Is Victor Cruz Ready for a Bounce-Back Year?
There's really no way to spin it another way: the New York Giants had a disappointing season in 2013.
Eli Manning had his worst passing season since 2007, and it was actually historically bad season in its own right. The team finished with its first losing season since 2004. Their defense was surprisingly spectacular, though, but that's not why we're here right now.
We're here to discuss Victor Cruz and his bounce-back potential. Spoiler alter: there's plenty of potential for a resurgence to Cruz's elite days of yesteryear.
Off the Cliff
Last year, Cruz struggled. He had already regressed by nearly 450 receiving yards from 2011 to 2012, but had earned more receptions, targets, and touchdowns in 2012 than in 2011. There was no real indication of or cause for concern, but Cruz ended up posting his lowest totals across the board in his three years as a significant player for the Giants.
Now, 73 receptions, 4 touchdowns, and 6 feet shy of 1,000 yards isn't a bad season for most receivers, but Cruz had emerged as one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the NFL in 2011 and 2012, so it's a final stat line that just doesn't add up.
But it's not like he started poorly, played poorly, and finished poorly. Rather, he started off on the right path. His first four games of the year were played at quite the torrid pace.
The tear he was on during the first four weeks of the season put him on pace for 104 catches, one which would have netted him exactly 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns, for what it's worth. His final 10 games (he missed Weeks 16 and 17) were hugely disappointing, causing the depressed counting totals he posted in 2013 (especially noticeable in the touchdown column).
And no touchdowns means no salsa dances.
Traditional stats are great and all, but Cruz's inefficiencies are better explained by his Net Expected Points (NEP) shortcomings. NEP is numberFire's way of gauging how many points a player adds to his team over the duration of a season. You can read more about it if you click here.
Below are Cruz's relevant individual NEP marks and his rankings compared to the top 50 most-targeted receivers over the last three years. (The 2013 rank includes 53 receivers due to a tie for 50th.)
|Season||Reception NEP (Rank)||Target NEP (Rank)||Rec NEP/Tar (Rank)||Catch Rate (Rank)|
|2011||132.91 (3)||79.36 (4)||1.01 (2)||62.88% (11)|
|2012||107.34 (13)||38.21 (20)||0.75 (17)||60.14% (19)|
|2013||76.23 (28)||25.06 (29)||0.62 (34)||59.84% (23)|
Cruz basically has dropped to a new decuplet each season (top-10 in 2011, top-20 in 2012, and top-30 in 2013), a pretty drastic shift for a receiver of his caliber. Elevated Reception NEP per Target ranks are very hard to recapture for receivers, and once they dip, they tend to dip for good.
But, thankfully, there's more at blame to go around than singling out Cruz.
Cruz has always been touchdown dependent to a degree, and last year he was 5.5 touchdowns shy of his average from 2011 and 2012. We can blame Cruz if we want, but Eli failed to throw 20 touchdowns for the first time since his sophomore year in the league (2005). Cruz needs better production from Manning, and production from Eli is a bit enigmatic heading into 2014.
Eli's Off Year
You can say what you will about Eli Manning, but he's a very competent NFL quarterback even if he did everything in his power last year to disprove that notion and dispel his two Super Bowl championships in a mere 16-game schedule. His past five seasons include four rock solid campaigns and one abysmal year.
|Season||Drop Backs||Passing NEP||Pass NEP Per Pass||Pass Success Rate|
Eli's 2013 was a far cry from his previous four, and it wasn't close. From 2009 to 2012, he finished 9th 12th, 8th, and 11th in Passing NEP, respectively. He also finished top-10 in passing touchdowns each year.
In 2013, conversely, he ranked 37th among passers with at least 200 drop backs.
Oh, and those down weeks from Cruz to close the year from Week 5 to 15? Eli threw just 10 touchdowns while averaging 226.2 yards per game. Without a worthwhile quarterback, Cruz could only do so much (which turned out to be not very much at all). These numbers, again, are pretty atypical for Manning, who threw at least 26 touchdowns and 3,948 yards from 2009 to 2012.
Manning also chucked 27 interceptions last year. He averaged 17.5 during the prior four seasons.
I'm not here to insinuate that the 33-year-old Eli isn't on the down swing of his career, but anticipating two touchdowns for every three interceptions (he threw 18 touchdowns and 27 interceptions) again this season is a bit rash.
Our quarterback projections for 2014 predict 24.29 touchdowns and just 12.36 interceptions for Eli, a modest season for Manning but one that includes enough touchdowns for Cruz to find his groove again.
It's fair to be skeptical of Eli's potential this year with a new offense at the hands of new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo. Our projections support that. Manning from 2009 to 2012 averaged 28.25 touchdowns per year to go along with 17.5 interceptions. The Giants offense is determined to be scaled back but more effective, something Cruz needs and deserves.
Back on Track?
Is a new offensive approach and a shuffled up receiving corps enough to allow Cruz to rise again to top-15 status? We sure think so.
Cruz is slated for 93.46 receptions for 1,219.36 yards and 7.16 touchdowns according to our wide receiver cheat sheet, quite the bounce-back year indeed and great news for Giants fans.
If you're a fantasy owner (and who isn't?), you might want to hold up on Cruz right now, though. He's currently being drafted as the 15th receiver off the board or so.
Although that's in line with our projections, imagining Cruz finding his way as a top-10 fantasy receiver with this brand new, short-pass-heavy offense is a bit difficult. It's not the vertical passing attack he had before, and if you draft him where he's going, you'll probably get what you paid for. If he slides a bit in your draft (by potentially scorned 2013 owners), then Cruz could be the type of player to help set your line-up apart from the rest of the league.