Spotlight: Hakeem Nicks

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 21st


Jason Wood's thoughts

Hakeem Nicks is one of those guys I'm targeting aggressively this year. A season ago, I was fortunate enough to make Steve Smith a priority, and that paid off better than I could've imagined (107 receptions for 1,220 yards and 7 TDs). This year, even though Smith blew past all expectations, I am confident he won't be the Giants top pass catcher - that honor is going to go to Nicks.

Nicks' rookie numbers don't tell the whole story

On the surface, Hakeem Nicks had a successful rookie season, but not one that emanates greatness.

  • 47 receptions - 27th best total for a rookie WR over the last decade
  • 790 yards - 13th best by a rookie WR over the last 10 years
  • 6 TDs - 16th best for a rook in the last 10 years
  • 115 fantasy points - 14th best for a rookie in the last 10 years

Very good numbers for a rookie, but not GREAT. And yet, I believe Nicks has as much chance as fellow 2nd year stars Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree in breaking into the elite class this year. So the question you need to ask is what DON'T his box score stats tell us?

  • He only started six games -- Nicks was a part-time starter, and was in and out of the lineup as he battled several injuries and some early inconsistencies. This year, there's no question he'll be lining up as a starter on the opposite side of Steve Smith. Nicks benefits from an entire offseason working with Eli Manning and the 1s
  • He was explosive with the ball in his hands -- Among all NFL receivers with at least 20 catches, Hakeem Nicks LED THE NFL in YAC per reception. Nicks averaged an astounding 9.3 yards after the catch per reception, essentially making him a 1st down machine no matter where Manning gets him the ball. That YAC/reception number knows no equal in recent memory; and bodes well for his ability to be a consistent playmaker no matter what kind of patterns OC Kevin Gilbride puts him into
  • He's got great hands -- Nicks may have "only" caught 47 passes, but he was targeted just 74 times. His 63% catch rate and only 2 drops speaks to Nicks' refined technique
  • He played on a bum toe, the entire season -- This offseason it was disclosed that Hakeem Nicks played on a broken toe for the entire season. For a receiver, a broken toe can be devastating because it can ruin their ability to plant and change direction. It's stunning to think what Nicks' rookie year might have looked like playing on two healthy feet

Eli Manning is coming off a 4,000-yard, 27 TD season and is in the prime of his career. Too many fantasy owners discount Manning because he's not as prolific as his brother, but he's shown steady improvement and now has few if any holes. Manning has longed for a big downfield threat ever since Plaxico Burress (the key to their Super Bowl victory) was lost to an unfortunate prison conviction. Nicks has that size, and by all accounts has built a rapport with Manning over the preseason.

Two potential flies in the ointment are the run/pass balance and the team's schedule. In the key fantasy playoff weeks (14 through 16), the Giants face the Vikings, Eagles and Packers. While it's hard to project the strength of a defense from one year to the next, all three of those units are expected to be at or near the top of the league standings. In terms of the run/pass balance, we have to remember that New York didn't play "Giants football" last year as the running game was ineffective and the defense completely melted down. Head Coach Tom Coughlin wants and expects both the defense and ground attack to bounce back this year, which should mean fewer pass attempts. But don't let that impact your enthusiasm too much. Manning is still going to throw 520+ times and has averaged 25 TDs passes per year.

Positives

  • Eli Manning has evolved into an excellent passer, and the Giants throw more than many fantasy owners realize
  • Nicks has all the tools, both physically (6'3", 212 lbs) and technique-wise (great route runner, strong at the point of attack) to be a dominant WR1
  • Steve Smith will command opposing defenses attention, but is less of a deep threat or a game breaker assuring that Nicks will set plenty of targets as the Giants throw downfield off play action

Negatives

  • Nicks struggled through injuries last year, including a broken toe, a sore hamstring and a bruised wrist
  • The Giants have excellent depth at the WR position ranging from fellow starter Steve Smith to part-time 2009 starter Mario Manningham to 2nd year Ramses Barden
  • The Giants defense collapsed last year, but the team hopes to find more of an offensive balance, ball-control style this season

