The explanation for Nicks' conservative usage when he was arguably the best receiver on the team could involve multiple factors:1. Nicks got off to a slow start.
The team might've worried he'd aggravate an injury if pressed into a full-time role rather than the rotation with Manningham. 2. Nicks was a rookie.
Coaching staffs -- especially old ones like Tom Coughlin's -- often defer to veterans when divvying up playing time. 3. Nicks spent virtually all of his time out wide.
The missed practice time appeared to slow his development in terms of learning all three receiver positions.
Of course, these things tend to balance out in time. Playcaller Kevin Gilbride hit the offseason film room and couldn't help but love what he saw from Nicks. Manningham isn't going away, but with the worst hands on the team (10 drops in '09) and no physicality (Nicks, by the way, is New York's top blocking wideout), Mario is better cutout as a situational deep threat off the bench. Nicks was cleared from toe surgery in June and will experience his first full complement of two-a-days in camp.
He shouldn't have trouble winning the starting job.
Overtaking Smith as Eli Manning
's preferred target will be harder for Nicks, but it's worth noting that throughout Gilbride's coaching career his offensive philosophy has involved running to set up the deep ball. He couldn't pound the rock as much with Brandon Jacobs
and Ahmad Bradshaw
playing hurt all last season. The tailbacks are healthy this year, and the defense will be better.
Gilbride's history supports a downfield-oriented passing game. The numbers and game tape both say Nicks is a significantly better vertical threat than Smith.
Let's conservatively project that Nicks and Manningham essentially swap roles in the offense. Mario saw roughly 700 snaps and 100 targets last year. If Nicks gets similar totals and doesn't improve on his per-play rookie-year production, his numbers will proportionally look like this:
While the numbers would've made Nicks a top-20 receiver per last year's fantasy point rankings, they're not quite enough to vault him past Smith's No. 11 finish. And that's where the upside factor comes in. Since NFL players traditionally make their biggest leaps between years one and two, Nicks' ceiling is quite a bit higher. As the ideal system fit in Gilbride's offense, Nicks undoubtedly offers the potential to emerge as New York's top receiver in 2010. Even Smith is on record as saying he believes Nicks will be the Giants' breakout player.
And now, some fantasy analysis:
According to the latest Average Draft Position data
, Smith is commonly being selected between the 38th and 39th overall picks, and as the WR14. Our projections say he'll be just the 49th-best fantasy player and the WR18, behind receivers he's routinely being drafted before
like Michael Crabtree
, Chad Ochocinco
, the Panthers' Steve Smith
, and Mike Sims-Walker
The Giants' Steve Smith
is going to be a solid player for a long time, but this just isn't great value. Particularly in non-PPR formats, we'd much prefer the more talented Nicks at his current late fifth-round ADP
than Smith in round three.