The Giants? wide receiving corps remains a work in progress.
After the Plaxico Burress fiasco reduced the unit to mediocrity last year, the New York Giants selected University of North Carolina star Hakeem Nicks with their first-round pick. At 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, Nicks has the ideal frame for a wide receiver, and also boasts good speed and hands.
He emerged as a vertical threat during the preseason but didn?t make it out of his first regular-season game, leaving in the fourth quarter of Sunday?s win over the Redskins with a sprained left foot.
With Domenik Hixon unable to gain separation from opposing corners, Eli Manning was forced to lock onto Steve Smith, who became New York?s de facto No. 1 receiver, even though he isn?t suited to be the top option.
To avoid a collapse of their air attack — like the Giants experienced toward the end of last season, when Manning managed just three touchdown passes against three interceptions over the last five games — the G-Men need someone more explosive than Smith to step up in Hicks? place.
The player who stands to benefit most while Hicks is sidelined two to four weeks is wideout Mario Manningham.
The third-round pick out of Michigan in 2008, Manningham actually has closer to first-round talent, and might have gone that high if a number of teams hadn?t removed his name from their boards due to suspected marijuana use. But the 23-year-old Manningham appears to have cleaned up his act since coming to the NFL, and now is the time for him to emerge as a threat in the passing game.
Manningham saw very little action during his rookie year, catching four passes for 26 yards and no touchdowns in seven games. He more than doubled that yardage total in Week 1 this season, reeling in three balls for 58 yards, including his first touchdown grab, a 30-yarder.
During the next few weeks, Manningham figures to be in the starting lineup as the flanker in coordinator Kevin Gilbride?s offense, which means that he?ll be on the field for virtually every offensive play. With three consecutive road games at Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City on the Giants? docket, the former Wolverines standout has an opportunity to assert himself against more challenging defenses and become a reliable target for Manning.
If Manningham can?t break away from coverage during the next few weeks, Manning will be forced to lock onto Smith, and that?s something more experienced and talented secondaries than Washington?s will exploit. Sure, the Giants still have a potent rushing attack, but without another weapon in the passing game, they will struggle against tough defenses.
With Hakeem Nicks out of action for the next couple of weeks, the onus is on Mario Manningham to become Eli Manning?s go-to guy.