Will Victor Cruz Start Dancing Again?

Victor Cruz has had a quiet last five weeks. What's wrong?

Victor Cruz has not had a 100-yard game or scored a touchdown in his last five, both the longest droughts of his career. In fact, over the last five games, Cruz doesn't even lead Giants wide receivers in fantasy points. And he is not even second best.

Giants Wide Receivers, Last Five Games

TargetsRecYdsYds/RecTDStandard Fantasy Points/GPPR Fantasy Points/G
Rueben Randle251526117.4511.214.00
Hakeem Nicks462634013.106.812.00
Victor Cruz442428912.005.810.58

Rueben Randle has clearly been the Giants' most efficient receiver this year (like I talked through in Week 2), but not many people realize Hakeem Nicks also has a slight edge in targets and yards over Cruz over their last five contests. Has Cruz really been the Giants' third-best receiver this season?

Cruz vs. Nicks vs. Randle: Net Expected Points

Yardage and touchdowns don't tell the whole story regarding how effective a player is, so let's take a look at Reception Net Expected Points per Target, which gives context to raw yardage numbers and is able to paint a clearer picture of true efficiency. Since Randle has 48 targets, we will use that as a cut-off when determining where each is ranked amongst qualified receivers.

Rec NEP/TargetRank (Min. 48 Targets)

It turns out Cruz actually has been more efficient than Nicks, but he still does not rank in the top half of wide receivers. By comparison, he's never finished outside the top third over the last two seasons, ranking 5/93 in 2011 and 29/87 in 2012.

What exactly is the cause of the decline?

Why Cruz's Numbers Have Dipped

The Giants offense has struggled mightily this season, ranking next-to-last in Adjusted Net Expected Points with -59.52. This means, adjusted for strength of schedule, they have created about a 60-point swing in their opponent's favor compared to another team in the same situation.

Much of this has to do with the Giants league-leading 28 turnovers, seven more than the next-worst team. Quarterback Eli Manning leads the league with 16 interceptions, and his offensive line has not been giving him much time to throw. The offensive ineptitude has been affecting Cruz, and is changing the way Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride has deployed him lately.

A More Conservative Giants Offense

The Giants are currently on a three-game winning streak, and a big reason why is that they have limited their turnovers. To do this, Gilbride has significantly scaled back the offense's previously vertical nature, instead relying on three-step drops so that Manning can get the ball out quickly and not attempt as many risky throws. Check out Manning and Cruz's Average Depth of Target (aDOT, courtesy of Pro Football Focus) during both streaks:

aDOT During Losing Streak (First Six Games)Rank (Min. 25% Snaps Played)aDOT During Winning Streak (Last Three Games)Rank (Min. 25% Snaps Played)

Manning is attempting shorter throws, and Cruz is being deployed as more of a true possession slot receiver than as a field-stretcher. This makes sense, as there is no point in sending your most talented receiver way down the field when your offensive line cannot hold up long enough to get him the ball. This brand of offense has been effective enough for the Giants during their recent winning streak, so will things stay the same or will Cruz revert back to his WR1 ways? Let's look ahead.

Are Cruz's Upcoming Matchups Conducive to a Rebound?

If Cruz's usage pattern were to continue, he would be more of a mid-tier WR2 with borderline WR1-upside rather than a WR1 with top-five upside. Regardless, if you are in any type of redraft league, you are not taking him out of your lineup unless you have clear better alternatives. However, in daily leagues, his value and upside become even more important because his price has dropped, so it's important to know if his true value exceeds his cost.

His upcoming schedule is as follows.

WeekOpponentAdj. Def NEP per Pass Rank

Cruz has a somewhat favorable schedule. On the surface it looks like he will be facing two good opponents, two bad opponents, as well as three mediocre ones. However, the Cowboys have been banged up and not played nearly as well as their ranking suggests lately, plus they let Cruz go off for a five-catch, 118-yard, three-touchdown game in Week 1.

It should also be noted that Cruz had two 100-yard games versus the Redskins in 2012, although the second contest will take place in Week 17.

Expected Rest-of-Season Production

Ultimately, I would expect Cruz to rebound. The Giants offense has been more conservative lately, but keep in mind they have faced three backup quarterbacks and did not have to put many points on the board to win.

After they face off with yet another backup in this week's game against the Packers, all of the Giants remaining opponents have good quarterbacks and offenses with the potential to light up the scoreboard. Even if Cruz is not sent deep as much, his volume on short and intermediate passes should still increase because the his team will likely have to throw more.

In addition, Cruz is always a threat to take even a short pass to the house. And although the two have not connected recently, Manning still targets Cruz near the end zone, including a slant that he dropped last week which would have likely went for a touchdown.

Yet another positive for Cruz's future outlook is the return of running back Andre Brown. The Giants running game has been abysmal for most of the season, and as a result teams have not respected their play-action fakes. If Brown's strong showing last week as an indication of things to come, Manning and Cruz should be able to find success taking deep shots on play-action passes.

Buy, Sell, or Hold?

We have Cruz projected as the number 10 wide receiver for the rest of the season. I would probably hold off on using him in daily fantasy until the Cowboys game, but you should definitely buy low on him if your trade deadline has not yet passed.