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Spotlight: Victor Cruz

posted by Mark Wimer on Jul 28th


Mark Wimer's thoughts

Flash in the Pan or Superstar?

The big question fantasy owners ask when a player puts up a phenomenal single season is "Can he do it again?" For every pro who consistently delivers top-tier results once they break into a starting role (i.e. Tom Brady or Ray Rice) there are other guys who flash a big season and then never deliver in following seasons (Steve Slaton, for example). As fantasy owners have just one year of impressive production from Victor Cruz, a lot of us are wondering if Cruz can deliver a 2012 performance that equals (or even perhaps exceeds) his outstanding 159 targets for 82/1,536/9 receiving (with seven 100+ yards receiving games) effort from 2011.

I come from the camp that expects Cruz to deliver another outstanding fantasy (and real NFL) season during 2012. Here's why:

First of all, the amount of competition for the football among receivers on the Giants squad has actually diminished thanks to offseason moves. Mario Manningham (90 targets for 39/523/4 receiving) last year has moved on to San Francisco, and there is no clear claimant for his share of the footballs among the remaining receivers. While Domenik Hixon or Ramses Barden could surprise in preseason, it seems just as likely that Eli Manning will lean on Cruz and Hakeem Nicks even more this season. Also, the team let starting TE Jake Ballard (73 targets for 38/604/4) depart during the offseason - he was rehabbing a serious knee injury suffered during the Super Bowl. Though Martellus Bennett was signed away from the Cowboys, Bennett showed up to organized team activities at 290 pounds, leaving the coaching staff aghast - entering training camp, last year's reserve tight end, Bear Pascoe (17 targets for 12/136/0) is penciled in as the starter. The loss of Manningham and Ballard leaves over 160 targets available - I think Cruz and Nicks will get a slice of those chances this year, with both players seeing an increase in their targets, each going over 180 targets this year (Nicks had 161 vs. Cruz's 159 last season).

Second, Nicks suffered a broken foot in OTAs (and had subsequent foot surgery) and has not been able to practice since - he may not be back until the start of regular season. Regardless of whether or not Nicks is able to go on opening day, we can be sure that Cruz has handled A LOT of passes from Manning so far this year, with a lot more coming his way in training camp. Last year, the lockout kept Cruz and Manning from working together until August - and they still put together a phenomenal season together. I expect the increase in repetitions and the increased amount of time Cruz and Manning have had to work together will further Cruz's maturation as a pro. There is definitely room for Cruz to improve on his reception percentage from 2011 (51.6%), and the circumstances that Cruz has been in/will be in during training camp should facilitate an improvement. If he gets nearer the 60% reception percentage range, we're easily looking at in excess of 100 receptions for Cruz this year in a best-case scenario, given the expected bump in targets discussed above.

Third, while some observers suggest that Cruz will fall back towards the pack in terms of yards per reception (he averaged an astonishing 18.7 yards per catch last year) and also in terms of long TD receptions (Cruz enjoyed five TDs of 65 yards or more last year), some of the expected regression will be compensated for by the expected increase in targets and reception percentage for 2012. Furthermore, I find it odd to criticize a player who exploded out of the slot receiver position for numerous long TDs. A long TD once or twice in a season may be a result of a fluke, but five extremely long TD runs look like a trend to me. In fact, the coaching staff in New York is talking about giving Cruz some plays from the outside position - OC Kevin Gilbride said in late May that Cruz would get "the chance to be playing some outside" - so Cruz's opportunities for "long bomb" TDs may actually increase during 2012.

Positives

  • Cruz is a young player (he'll be 25 until 11/11/2012) who is just now entering the prime of his career, and he has no known health or injury issues entering training camp
  • Cruz is in a secure position on the depth chart, and is likely to see an increase in the amount of work he sees from game to game his year
  • Cruz routinely scores long TDs, a big plus for yardage-bonus fantasy leagues, and he also routinely goes over 100 yards receiving - he's a fantasy points machine regardless of any particular league's scoring quirks

Negatives

  • Cruz may see a regression in his yards per reception for 2012 (18.7 yards per catch is a high bar to cross again)
  • Cruz won't surprise any defenses this year - they'll be game planning for him and they have tape on him now to assist in addressing the threats he presents to opposing teams
  • The surrounding talent in New York isn't as impressive entering 2012 training camp - Cruz may see more double-teams this year than last

Final thoughts

As I mentioned at the outset above, I am very optimistic about Victor Cruz's 2012 prospects - in fact, I have him highest of any Footballguy.com on my wide receiver board. Nonetheless, I think you can see why I am so excited about his prospects. Cruz is a player who is being undervalued as of late July, meaning you can get a guy who should be a lock for top-ten production right on the edge of that range in most drafts (current average draft position is tenth receiver off the board, 32nd overall). He has little downside at that draft position in my opinion, but more upside than guys like A.J. Green (current ADP fifth receiver, 22nd overall), who will be hard-pressed to outperform their current ADP. I have been drafting Cruz as often as possible during 2012, and expect to continue to do so.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Hoosier16 said:

Despite not starting the 1st two games, Cruz still put up over 1500 yards last year. He averaged over 9 targets per game, with he and Nicks combining for 149 targets over the last 8 games. He was remarkably consistent throughout the year, logging seven 100 yard games and another three over 90. This year shouldn't be any different. They have lost one of the more productive #3 WRs. Randle, in his first year, isn't likely to match Manningham's production. They have lost two TEs to knee injuries. A questionably healthy Bradshaw, no Jacobs, and a rookie (Wilson) isn't necessarily a recipe for an improved running game. Manning may have to rely on his top two receivers even more than last year. I can see nearly 150 targets each.

