In my continuing quest to contribute to your draft-day domination, I will compose a series of blogs over the next few weeks that focus on players that are sure to create some hardship for fantasy owners: players on the same team who play the same position that will likely have a significant fantasy impact. For those of you who regularly read and contribute to the FF Today Forums, consider this short series a distant relative to “Look-Alike Players”. My goal is to create a compelling case for and against each player before handing down a final decision. Let’s get started:
The setup: Full-point PPR; 10 rushing/receiving yards equal one fantasy point; all touchdowns are worth six fantasy points.
Current ADP (courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator): Nicks – 4.01; Cruz – 3.09
What’s at stake: Grabbing the better fantasy WR1 of the two the New York Giants have to offer.
The case for Nicks: As the Giants’ top receiver with two 70+ catch seasons under his belt and incredible talent, Nicks represents the safer pick – from a year-to-year consistency standpoint – of the two New York wideouts. Nicks has also been an impact player since his rookie season in 2009 and as he proved throughout the playoffs last season, he can often be virtually unstoppable at times, even when he isn’t healthy. Five of his 11 touchdown receptions last season (including the playoffs) were less than five yards, meaning QB Eli Manning has a great deal of trust in him to make the necessary catch in tight quarters, be it a diving catch on a low throw by the front pylon or a fade pattern near the back of the end zone. With 28 touchdown catches in his first three seasons, Nicks is unquestionably a fantasy WR1 in PPR and non-PPR leagues when he is on the field.
The case against Nicks: Durability. Few will argue that Nicks is not or cannot be an elite fantasy receiver. (In full-point PPR leagues, he has scored less than 10 fantasy points just nine times in 46 career contests, including the playoffs!) The problem is that he almost always seems to be playing in pain and has yet to make it through an entire season. And when owners are trying to build the foundation for their fantasy team in the first few rounds, they want high-scoring players who they can plug into their lineups every week without fail. To further support the durability claim, Nicks is recovering from offseason foot surgery and appears to a question mark for the start of training camp, if not the season opener. This comes after a season in which he battled a string of nagging shoulder, knee and hamstring issues.
The case for Cruz: It’s hard to put into words the leap the former undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts made in his second season. After not catching a single pass in three games during his rookie year, Cruz exploded on the scene in his sophomore campaign with 82 catches for a franchise-best 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. To put that team record into some perspective, Cruz joined elite company as only the fourth post-merger receiver to go over the 1,500-yard receiving mark in his second season, joining the likes of Jerry Rice and former Rams teammates Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. While stats can often be deceiving, it’s hard to dispute that Cruz’s 2011 season just landed him alongside the receivers who currently occupy first, third and tenth place on the league’s career receiving yards list. Also working in the favor of Cruz is the success former Giant receiver Steve Smith had in Nicks’ rookie season. Playing the same kind of hybrid outside/slot role that Smith did back then, Cruz averaged over nine targets per game over the final 14 regular-season contests (when he became a bigger part of the offense), less than a target per game less than what Smith averaged during his breakout campaign.
The case against Cruz: The questions that any undrafted small-school player who seemingly comes out of nowhere typically gets, such as “Can he do it again?” and “Will he be content resting on his laurels now that he has proven himself on the big stage?”. Was his playoff showing – which was still impressive by all accounts yet slightly disappointing based on the standard he set during the regular season – a sign of things to come when defenses made more of an effort to stop him and let an injured Nicks beat them instead? They are fair questions and ones that we have to let play out, especially in his case since the only true hint he provided us that he was capable of this kind of performance before last season was during a three-touchdown game against the Jets during the 2010 preseason.
The verdict: Cruz. In a perfect world, this would be an apples-to-apples comparison in which we could discuss talent vs. opportunity vs. role. But the fact of the matter is that until Nicks can get healthy and stay that way, fantasy owners would be advised to select a more durable receiver as their top receiver option or hope that Nicks somehow slides in the draft enough to be a fantasy WR2. If injuries were not a consideration,then I would lean slightly towards Nicks. Furthermore, Cruz has locked down his role in the slot, which Smith has already proven can provide a windfall of fantasy points. The truth of the matter is that both players should benefit from the other’s presence – in reality as well as fantasy – since most defenses cannot realistically expect to slow both receivers down for an entire game. Both Nicks and Cruz should be viewed as solid foundation pieces for any fantasy team with top-five upside at their position.