Not confusing the Victor Cruz-Hakeem Nicks dynamic

Every summer I fight the compulsive tendency to buy a superfluous amount of fantasy football magazines when they catch my eye on CVS shelves or wherever, and typically lose. I’m on pace for 50 by August.

Today it was the Pro Football Weekly mag, which usually finds its way onto my desk right about now. And I’ll assume it’s good. But I took issue with the first page I flipped to.

Curious to see how they ranked receivers, as the proliferation of the Passing Wins Championships mantra transcends fantasy and real football at the pro level, I peeled open to pages 68-69 to find that Hakeem Nicks has climbed to No. 3.

I’ve never ever seen a Giants receiver ranked that high in July so it stood out to me, though Plax came close and Nicks was generally ranked high last year. This is also the first time I’ve seen the Giants passing offense considered prolific during the offseason and I’m sure that plays a huge factor.

Other important note: Nicks is incredibly good for a guy entering his fourth year.

So my qualm isn’t with him ranked No. 3, just behind Megatron and Fitz; just ahead of Welker, Roddy and Andre.

The mag’s format for player capsules is “Boom:”, “Bust:” and then “Bottom Line:” with a graf for each. The potential reason for bust (kind of worst-case scenario) part on Nicks reads:

“The emergence of Victor Cruz relegated Nicks to a secondary role for part of the season, and that could happen again if Cruz continues to improve. Eli Manning has been known to spread the ball around, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cruz overtake Nicks as the Giants’ go-to guy.”

The problem here being is that their production is not at all inversely correlated over the course of a season. It’s actually the opposite. The threat of each helps the other get open, with Cruz being an especially huge factor. If you narrow the scope to one play, then yes: If Cruz is targeted on that play then Nicks is not.

But beyond that, Cruz moving the chains between the 20s gives Nicks more opportunities, which is also great because along with being a deep threat Nicks is Eli Manning’s best red zone target. Fantasy gold.

Cruz scored nine touchdowns last season but that wasn’t by any means taking significant red zone targets from Nicks. About half of them were in the long, highlight-reel variety. Which might actually be reason for concern with Cruz’s fantasy projection.

The excerpt above also uses the word “secondary” which is more confusing than it is insightful, as it isn’t really helpful to compare the two like that even if Cruz does amass more catches next season. Nicks is the top outside threat, Cruz is the slot guy. Both have the requisites to exploit other areas of the field here and there, but their primary roles and vital contributions to this offense clicking on all cylinders are different things.

The knock on Nicks is his injury history first and foremost, and then perhaps his hands becoming a bit slippery more often than you’d like.

Cruz is not at all a downside to Nicks, so don’t let him — or a good second wide receiver option in any offense — deter you. Roddy White owners, Julio Jones is helping you. Nicks has come into his own alongside very good slot options in Steve Smith and Cruz, while White led the league in targets last year

Now, that’s all assuming your offense throws the ball enough to make it worthwhile, which nearly each one does in this post-Change Rules to Make It Pretty Much Impossible to Win the Super Bowl Without Passing a Lot age.

Disclaimer: Offenses that really, really spread the ball around like the Saints can throw a different kind of wrench into the fantasy equation, but that’s for a different blog post.

Oh and hey: Check out USA Today’s 2012 NFL Preview, which hit news stands a couple weeks ago including Barnes and Noble. Analysis from Thomas Emerick, Greg Cosell, David Elfin and others will certainly put some pep in your step. Or grab it here: http://onlinestore.usatoday.com/pro-football-preview-2012-p16389.aspx

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