Shutout said:

I think it was a perfect storm situation last year where the Giants threw much more than they wanted to and it seemed that once they got into the playoffs, Nicks really re-emerged once he was healthy.

I could see it continuing the way it went last year, but I think it is much more likely that the team is able to run more this year and that the offense is overall more balanced. If that is the case, its hard to see him with much more than 1100 yards at best. Even back in the day when the Colts where seemingly throwing it every down and they had Marvin and reggie, there was a five year span where, as one was ascending and the other descending (but both still very good), where the #2 guy typically hovered around the 1100-1180 mark in yards. It just comes down to math. If you throw for 4000 yards (a big number):

4000-
450 (backs)-
800 (TEs)-
1300 (Nicks)-
300 (everyone else...and that's a puny number)

=1150 for Cruz.

Someone will be quick to say 4000 isnt that much and Eli threw for 4900 last year. True, but the Giants really DO want to be more balanced and the 4900 Eli threw last year was almost 1,000 more yards than he has ever thrown. He hit 4,000 the two years before that, and prior to that was always closer to 3300 or so.

johnadams said:

I see a WR who dominates as Cruz did in his second year (although it's really season 1.5 for him) in a fairly prolific passing attack and I think a reasonable floor is 1,000 yards. To take into consideration, only three players have posted more receiving yards in their second year, Holt, Bruce, and Rice. In a check of the 22 other instances of 1500+ receiving yards in the 16 game era (excluding Welker and Johnson in 2011), I see four instances where a player did not get to at least 1,000 yards their following season, two of which were above 950 yards. The other two include Randy Moss's last season in Minny and Rob Green in 1985. As to the point of Cruz notching a high number of 65+ TDs, Holt had three 70+ TDs in his second season, which was over 1,600 yards, a scoring distance he never repeated even once in 7 subsequent 1,000+ yard seasons. I just don't think someone who emerges as that type of talent with that little experience just disappears. Cruz is still on the learning curve of the position. I would be shocked if he doesn't get at least 1,000 yards.

fightingillini said:

I think Cruz is overvalued for 2012. He had a career year as well as Eli. Nicks is still the most talented WR on the team (and a TD machine), and I can see NYG being a little more balanced this year. Much of his stats were padded by big plays, and relying on big plays too much can be a big risk....I want to see another year of him making those kind of plays before I project it to be the norm. That said, Cruz has talent, he's still a solid WR2 option, but his ADP is a little too high for my taste.

TheDirtyWord said:

One thing noone has mentioned about Cruz is that he actually produced his monstrous production in 14, not 16 games. Fact is, he didn't emerge until Week 3 and up until then, had only 2 reception for 17 yards.

Now I don't disagree that there was a level of spectacular that accompanied his production that would seem awfully difficult to repreat, at least to the level at which Cruz produced at. But there is no denying his playmaking ability. Will he produce 5 TD's of 68 yards+...? That would be a difficult feat to repeat. But I would not expect that number to go down to zero. And Cruz wasn't only effective in terms of being a deep threat. His YAC numbers were off the charts (3rd among WRs)

.

But he's got just the one season of production here to go by...and even until mid-season, you kept on hearing how he infuriated the coaching staff in that he'd equal a good play with a bad play. That died down as the season went on and Cruz simply blew the doors off MetLife Stadium. But I bring that up because there precious little track record here and to be frank, why would I simply not pass on him in Round 3 and take less risk with a guy like Antonio Brown who appears to have a similar skillset who'd be available close to 3 rounds later?

I'm not saying Cruz isn't worth it, but if you go back to the statement of Cruz producing 5 TD's of 68+ yards...that leaves him with but 4 TD's of less than that amount. So that would be an area of concern for me that I'd struggle to get past. Fact is assuming Nicks come back healthy, in the red zone...is Cruz even Option #2? Might this be where a big target like Rueben Randle begins to have an impact?

I admit - it's tough to argue that Cruz doesn't deserve or justify his current ADP of late 3rd round (WR9). But like a lot of players who come out of nowhere to surprise...the NFL will have had a chance during the off-season to catch-up to Cruz. They won't completely be able to neuter him, but I suspect Cruz will have to go through an adjustment period of his own and while he should still be productive, I think his major upside has been spent in 2011 and he'll not be able to separate from the pack of borderline WR1/WR2 in 2012.


Victor Cruz projections

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