How Victor Cruz's Absence Is Affecting the New York Giants
Basic math teaches us that one plus one equals two. It also teaches that a dollar is a dollar no matter how you make it: a dollar bill, four quarters, and two half dollars add up to the same amount.
The problem, though, is that math is played on paper. When it is used in real life, it noticeably affects outcomes in a negative manner when something worth a dollar bill is swapped for four quarters.
On a related note, Victor Cruz is officially done for the year, and the New York Giants are attempting to replace his presence with dime-a-dozen receivers.
In 2013, Cruz played 14 games and racked up 998 yards and 4 touchdowns on 73 receptions; it is his only year as a professional to not eclipse 1,000 yards when playing in the majority of the games for the given year.
So just how much is his absence haunting the Giants?
Although 2013 was not as prosperous as the Giants had hoped, they still had plenty of talent left in the passing game. Cruz was the team's lead receiver with Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle as the second and third options.
Nicks was not far behind Cruz as the second receiver with 56 catches for 896 yards. That year, Randle had 41 catches for 611 yards and 6 touchdowns, leading many people to believe he was on the verge of a breakout.
While Eli Manning failed to reach 4,000 passing yards that year, that is more among the norm for him as he has only reached that mark four times in his 10 full seasons as a starter prior to this year. Looking more closely at his stats, Manning completed 57.5% of his passes (59.3% for his career) while throwing 18 touchdowns with 27 interceptions.
Based on our Net Expected Points (NEP), of the 105 receivers with at least 40 targets, Cruz had the 29th ranked Reception NEP (76.23), Nicks had the 46th ranked Reception NEP (60.33), and Randle had the 49th ranked Reception NEP (56.15). While Cruz was not playing like a true top receiver based on his NEP, the trio of receivers offered at least usable value to their team.
Their efficiency was not good based on Manning's struggles. Randle led the receivers in per-target Reception NEP (0.72), which was tied for 38th. Cruz (0.62) was tied for 60th, and Nicks (0.60) tied for 68th.
While Cruz only caught 59.84% of the passes thrown his way that year, he only had 5 drops on his 78 catchable passes, which was 10th best, percentage-wise, in the league.
Of the 39 quarterbacks to drop back at least 218 times in 2013, Manning had the 37th ranked Passing NEP (-43.56) and the 31st ranked Passing NEP per play (-0.07). None of these are numbers any "elite" quarterback should ever come close to touching.
The Giants finished 2013 with the second worst Adjusted Passing NEP (-70.12), and the second worst Adjusted Passing NEP per play (-0.12) in the league.
While Manning and the passing offense struggled that year, Cruz was definitely not the problem.
While the passing offense is succeeding at a higher level this year (they're eighth in Adjusted Passing NEP), Cruz's absence is still felt greatly.
Of the 100 receivers with at least 25 targets, Dwayne Harris, his current replacement, ranks 54th in Reception NEP (30.22) and 30th in Reception NEP per target (0.76).
The Giants already released their first Cruz replacement, Preston Parker, after he dropped as many passes as he caught (5) on 12 targets. In that time he posted a 2.81 Reception NEP with a 0.23 Reception NEP per target.
Although Harris's 62.5% Catch Rate is better than Cruz's, this is not a product of Harris having good hands, as he has the ninth worst drop rate.
It is clear that, in 2013, Cruz, a slot man, played out of position as the lead receiver, and the selection and ascension of Odell Beckham after that year is clear proof. Having Beckham in this role is clearly ideal, as he has the 3rd ranked Reception NEP (87.11) and the 14th ranked Reception NEP per target (0.84) this year.
Randle also has shown improvement from 2013, as he has the 33rd ranked Reception NEP (43.62) and the 20th ranked Reception NEP per target (0.79). Randle has only seen 55 targets this year, only 3 more than the combination of Harris (40) and Parker (12).
While Beckham and Randle are performing like a solid number-one and number-two receiver should perform, Manning is wasting attempts on slot receivers who do not show quality receiving skills like Cruz.
This has helped Manning, as he is on pace for 4,320 passing yards 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on a 64.6% completion percentage. Of the 33 quarterbacks with at least 142 drop backs this year, Manning ranks 7th in Passing NEP (77.58) and 10th in Passing NEP per play (0.19).
As Manning is on pace for his best year, he owes much thanks to Beckham and Randle, but it is fair to wonder just how much better it could be if Cruz was healthy. While Harris' surface efficiency metrics are stronger than Cruz's 2013 metrics, Beckham and Randle help give him favorable slot matchups that Cruz could dominate at a more efficient level.
Although Manning is playing some of his best football this year, our projections show him as the 24th ranked quarterback for the rest of the season. Even with his matchup with Josh Norman in Week 15, Beckham is our 4th ranked receiver for the rest of the year, and Randle is the 42nd rated receiver as he remains a boom or bust WR3 for fantasy football purposes.
Harris should not be on your radar, as he is projected as the 80th receiver for the rest of the year.
With Manning and Harris ranking so low, it is safe to wonder just how much untapped potential this Giants offense has to offer if Cruz can return to form next year.