Final thoughts

Hakeem Nicks came into the league with as much talent and skill as anyone this side of Michael Crabtree. His rookie season, while uneven, was good enough to catch people's attention. Luckily Steve Smith had a dominant 2009 and that means Nicks will be viewed as the 2nd target on the team in most drafts. Take that opportunity to grab Nicks in the 5th round if he's there, particularly in lieu of Mike Sims-Walker or Dwayne Bowe who are going in the same round. Nicks could easily be a Top 20 receiver this year, and a Top 10 season isn't out of the question if all the dominoes fall into place.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Ministry of Pain said:

Hakeem Nicks looks like a very dangerous WR. He is great after the catch and reminds me a little bit of Owens in his prime. I am very optimistic about this kid and think he has the skills to not just pay the bills but become one of the NFL's young studs. He has a great situation with a strong armed Eli Manning at QB, and a 100+ reception WR in Steve Smith lining up opposite to take some pressure off as well. Sky's the limit with Nicks, after the initial pool of WR1s are off the board, he quickly is at the top of the 2nd pool of guys to me. About WR12-15 or somewhere very close.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Big play wide receiver, looks to be the real deal. I do think there's a lot of competition for the ball in NY as Steve Smith and Manningham are both quality wide receivers as well. Eli Manning did pass for over 4,000 yards last year so there should be plenty of balls to go around this year. I'm not as bullish as most but it's hard to deny that this guy has the skills to move forward.

Thomsen said:

It's a copycat league, and two pass happy teams went to the SB last year, Jacobs was a big disappointment last season and both he and Bradshaw are injury prone. Giants will be leaning on the passing, because that's where the playmakers of the offense are. I see Manning having a career year, and Nicks benefiting. He will switch roles with Manningham, becoming the 2nd most targeted behind Smith. I'm seeing 110 targets.

rzrback77 said:

Hakeem Nicks was a late first round pick for the Giants and performed very well in 09. I really think that he is a talented WR and has a great future, but I think that my projection for his performance in 09 will not be met with much approval. I have read in this thread and heard repeated elsewhere that the Giants are now defined as a passing team. I am not convinced of this. I would be interested in New Yorkers commenting on whether the new stadium is wind-proofed as that has been an issue for many home games in the old stadium.

Looking at the passing totals from the past three seasons

07 - 302 completions on 544 attempts 55.5% for 3376 yards 6.2 ypa 23 TDs and 20 ints
08 - 298 completions on 491 attempts 60.7% for 3353 yards 6.8 ypa 23 TDs and 10 ints
09 - 338 completions on 542 attempts 62.4% for 4246 yards 7.8 ypa 28 TDs and 14 ints

Eli Manning has steadily been improving his efficiency moving from 6.2 ypa in 07 to 7.8 last year. Likewise, he has improved from 55.5% completion rate to 62.4% last season. The attempts moved down in 08, but have not increased when comparing the three year period. Both Bradshaw and Jacobs missed a little time last year, but not much more than most team's RBs.

Looking at Nicks, when you generally see a guy touted in his second season, it is either because he was great as a rookie or really came on at the end of hte year. Nicks for the season had 74 targets in 14 games 5.3 per game with 47 catches for 790 yards and 16.8 ypc. He had a really nice average yards per catch and scored 6 TDs, but not that distinguishable from other rookie WRs.

Over the final five games of the year, he averaged 4.6 targets per game and 3 catches for 48.4 yards and 0.4 TDs. He did not stand out more at the end of the season than he did at the first. His current ADP is WR 22 and 59th overall, so it looks to me like he is expected by most to really improve in 2010. I think that the Giants could very well either pass less or pass less efficiently in 2010 when compared to last year and that will not help Nicks to step up as expected. I don't think that he will provide value to where he will be drafted in 2010. He should have a solid season, just not up to many's expectations.


Hakeem Nicks projections

RECRECYDRECTDRSHYDRSHTD
Jason Wood671000700
Message board consensus681059800