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Would it be crazy to suggest that Victor Cruz should be the second wide receiver selected in fantasy drafts this summer?
On the surface, it seems insane to me to even consider it, especially when more proven wideouts such as Greg Jennings, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Roddy White and others are still producing at such a high level.
But when I dig deep into the numbers, the New York Giants slot ace has a way of salsa-dancing up my personal rankings.
What’s the hesitation about rating Cruz so highly? It’s that he only has a one-year track record of success. And we’ve seen quite a few fantasy wide receivers break out one season only to fizzle out the next - Sidney Rice, Eddie Royal, Roy Williams, Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams. That’s one potential red flag you can easily dodge by choosing a multi-year Pro Bowler over Cruz, who is currently going 10th among wide receivers in average draft position according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com.
It also feels a bit strange to rank Cruz second overall - behind Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, of course - when most football fans would agree Cruz is only his own team’s “No. 2 wide receiver” behind Hakeem Nicks.
But Cruz’s gaudy 2011 stats are hard to ignore: 82 receptions, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. To put those numbers into perspective, just take a look at this list of receivers who have topped 1,500 yards since 2002: Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, Andre Johnson (twice), Reggie Wayne, Carolina’s Steve Smith, Torry Holt, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison.
See any flashes in the pan there? I don’t.
Now is when I remind you that Cruz didn’t even settle into his role in the Giants offense last season until Week 3. At the pace he was going, had Eli Manning looked his direction from the get-go, Cruz would have amassed 91 catches, 1,736 yards and 10 scores - numbers that would have made him the top fantasy wide receiver in four of the past six seasons.
Cruz’s stats weren’t just good; they eclipsed even the career highs of some of the NFL’s elite at his position. Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Atlanta’s Roddy White have never reached 1,500 yards, and Green Bay’s Greg Jennings has never topped 1,400. Cruz’s teammate Nicks is still looking for his first 1,200-yard season, and he might not be ready for Week 1 after breaking his foot last month.
It’s hard to argue - as good as all those wide receivers are - that any of them have a higher upside statistically than Cruz after the Giants star enjoyed 10 games of 90-plus yards in 2011.
Andre Johnson and Wes Welker might have stronger cases for the No. 2 ranking. But drafting Andre Johnson highly feels a bit dangerous this season. The soon-to-be 31-year-old Houston Texan missed nine games last year with a hamstring injury, underwent knee surgery in May and plays for a team that has grown more run-centric over the past couple of years.
Welker, who has four 100-catch seasons on his resume, should definitely go higher than Cruz in points per reception leagues. But if you’re scouting for standard formats, it’s difficult to imagine Welker matching last season’s 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns (both career highs) now that the New England Patriots, paper thin at wide receiver a year ago, have added Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney.
The truth is there isn’t much evidence to suggest Cruz’s production will taper off. The Giants’ addition of speedy rookie Rueben Randle, who will replace Mario Manningham on the outside, should ensure that Cruz remains in the slot, where he poses the biggest threat to defenses. Meanwhile, Eli Manning isn’t exactly Drew Brees or Tom Brady when it comes to spreading the ball around, meaning Cruz won’t have to fend off several other receivers for targets.
No matter how I slice it, I keep coming to this conclusion: Cruz is young, proven and has a high statistical ceiling. That’s a rare combination, one that is deserving of the No. 2 preseason ranking among wide receivers.
Call me crazy.
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