All signs point to Hakeem Nicks heading out of New York via free agency. With 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle ready to step in and fill the void left behind by Nicks, the Giants will need someone to step up and take over Randle’s role as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver. But is that player even on the roster at this moment?
The Giants won’t exactly need the type of production Randle was able to provide this past season (41 receptions for 611 yards and six touchdowns), that is, assuming Randle is able to having a bigger year at his new post as New York’s lead outside threat and second go-to passing option behind Victor Cruz. However, someone that will pose a viable threat at all times to draw some coverage from the opposing defenses to allow Cruz and Randle chances to get open and make plays with the football would be a valuable addition.
Fortunately for the G-Men, it appears they will have an abundance of options available to go about filling that No. 3 slot. This year’s draft class is chock-full of promising young talent at the wide receiver position and there should be an intriguing bunch of wideouts available through free agency in the coming weeks as well.
With that in mind, here are some of the Giants’ best options as things stand right now…
Everyone expects Jernigan to play a bigger role in 2014, but I’m not so sure about that.
He capped off the 2013 season with three outstanding games, but it took nearly three full seasons for Jernigan to make even a slight impact since being selected in the third round of the 2011 draft. Is it possible that his season-ending three-game stretch was a sign of things to come for the speedster out of Troy University? Certainly. However, I have my concerns over how long it took for Jernigan to produce when provided with the opportunity to do so—237 of his 329 career receiving yards came in those three games.
Jernigan could get the shot at the No. 3 job because of the promise he has shown and the Giants’ preference to keep things in-house. He’s shown an ability to be electric out of the slot as well as when used as a downfield threat for quarterback Eli Manning.
With new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo bringing his potent offense to New York, the Giants are expected to use an assortment of targets in the passing game. Jernigan’s speed could be a major asset to the offense’s growth from the get-go.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Coming from the National Champion Florida State Seminoles, Kelvin Benjamin is an accomplished winner considered one of the draft’s best prospects at the wide receiver position. He has unbelievable size (6-foot-5, 234 pounds) and couples it with electric speed and a penchant for making big plays.
As Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston’s top target, Benjamin caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns—tied for third in the nation.
Benjamin is a mismatch in all situations for opposing cornerbacks and has proven to be a nightmare in red-zone situations. The Giants have lacked a big receiver of Benjamin’s caliber since Plaxico Burress; say what you want about Burress, he was a huge piece of the Giants’ championship team in 2007.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Keeping with the combination of size and play-making ability to be lost by the departure of Hakeem Nicks, Mike Evans might be an even better prospect than Benjamin—most have him projected as such.
Evans broke out this past season for the Aggies, becoming quarterback Johnny Manziel’s No.1 target and putting together a season that catapulted him up draft boards. He caught 69 passes for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns.
CBS Sports’ Rob Rang compares Evans to the Buccaneers’ Vincent Jackson, praising Evans’ size, strength and body control which make him ridiculous dangerous when going up for the ball or as a deep threat. His hands are unquestionable as he showed the capability to come down with everything thrown his way this past season.
Eric Decker, Denver Broncos
Decker is scheduled to become a free agent and it does not appear likely the Broncos will re-sign the 1,000-yard receiver. The former third-round pick was one of many outstanding passing targets for Eli’s brother Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ high-powered, record-setting offense.
Decker, though not as good as Demaryius Thomas or Wes Welker, is a talented receiver with sure hands and a propensity for getting open over the middle. The Giants could use a bit more of that, as it seemed their receivers simply didn’t excelling out getting open this year.
Want an even greater stat of interest for a potential Decker-Giants union? Decker has scored 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons; Nicks had just three—all of which came in 2012.
James Jones, Green Bay Packers
Popular speculation has Jones to the Giants, and with good reason. Who better to help roll out McAdoo’s new offense than a guy who has played under him for the last seven seasons in Green Bay?
Jones, 29, is an ideal candidate to be a No. 3 receiver for any NFL team that may be looking. He can line up on the outside or out of the slot, and seizes opportunities that open up due to the team’s top receivers being covered.
This past season, Jones caught 59 passes for 817 yards and three touchdowns. In 2012, he had 64 catches for 784 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Jones, unlike Decker, could come at a low price—probably the Giants’ preference as it has been in the past during free agency. He is a talented athlete who doesn’t require the type of attention a first-round pick and potential No. 1 receiver like Benjamin and Evans will require, while also offering the level of experience and production the Giants could be looking for.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles
Why not Maclin? The Eagles wideout is coming off a season during which he spent it all on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL.
The 25-year-old entered the NFL in the first round of the 2009 draft, much like Nicks, and over the course of his first four years of play, his production has been consistent and up to par. While he has not produced like Nicks did during his stay in New York, Maclin boasts a very similar skill set.
As the Giants’ third receiver, the demand on Maclin would be much less than it may be elsewhere. And, since he is coming off a major knee injury, the G-Men may be able to score the former division rival at a fair price on the free-agent market.
In 2012, Maclin had 69 reception for 857 yards and seven touchdowns. Those are quality numbers, but one should also take into account the reality of the situation he was dealing with in Philadelphia. The Eagles were a mess at the quarterback and neither Michael Vick nor Nick Foles were a quality fill in. It clearly hindered Maclin’s performance and he was still able to have a good year.
He had his biggest year in Philly when Vick had his, catching 70 passes for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010—his second year in the league.