Does Victor Cruz Still Fit in With the New York Giants?

Victor Cruz is trying to return from a devastating injury to a team that already found a new star. How does he fit in?

If the current generation of sports observers can be known for one thing, it’s that we have developed extremely short memories.

We all know what Odell Beckham did last season once he finally saw the field beginning in Week 5. He literally set the league on fire and was quite possibly the most dominant receiver in the game. My fellow numberFire scribes have doled out a great amount of praise for Beckham and his insane rookie season: see noting his importance to the Giants, dubbing him Offensive Rookie of the Year, and realizing he was the top of perhaps the best receiver class ever.

And while it would be silly to dismiss Beckham's achievements, it highlights the fact that we, as a football-watching group, quickly forgot about another Giants’ wide receiver who not so long ago was also devastating opposing team’s secondaries, and doing it with a comparable sense of flair: Victor Cruz.

Victor Cruz's Ascent (And Decline?)

If you took the time to click on this article, you probably are aware of the story of Victor Cruz.

He played his college football at Massachusetts, was an undrafted free agent signed by the New York Giants, and made his mark in a preseason game which eventually led to his posting three solid statistical seasons, a Pro Bowl appearance in 2012, and a rather large multi-year contract (more on this to come).

Here at numberFire, we like to use our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric to show in mathematical terms just how effective a given player was compared to a replacement-level player. It's a measure of how may points a player adds, or subtracts, from his team’s total.

The chart below shows Cruz’s metrics from his 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons, respectively. His 2014 season was not included due to his playing in just six games. His rank among receivers with 70 or more receptions in each season can be found in parenthesis.

YearReception NEPReception NEP per TargetCatch RateTotal WRs In Group
2011132.91 (3rd)1.01 (1st)62.88% (7th)19
2012107.34 (13th)0.75 (12th)60.14% (12th)21
201376.23 (25th)0.62 (19th)59.84% (17th)26

Cruz’s 1.01 Reception NEP per target not only led the league in 2011 but was also the fourth-highest mark among 329 individual 70-plus catch seasons since 2000.

And as amazing as his 2011 season was, we can see an incremental decline in efficiency over the following two seasons.

Further, in his shortened 2014 season, Cruz posted 23 receptions for a Reception NEP of 25.45. On a per-target basis (of which he had 41), he added just 0.62 Reception NEP, the same as in 2013. Similarly, his Catch Rate (receptions divided by targets) continued to drop and was just 56.10% at the time of his injury.

Worst of all, though, his Reception Success Rate, the rate at which his receptions added positive NEP to the Giants, plummeted in his short 2014 season, and Cruz's receptions led to positive gains just 73.91% of the time in the Giants' new offense.

What we also know about Cruz is the fact that he suffered a rather serious knee injury last season, one that has proven to be particularly difficult to recover from.

When you combine his injury, the money he is slated to make over the next four seasons, and the superstar emergence of Beckham, Cruz’s number one receiver role in the Big Apple is anything but clear.

Cruz's Future

According to an ESPN report, Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin was reluctant to commit to anything regarding Cruz’s status.

“I think he’ll be the player that he was, and hopefully better,” Coughlin said of Cruz. “But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it’s the first game. But if it isn’t, you know we’ve done that one before. We just went through it. But I’m hoping it would be.”

Money could also become an eventual issue should his recover take longer than hoped for, or if he simply does not return to a performance level similar to what he's accomplished in the past. According to Spotrac, Cruz is owed an average of $8.98 million per season for the next four years, making him the second-highest paid player on the roster behind only Eli Manning.

There’s no denying that the Giants’ offense would be much more dangerous with a 2011-version of Cruz lining up opposite of Beckham this coming fall. With a pass-catching running back like Shane Vereen also now in the mix, the passing game has the potential to be dynamic. But whether or not all the pieces will come together is yet to be determined.

It’s yet to been seen how Cruz’s surgically-repaired knee will respond once he does return to full contact practices and then eventually real game situations. If he does return to his previous level of play, the Giants will be a dangerous offensive squad, and the coaches and front office are remaining hopefully he will do just that.

If not however, the Giants may be faced with tough decisions regarding how willing they are to pay Cruz’s going rate for decreased performance.