QB Eli Manning
Last year, I asked you whether you got the feeling that Eli is the Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy quarterbacks and the answer to that was yes. This year, there is no doubt the answer is no. Coming off a career year with 4,933 passing yards and 29 touchdowns that culminated with the Giants second Super Bowl win, Manning figures to start getting some fantasy love in 2012. There goes the chance of acquiring him as a value pick as has been the case in recent years. If you want to nitpick, you could view the departure of Mario Manningham and the downgrade at tight end to Martellus Bennett as issues but Manning seems to be at the point of his career where he can make lemonade out of lemons. Of course, when your starting wide receivers combined for 2,728 yards, you don’t need much of a supporting cast. With three-year averages of 4,319 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, Manning’s consistency and expected production in 2012 should make him no worse than the 7th quarterback off the board in your draft. The Dangerfield days are over.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw
It’s hard not to like Bradshaw as a football player. Despite his size, he runs hard and is willing to take on any defender to gain tough yards when they are needed, perhaps making him the toughest player in the league on a pound for pound basis. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s willing to play banged up and he produces when he plays (12.9 FPts/G over the past two seasons). Unfortunately, it can be difficult to like Bradshaw that much as a fantasy player due to his inability to stay healthy (four missed games in 2011 due to a stress fracture). On the plus side, it seems fairly certain that Bradshaw will inherit the goaline work with Brandon Jacobs having been replaced by David Wilson, the team’s 1st round pick who is similar in size to Bradshaw. Barring injury, Bradshaw will get the majority of the work and he rates as a mid-tier RB2 in 2012, one whose upside is matched his injury risk.
RB David Wilson
With Brandon Jacobs a salary-cap casualty and a big hole at running back behind the injury-prone Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants used a 1st round pick to acquire Wilson. A standout runner at Virginia Tech with big play ability, Wilson topped 1,600 rushing yards in 2011 to go along with 9 touchdowns on the ground. While he failed to catch many passes in college, the Giants feel he has room to develop in that area. Of greater concern are his ability to pass protect and the fumbling issues that he experienced in college. I don’t need to remind anybody what head coach Tom Coughlin does to players who can’t protect the ball. Also not helping matters is the Giants 32nd ranked run offense from a year ago, which can partially be blamed on the team’s poor offensive line play – an area that wasn’t replenished in the offseason. Wilson rates as a RB4/5 entering 2012 and as an upper tier prospect in dynasty leagues.
RB D.J. Ware
Ware served as the Giants third running back last season, playing behind Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. While Jacobs left for San Francisco in the offseason, the team used its 1st round pick on Virginia Tech speedster David Wilson. The 27-year old Ware saw field more in 2011 than in previous seasons, finishing the year with 46 carries and 27 receptions. Unfortunately, he showed little playmaking ability, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and 6.3 yards per reception while failing to find the end zone. Even if Ware holds off Wilson and second-year player Da’Rel Scott in the preseason, he is unlikely to remain the Giants top backup running back throughout 2012. He is waiver wire material in almost all formats.
RB Da’Rel Scott
The Giants think their 2011 7th round pick has some upside but he will face an uphill battle for playing time in 2012. Scott will battle it out with 1st round pick David Wilson and D.J. Ware for the right to be Ahmad Bradshaw’s top backup. If he wins that battle, Scott will be worthy of using a late round pick in redraft formats but even then the expectation is that Wilson will emerge as Bradshaw’s main backup at some point during the season.
WR Hakeem Nicks
After a somewhat disappointing injury-plagued regular season in which he caught 76 passes for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns, Nicks showed the league just how talented he was in the postseason by catching 28 passes for 444 yards and four touchdowns in the Giants four game march to the Super Bowl. Then this offseason, he once again reminded us of how brittle he can be by breaking his right foot at an OTA in late May. Therein lies the conundrum with Nicks. He is wonderfully talented and has the potential to be one of the most productive receivers in the league given his status in New York’s pass-heavy offensive attack. With Nicks battling injuries for much of last year, Victor Cruz emerged as a big play threat opposite him but heading into 2012, the Giants lack a proven third wide receiver and at tight end. That should mean plenty of targets for Cruz as well as Nicks, provided he is healthy to open the season. Recent reports indicate that he will be back on the field three weeks prior to opening day. Nicks should be drafted as a high end WR2 in 2012 but one who could be producing like a top five fantasy wide receiver by midyear.
WR Victor Cruz
Expected to be given his first extensive playing time and be utilized primarily as a slot receiver in 2011, Cruz burst onto the scene during a Week 3 road game against Philadelphia catching three passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. By season’s end, Cruz had supplanted Mario Manningham in the starting lineup and had amassed 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns, finishing the year as the 4th ranked fantasy wide receiver. Those are lofty heights for a former undrafted free agent who had failed to catch a single pass during his first two years in the league. So, the question is whether Cruz can replicate his 2011 success in 2012? With no realistic threats to his playing time, Cruz has an opportunity to match his touchdown production from last season but the odds of him topping 1,500 yards again are remote. Cruz was a big play machine last year, using his speed and elusive to register several long touchdown passes including receptions of 99, 74, 74, 72 and 68 yards. Think that’s happening again? Dream on. While Cruz is unlikely to match his 2011 production, he should be in for another big year with the Giants continuing to be a pass first offense and with fellow starting wide receiver Hakeem Nicks unlikely to be 100% healthy by opening day after breaking his right foot in May. That should mean plenty of targets for Cruz and plenty of fantasy production in 2012. Add it all up and Cruz shapes up as a potential top five fantasy wide receiver but comes with more risk than any other player listed in the top 10 at his position.
