlike last season, however, Hixon will be heading into camp with a legitimate opportunity to earn significant time as a true WR. This is thanks in large part to the uncertainty surrounding Steve Smith, a player on the mend that lacks a contract.
I do not doubt that Steve Smith will remain a Giant once the lock out is lifted. If the Giants aren’t willing to offer him a sizeable contract because of health concerns, I can only think of one other team that would overlook such issues (Oakland). While Smith might not get the dream deal he was scheduled to receive, he will at least be offered a handsome 1 year contract by New York. Smith is happy here, is surrounded by a good group of players, and has 4 years of remarkable chemistry with Eli Manning under his belt. He’ll be brought back and given a shot at earning a big pay day in 2012. If he is not 100% physically ready to return to action in September, the Giants enjoy the depth necessary to keep him seated until mid-season.
Speaking of depth, when Smith is healthy enough to return, he will provide the Giants with the final piece in arguably the most dangerous 4 receiver spread in football. If the Giants can hone Bradshaw’s and Jacob’s blitz pick up skills, Eli Manning will have the luxury of throwing to either Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Domenik Hixon, and Steve Smith. With the first three’s speed, someone is guaranteed to be open or uncovered downfield.
Aside from Smith’s uncertainty, this year’s camp promises to provide an interesting competition at receiver. As I mentioned before, last year’s injury bug led to a surplus of receivers being picked up by the organization. Assuming that the Giants take between 6 and 8 (and 8 is a stretch) wide outs, a lot of talented players will have to be let go. Not taking potential injuries into consideration, there are currently only 2-3 spots up for grabs. Consider mid round draft pick Jerrel Jernigan as a lock for a 5th slot. That leaves reliable possession receiver Derek Hagan left to battle it out with other bubble players. It should be noted that since Smith’s main duties include being Manning’s possession safety blanket, a solid backup for this role is a must. But Hagan’s competition is stiff and includes preseason standout and fan favorite Victor Cruz, Michael Clayton, and Ramses Barden. Also worth noting is Devin Thomas, who was one of very few Giants players to make an impact on special teams in 2010.
Moral of story, for the fourth straight year, it seems that the Giants receiving corps will have considerable depth and considerable competition.