Thursday, September 08, 2011
By Michael Salfino
September 8, 2011
You'd think the Giants receiving corps would be in tatters after losing out on one former Pro Bowl wideout, Plaxico Burress, and then seeing another, Steve Smith, depart via free agency. But if the performance of Mario Manningham in Steve Smith's absence last year is any indication, the Giants actually may be better off.
In the seven games that Smith missed with his knee injury, Manningham posted 34 catches for 558 yards and six scores. Over a 16 game season, that projects to 78 catches, 1,275 yards and 14 touchdowns—numbers that last year would have ranked 13th, 4th and 2nd, respectively, among all NFL wide receivers.
But you don't need projections to classify Manningham as elite. In 2010, he ranked second in the NFL behind only Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace in the average gain for a wide receiver whenever the ball was thrown his way, whether or not it was complete. Manningham gained 944 yards on just 92 "targets," according to Stats LLC—an average of 10.3 yards. Last year, that same yards-per-target stat could have been used to project the emergence of Hakeem Nicks, who ranked fourth in the category in 2009. In just 13 games, Nicks ended up increasing his catches by 32, his yards by 262 and his touchdowns by five.
Should Mannigham see a similar spike in productivity, the result could be the most dynamic receiving duo in franchise history. Big Blue has never had a pair of receivers to each record over 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. The closest was in 1999 when Amani Toomer had 1,183 yards and Ike Hilliard added 996. But that pair combined for only nine scores, a total Manningham matched himself in 2010 and seems set to improve on now that he's a full-time starter.