Food for thought: Is Victor Cruz worth it?

July, 2, 2013
7/02/13
12:15
PM ET

So by now you've no doubt heard, seen or read Chris Mortensen's report that Victor Cruz and the New York Giants will have their long-term contract done before training camp, which starts in 24 days. This is a load off the minds of the Giants, who want Cruz locked up and in camp, and of Giants fans, who abhor discord when it comes to their favorite team. Everybody signed, happy and in camp is what the Giants and their fans want. They'd ask for healthy, too, if they could, but Jason Pierre-Paul and Henry Hynoski have already thrown a pair of wrenches into those particular works.

Anyway, since it appears as though Cruz is a long-term Giant now, ESPN's Stats & Info blog has a post that looks a bit deeper into his game and his numbers. And while Cruz has obviously been an incredibly productive receiver for the Giants over the past two years, the post points out a few things he could stand to improve. Among them are holding on to the ball (he had nine drops last season), becoming a more reliable deep threat and, perhaps most startlingly, producing more after contact:
Along with being targeted closer to the line of scrimmage, Cruz struggled to create yards after contact, a helpful skill in the slot.

Of the nine Giants with at least 10 targets, Cruz finished last on the team in yards gained after contact per reception. He averaged 0.7 yards after contact per reception, which tied for 37th in the NFL last season among 44 receivers with 100 targets.

That's not good. And it doesn't seem right, does it? Yards after catch was Cruz's big thing in his breakout 2011 season, right? Just ask the Jets, who are 6-12 since they were up four points with 2:12 to go in the first half on Christmas Eve 2011 when Cruz caught the ball deep in his own territory and raced for a season-swinging 99-yard touchdown. Cruz's 595 yards after the catch in 2011 ranked sixth in the league, and his average yards after the catch per reception was 7.26. Yards after catch isn't the exact same thing as yards after contact, but the numbers do show that Cruz did much less after he caught the ball in 2012 than he did in 2011. He was 36th in the league with 332 yards after the catch in 2012 and averaged 3.86 yards after the catch per reception.

The point is not that Cruz is a bad player or unworthy of the contract he's apparently getting. The point is that he's 26 years old, with only two full NFL seasons in the books, and just like anyone else about whom those things are true, he has things on which he can improve. Cruz's exposure so far to fellow star wideout Hakeem Nicks and quarterback Eli Manning, both of whom are film-room rats and obsessive technicians, has been beneficial. And continued exposure to them will offer him the opportunity to hone his craft and flourish in his slot receiver role to the point that his next contract could make this one look puny. The question, as it is with any player on any team in any sport who gets his first big payday, is whether Cruz will understand and appreciate that he's not a finished product just because he's being paid like a star. Everything I know about the guy says he will. But it appears we'll all find out together.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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