EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants drafted a wide receiver in the first round, and even though they'd lost one in free agency that's not the kind of thing that necessarily conveys a ton of confidence in the quality of in-house options. They know what they have in brilliant slot receiver Victor Cruz, and they think that first-round pick Odell Beckham can handle the split end spot if he gets over his hamstring problems and gets on the practice field.
But Rueben Randle, the third-year receiver out of LSU ... he's still something of a mystery. He led the Giants with six touchdown catches in 2013 but got just as much attention (if not more) for mistakes and miscommunications that helped lead to Eli Manning interceptions. The third year is supposed to be a big one for wide receiver development, and the Giants hope this is the year Randle blossoms.
Only thing is, they're changing offenses this year under new coordinator Ben McAdoo. And while they liked Randle enough as a vertical threat in Kevin Gilbride's system to pick him in the second round in 2012, one wonders whether he'll fit in the new passing game, which operates closer to the line of scrimmage.
"I don't think we have to throw it deep much," Randle said this week, talking about the new offense. "It's going to be on us to create separation, make the catch and make a few guys miss."
Creating separation in short-range areas isn't easy. Cruz is a master of it, with his speed and shiftiness. Randle is a big, tall long-strider who seems best suited to operate down the field. But if he can't use what Cruz has to create that short-range separation, his size (6-foot-2, 208) offers him a tool that can help.
"Sometimes you're not going to get that separation that you want, and with my size, that's something we talked about, creating separation with our arms when there's tight coverage," Randle said. "Especially using my basketball frame to go up and get the ball."
Randle has shown an ability to use his big body to shield the ball from defenders and make plays in traffic. He's likely the best red-zone target Eli Manning will have, as he's the biggest of the wide receivers and also has shown an ability to out-fight a defender for the ball in the air. But perhaps most importantly, Randle has a handle on what he needs to do better than he did last year.
"Create more separation," Randle says, beginning a mental checklist that's clearly right there in the front of his mind when he's asked. "Keeping my body language positive so Eli will know what I'm going to do. And just running out there fast and making plays."
The Giants believe Randle has the ability to be a big-time player for them at wide receiver. Coaches and teammates say he seems newly dedicated and focused this offseason. He may not be an obvious fit in the new offense, but if he can find ways to use his physical gifts to his advantage, there will be a large part for him to play.
"I think he's getting more and more polished every year, and out here it seems like he catches everything," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "I would say he's going to be one of our big big-play guys this season."