In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.
(Last year: No. 10)
After Cruz's brilliant breakout 2011, the question was whether he could do it again. Though he might not have delivered as many breathtaking big plays as he did during that Super Bowl season, Cruz increased his reception total from 82 to 86, and his touchdown total from nine to 10. He's an ideal slot receiver in the Giants' passing offense, creating mismatches against linebackers, safeties and No. 3 cornerbacks with his speed and his precision. Perhaps most importantly, he's clearly a receiver that Giants quarterback Eli Manning trusts to be open under almost any circumstances.
Cruz's production numbers rank him among the top wide receivers in the league. The only thing that keeps him from moving further up a list like this one is that he hasn't demonstrated the ability to win matchups on the outside the way a traditional No. 1-type receiver should. As a result, the Giants prefer to keep him in the slot, where he can dominate, and look for other options on the outside to complement him and Hakeem Nicks. That's better for the Giants and better for Cruz, who just keeps putting up those gaudy numbers with no end in sight.
The rest of the rankings: