Keep or Cut: The Giants Receiving Core

With 5,875 yards of passing offense in Ben McAdoo’s new West Coast scheme last season, the New York Giants ranked in as the seventh best passing offense in the NFL in regards to total receiving yards. The receiving unit, lead by Odell Beckham Jr., was one of the few bright spots for the Giants in their disappointing 6-10 season.

The team saw contributions from a lot of young and unheralded players to the receiving game this season and in 2015 the Giants will get back star captain Victor Cruz, preseason standout Marcus Harris, and intriguing playmaker Jerrel Jerningan all of which will be returning from season ending injuries.

This leaves the Giants with an interesting excess of young and potentially NFL ready wide receivers whom they’ll get to evaluate closely this summer in an attempt to put together an even more dangerous passing attack for next season.

In what will certainly come down to the wire for the last few slots on the depth chart, the question of “who will stay and who will go?” becomes a very intriguing one to follow as the Giants progress through training camp and the preseason.

The Locks: Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle

Whether or not Victor Cruz returns 100% from his torn patella, he will be on the roster in 2016. His drop rate has increased alarmingly as he became more and more of the “go-to-guy” in the passing game.  However, the offensive co-captain’s value as a guy who can take the top off defenses and get open with his quickness makes his value unquestionable.

Last year’s first round pick, Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU, exploded onto the NFL scene finishing his rookie campaign with an eye popping 91 receptions for 1,305 yards, and 12 touchdowns. OBJ’s emergence as a star receiver is just what New York needed from him after loosing Hakeem Nicks to the Indianapolis Colts in free agency.

Also out of LSU, New York’s second round pick from 2012, Rueben Randle, has not had the same success story as his former collegiate teammate.  During the Giants dreadful season in 2013, Randle was the target on 9 of quarterback Eli Manning’s 27 interceptions. Some of those picks we can attribute to Manning being under constant duress from poor offensive line play, yet still many of those picks intended for Randle were a clear function of the quarterback and receiver not being on the same page.

The bright side is Randle has steadily gotten better each season. At 6’2″ he has good size and, more encouragingly, he responded maturely to head coach Tom Coughlin’s benching him for the first half of two games at the tail end of the season.  Finishing 2014 with 71 catches for 938 yards and 3 touchdowns, hopefully 2015 is the year Randle can put it all together and put forth a seamless and impressive season.

Preston Parker 

Due to a whirlwind of injuries to the Giants receiving core, 3rd year veteran Preston Parker went from a fringe roster player to the team’s third string receiver even starting  7 games for New York last year. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer spent the 2013 season out of football making tiki huts before latching on with New York in the preseason. Still the wide receiver proved relatively serviceable given the Giants dire need at the position accumulating 36 catches for 418 yards and 2 scores.

Parker is not very big at just 6’0″ and, while he has good quickness, his two fumbles on kick returns and inability to show anything impressive on punt returns will make it impossible for him compete with the more talented receivers the Giants will get back next year. Without being able to offer anything on special teams it is likely the Giants can find more consistent receiving options than Parker.

Verdict: Cut 

Jerrel Jernigan 

Jerrel Jernigan caught a tough break just two games into the 2014 season. The 4 year man out of Troy was lost for the season after accumulating 6 catches for 40 yards and no scores over the small sample size of his two game season. This unfortunate end to his year was worsened by the fact that going in the receiver was figured to be on track to play an important part of the Giants offense due to the spectacular flashes he showed late the previous year.

In 2013, Jernigan flashed his true potential as a dynamic playmaker catching 29 passes for 329 yards and two scores while also running the ball twice for 57 yards and a touchdown. Jernigan can also be a factor in the return games, as he also took back 11 kickoffs in 2013 for 246 yards which comes out to a healthy average of just over 22 yards per return. Jernigan’s speed and ability to allude defenders in the open field make him a valuable deep threat and possession receiver when healthy.

In the Giant’s new West Coast scheme, Jernigan could thrive having plenty of opportunities to run routes deep down the field and rush the ball on end arounds. His contract is up, but it seems like the Giants should be able to retain him at a reasonable cost.  He’s not a very well known commodity on the open market and his inconsistency paired with the lack of film teams have to really know what they would get with him should make him a cheap signing for New York.

If Jernigan can expand on his breakout stretch at the end of the 2013 season in 2015, retaining him could be one of the Giants’ most underrated offseason moves.

Verdict: Keep 

Corey Washington 

Corey Washington exploded on to the scene this year in the preseason where it seemed he was the recipient of a Ryan Nassib touchdown pass in every contest. The former Newberry college standout seemed to bully the opposing secondary’s second units using his impressive size and strength (6’4″ 214 lbs) to go up and catch balls over the top of other players.

He finished the preseason with 10 catches for 155 yards and 4 touchdowns. However, the rookie receiver couldn’t translate his eye popping play into the regular season finishing with just 5 catches for 52 yards and a single score.

Interestingly Washington’s low volume of production seemed to be mostly a function of his lack of playing time given to him by the coaching staff. With an injury plagued depth chart at the receiver position last year, it raises concerns about what Washington was showing the coaches in practices that made them pass him over for playing time. Fortunately, the young receiver will get more than enough chances to prove himself in his sophomore season.

The Giants are in desperate need of a big target for Eli Manning and Washington’s frame and skill set fit the bill perfectly. Washington expressed his frustration with his lack of time on the field to numerous reporters during last season. Hopefully he uses it as motivation to improve during the off season and, with a firmer grasp on the playbook and better timing with Manning, becomes a force and dangerous red zone target come 2015.

Verdict: Keep

Julian Talley 

The undrafted receiver in 2012 out of UMass has developed strong connection with fellow undrafted receiver and UMass alum superstar Victor Cruz. While Cruz’s guidance and experience can be invaluable to a young developing player, it’ll need to show up a lot more in Talley’s play in order for the Giants to warrant him a roster spot.

The practice squad constant has played in only four games in his two years with the Giants accumulating no statistics. He finished the preseason this year with a mere 5 catches for 38 yards. Odds are if he can’t show improvement he will be let go.

Verdict: Cut 

Marcus Harris

The former Arena League standout made a huge splash in the Giants preseason contests making spectacular catches all over the field. Harris showed great instincts on his ability to come back to under thrown balls and use his speed to beat opposing corners on quick underneath routes.

The Murray State product finished the preseason with 9 catches for 93 yards, but sadly saw his season end before it even began due to a torn labrum in his hip. Harris has no NFL experience in the regular season.  He was competing for a starting spot when he sustained his injury at the close of training camp, so there should be no reason he won’t be able to bounce back and compete to be in the mix as the team’s fourth receiver.

Verdict: Keep 

Kevin Ogletree 

The most established NFL talent, out of the players not guaranteed to be locks for roster spots net year, is former Detroit Lion, Tampa Bay Buccaneer, and Dallas Cowboy veteran Kevin Ogletree. The New York native’s name may still haunt Giants fans after the 8 catch 114 yard and two touchdown game he hung on Big Blue during the 2012 season opener as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Ogletree has great speed as a slot receiver, posting a 4.36 second 40-yard dash at the 2009 NFL Combine but he really has yet to find success in the league outside of Dallas.

As a Buccaneer, he caught 8 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown and as a Lion caught 13 balls for 199 yards and a touchdown. Both stints lasted only a year and (aside from his spectacular one handed touchdown catch on Thanksgiving while playing for the Lions) his career has yet to look anything like it once did during his 2012 campaign when his 32 receptions for 436 yards and 4 scores seemed to set him on track to becoming a quality receiver in the league.

Ogletree was signed midseason by New York due to the slew of injuries the Giants had at the position. He had just 5 catches for 50 yards in 2014 and seems to be on the downturn of his once promising career. Entering his 7th season, Ogletree will have to show the coaches he can still utilize his speed to make the occasional big plays if he wants a shot at NFL redemption.

Verdict: Cut

Chris Harper

Signed to a reserve/future contract by New York, Harper is entering his 3rd season in the NFL. Drafted in the 4th round (123rd overall) after a 58 catch 857 yard 3 touchdown final season at Kansas State by the Seattle Seahawks, Harper was cut by the team during the final roster cuts making him the second highest draftee not to make his team’s final roster. He was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 who waived him just over a month later.

Harper was claimed off waivers by the Green Bay Packers, but was waived yet again in August of 2014. He has no NFL receiving statistics and will have to have an incredible preseason to have any chance of shedding the dreaded “bust” label. It is unlikely he will make a 53 man roster to do this and, if it does, odds are it will not be with New York.

Verdict: Cut

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