What Happened to Hakeem Nicks?

Hakeem Nicks is on his third team inside of three years. What happened to his once promising career?

After going unsigned for a month in a half since the start of free agency, Hakeem Nicks is now a Tennessee Titan.

Immediately following the news, Twitter and various other sites on the Internet decried the Titans and Nicks, which was possibly somewhat warranted. After a failed re-boot of his career with the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts and losing snaps late in the season to the up-and-coming Donte Moncrief, Nicks' career was left hanging in the balance.

Though, Hakeem Nicks wasn't always the butt of every joke. If you rewind your memory dial about five or six years, Nicks was actually one of the better wide receivers in the league at only 22-years-old. As New York Giants fans surely remember, Nicks was a crucial part of their Super Bowl XLVI victory in 2011.

So, really, what happened to Nicks' once bright career? After a slew of foot and knee injuries, it seems Nicks' ability to separate, explode off of the line of scrimmage and create plays down the field is significantly diminished.

Let's review Hakeem Nicks' career, as his brief rise and subsequent fall into irrelevancy is certainly intriguing and frankly a little sad.

A Ghost of The Past

For the context of this article, we'll be viewing Nicks' career through the lens of our signature in-house Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. In essence, NEP indicates how far above or below expectation a certain player has performed. If you're new to numberFire and want to read more about this metric, check out our glossary.

Below are Hakeem Nicks' various NEP numbers for his career. For a wide receiver to qualify for the sample, he must have had at least 64 targets (4.0 targets per game) in the given season. All overall rankings for each individual year are in parenthesis.

YearRec NEPTarget NEPRec NEP/Target
200966.56 (31st)41.85 (16th)0.90 (7th)
201096.27 (12th)34.71 (21st)0.75 (23rd)
2011100.88 (11th)41.95 (16th)0.77 (21st)
201256.74 (49th)11.58 (55th)0.57 (55th)
201360.33 (46th)11.00 (56th)0.60 (52nd)
201431.36 (74th)-3.74 (72nd)0.45 (70th)

As you can tell based off of last year's numbers in the table above, Hakeem Nicks' attempt at a career reset in Indianapolis didn't go so well. In 2014, 76 receivers met our prescribed cut-off at 64 targets. This means Nicks was in the bottom seven of wide receivers in each NEP category above and finished third to last overall among qualified receivers on a cumulative reception basis.

For a little more background on Nicks' ineptitude, only Jeremy Kerley and Cordarrelle Patterson added fewer expected points on a Reception NEP basis in 2014. Meaning, not only was Nicks the worst wide receiver on the Colts last season -- as T.Y. Hilton finished 10th in Reception NEP and Reggie Wayne ended up 49th -- he was pretty easily among the league's worst receivers to see at least four targets per game last season.

Alas, Nicks wasn't always an inefficient wideout -- he was in fact quite good in his first three seasons in the NFL. In his age 21 through 23 seasons from 2009 to 2011, he was a top-25 receiver on a per-target basis and flirted with two top-10 seasons in Reception NEP.

We all know about his downfall in the last few seasons, but Hakeem Nicks was also once a pretty valuable commodity in fantasy football. Understandably, his career arrow sky-rocketed after posting 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns on 79 receptions in 2010.

Below are Nicks' overall wide receiver finishes and fantasy points per game for each year of his career. All scoring is points per reception (PPR).

YearGmsWR finishPPR FPsFPs/Gm

So, not only was Nicks a borderline top-10 wide receiver early in his career per our metrics, he was a fantasy "WR1" (top-12 overall) in his second and third seasons in the NFL. He battled through injuries and missed time every single year except, ironically, his 2014 campaign -- but was still a very valuable fantasy asset for back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011.

If it weren't for foot surgery in 2012 and knee surgery in 2013, maybe Nicks' career would have looked a little bit different. Unfortunately, due to these surgeries and compounding other injuries, Nicks has lost all of his previous allure he had in his earliest years.

We all have revisionist history and tend to remember a player's negatives strongly in a sense, but let's not forget Hakeem Nicks was still a pretty good NFL wide receiver just three years ago. Nicks finally played a full-season last year but -- if he can't spark his career with Andrew Luck -- it'll be even tougher to do so in Tennessee with Zach Mettenberger.