WR Rueben Randle
With Mario Manningham having departed for San Francisco, the Giants had a hole at the backup wide receiver position and they were pleasantly surprised when Randle was still available with the last pick in the 2nd round. The LSU product was considered a bit of a steal on draft day since he was considered one of the most pro ready receivers in the draft. He possesses solid size at 6’2” and 208 pounds and scouting reports indicate that while he doesn’t have great speed, he has enough speed to get deep and enough athleticism to succeed at the pro level. In New York, Randle will have a chance to open the season in the starting lineup if Hakeem Nicks’ fractured foot bone results in him not being ready on opening day. Randle’s size could allow him to become a solid red zone threat for quarterback Eli Manning. Of course, he could also be buried on the bench if he doesn’t outperform Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan. While Randle may have less experience than those receivers, he is considered likely to win that competition in the preseason. Given the previous productivity of the Giants third receivers and there is no proven receiving threat at tight end, Randle is worth taking a flyer on in redraft leagues. In dynasty formats, he shapes up as a mid-tier prospect due to Nicks’ inability to stay healthy and the fact Victor Cruz needs to prove that his magical 2011 season wasn’t a fluke.
WR Ramses Barden
The hype never matches the production. That’s the story with Barden. The Giants 2009 third-round pick has been somewhat of an OTA and training camp legend yet he has caught just 15 passes for 174 yards in three seasons. While it’s possible he could win the Giants top backup wide receiver position, it is far more likely the team will go with the younger Rueben Randle, their 2nd round pick in this year’s draft. Barring a monster preseason (and we mean production in games, not in practice), don’t bother having Barden on your cheatsheets.
WR Domenik Hixon
After being a bust for the first two years of his career with Denver and the Giants, Hixon played well at the end of the 2009 season, catching 28 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown when given the first extensive playing time of his career. That made him a bit of a breakout candidate for the 2010 season but he blew that opportunity and has caught just 19 passes for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns over the past two seasons. In 2012, he will compete with rookie 2nd round pick Rueben Randle, Ramses Barden and Jerrell Jernigan for a backup spot on the Giants. His return ability may give him a leg up in that competition but the team has younger players as options in the return game and it doesn’t help that Hixon has suffered torn ACL’s in both of his knees over the last two seasons. Hixon is a low upside receiver who may not even be on the Giants roster on opening day.
WR Jerrell Jernigan
The NFL doesn’t wait for you and Jernigan has learned that lesson over the last year. Taken in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft, the 5’8”, 189-pound Troy State product was expected to compete for a slot-receiving role but dressed for just eight games and failed to catch a pass as Victor Cruz won that role and helped carry the Giants to a Super Bowl victory. While Mario Manningham’s departure has left an opening on the team’s roster, Jernigan isn’t likely to benefit given that he is strictly a slot receiver. With Cruz best suited to play out of the slot and the Giants other backup wide receivers better suited to line up outside, Jernigan is unlikely to see the field much in 2012. Avoid him in all formats unless Cruz is lost for the season and Jernigan plays well in the preseason.
TE Martellus Bennett
The Giants tight end situation took a turn for the worse in the Super Bowl when Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum both suffered torn ACL’s during the team’s 21-17 victory over the Patriots. That led to the signing of free agent Martellus Bennett, a career underachiever in Dallas. While Bennett is a talented player with outstanding size and solid speed, he comes to the Giants after a four-year run in Dallas where he failed to emerge as a weapon for the Cowboys. After a solid rookie season in 2008 with 20 receptions for 283 yards and four touchdowns, Bennett averaged just 22 receptions for 188 yards over the next three seasons, failing to find the end zone. While his signing seemed to signal a solid opportunity, offseason reports that he had ballooned to close to 300 pounds put a damper on those expectations. Even though the Giants lack a proven third wide receiver behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, it is hard to get excited by Bennett’s prospects for 2012. Pluck him off the waiver wire if he has a solid start to the season.
TE Adrien Robinson
The Giants used a 4th round pick to acquire Robinson, a former basketball player who the team feels has considerable upside. While that may be the case, not much is expected of Robinson in 2012. With just 27 career receptions in college, Robinson is a raw prospect who is unlikely to earn a significant role this season despite the team’s lack of depth at tight end. He is a mid-to-lower-tier prospect in dynasty leagues on the strength of the Giants solid and reasonably young offense.
TE Travis Beckum
Selected in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, the Giants felt that Beckum would develop into a solid receiving option in a hybrid tight-end/fullback role. After three years of modest production (26 receptions for 264 yards and three touchdowns), Beckum tore his ACL in the Super Bowl and faces a difficult rehabilitation in order to come back healthy in 2012. However, with Martellus Bennett signed to be the team’s starter, Bear Pascoe valued for his blocking ability and rookie 4th round pick Adrien Robinson guaranteed a roster spot, Beckum is facing an uphill battle to remain on the roster on opening day.