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More valuable in '12: Cruz or Nicks?

6/1/2012

I'm actually willing to side with New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks when he confidently told reporters in a conference call Thursday that he had no doubt he would be on the field for Week 1 of the regular season. This reaction makes medical sense, too, as our injury expert Stephania Bell recently reported Nicks' broken foot has been stabilized. Basically, there's nothing but positive vibes coming from the Super Bowl champion Giants these days for their top wide receiver.

There is some question whether Nicks can actually pull this off, though, and just how valuable he can be statistically considering fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz scored 44 more fantasy points last season. Cruz finished fourth among all wide receivers, and while his numbers seem awfully unlikely to repeat, the fact is that he's a tremendous downfield threat who won't simply go away. Could two New York Giants wide receivers really be among the top 10 at the position?

Well, why not? Sometimes I read or hear fantasy owners back off a certain wide receiver early because he happens to play with a teammate who is similarly productive, but as we saw during the 2011 season, that's hardly a viable reason. The top 20 for fantasy scoring at wide receiver featured four sets of teammates, or 40 percent of the list (8 of 20). Nicks and Cruz were among that group, but so were Green Bay Packers pals Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings, Atlanta Falcons Roddy White and Julio Jones and, believe it or not, Dallas Cowboys Laurent Robinson and Dez Bryant. I suspect if Miles Austin were healthy, he would have been in the top 20 and replaced Robinson.

Regardless, I have little concern that both Nicks and Cruz can coexist and star for the Giants and fantasy owners again. Instead of trying to pass by a productive wide receiver on draft day who happens to play with another quality option, I often focus on them. Would you really prefer relying on Kansas City Chiefs star Dwayne Bowe over one of the Giants or Falcons just because Bowe has nobody attracting major attention on the other side of the field? Not really. He also has to deal with Matt Cassel throwing him passes. I feel considerably better about consistent Giants stalwart Eli Manning.

Even with the busted fifth metatarsal, Nicks is a safer bet for fantasy reliability than Cruz. Yes, Cruz had an amazing season and is the one who piled on the yards after catch. Some look at him and think his numbers scream fluke, but as I argued during the ESPN Fantasy rankings summit, I don't see why this duo can't combine for monster numbers again, with a bit more equal distribution. Nicks has had injury issues in the past, and the three-year veteran hasn't had a season like Cruz just did, but he's immensely talented, the best in the NFC East.

If Cruz averages a more feasible 16.6 yards per catch, like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace for example, then his total yards would drop quite a bit. I expect that. Cruz was third in the NFL in yards per catch at 18.7. It will be tough to repeat, as it was for Wallace (21.0 in 2010), but is he a borderline top 10 wide receiver for me? You bet! I'm just taking Nicks first. For now, I've got them 11th and 13th, respectively.

Productive wide receiver tandems are nothing new to fantasy football. Not only do I expect the Giants, Falcons, Packers and Cowboys (with Austin) to provide eight of the top 20 wide receivers again, but I came really close to adding another member of the Steelers (Antonio Brown) and New England Patriots (Brandon Lloyd) to the mix. They didn't make my top 20, not yet. But look at their quarterbacks! They throw a ton and are clearly reliable. The fact they play with stars Wallace and Wes Welker shouldn't make one fearful for their production. Embrace it, because there are plenty of passes to go around, in northern New Jersey and beyond.