In his media session Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin spoke of the departure of free-agent wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. A star-caliber wideout just two years ago while the Giants were making a Super Bowl run, Nicks punched his own ticket out of town in 2013 with a dismal free-agent year and is now an Indianapolis Colt. Coughlin said he wished Nicks well, and when the conversation turned to the question of replacing Nicks, the first name Coughlin mentioned was that of third-year wide receiver Rueben Randle.
"We have high expectations for Rueben," Coughlin said, according to the transcript Rich Cimini sent me. "Rueben has to continue to develop, continue to become a better pro -- focus, concentration, production on the field, consistency, day in and day out. Practicing. You’ve seen the plays the guy can make. He’s made great plays ... We have a lot of belief and stock in his development."
Randle is a third-year wide receiver, and everybody who plays fantasy football has been told that's supposed to be a big-leap kind of year for those who are going to make them. The Giants picked Randle in the second round of the 2012 draft because they thought he had the skill set of a first-rounder, but that his college production had suffered because a shaky quarterback situation at LSU. So he is a player of whom they have always expected big things.
On occasion in 2013, he delivered big things. Randle scored six touchdowns this past year, which was a whopper of a number for the 2013 Giants. No one else on the team scored more than four. He caught 41 of his 80 targets for 611 yards, and some of the plays he made were highlight-reel quality. But he also struggled at times to get on the same page as quarterback Eli Manning, and some of their difficulties in that regard led to interceptions.
Now, as you know, the Giants' offense is going to look a lot different in 2014, if only because of new coordinator Ben McAdoo. The old Giants offense under Kevin Gilbride relied heavily on option routes and the ability of the receivers to read the coverage the same way Manning read it from play to play. It's possible McAdoo's offense won't rely as much on that, and if that's the case it would address some of what went wrong between Randle and Manning last season. The flip side is that Randle, like everyone else, will be learning a lot of new plays and terminology this offseason, and if part of the issue is that he's a slow learner, that's bound to show up as well.
So we'll see. Randle has the size and skill to be a very good NFL wide receiver. He just needs to develop, which not everyone does at this very difficult level. The extent to which he can replace what Nicks used to give the Giants (as opposed to what he gave them in 2013) will go a long way toward determining whether the passing game can bounce back in 2014.