Can the Giants find a No. 1 wide receiver at the NFL combine?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The first order of business for the New York Giants this offseason was taking care of some of their exclusive rights free agents. Among them was Isaiah Hodgins, the former Buffalo Bills wide receiver whom the Giants claimed off waivers in early November and almost immediately worked his way into the starting lineup.

This was an easy move. Hodgins, 24, finished tied for the team lead with four receiving touchdowns and showed enough in two-plus months to give the team hope he can be a part of their future. Exclusive rights free agents are players with fewer than three accrued seasons who can be brought back on a one-year deal at minimum salary.

So Hodgins returns at the bargain price of $870,000 for 2023. Tight end Lawrence Cager and guard Jack Anderson were also re-signed.

"It definitely feels good," Hodgins said Thursday on the Breaking Big Blue podcast. "I feel like we ended last year not exactly how we wanted, but we had some momentum and feel we can build off that and I’m just excited to be able to showcase what I can do in a full season with this team."

Hodgins had 33 catches for 351 yards in eight games (five starts) in the regular season. He added eight catches for 105 yards and a touchdown -- his fifth of the season -- in a playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings.

It was a far cry from what the Oregon State product expected even from himself this season. He was the fifth or sixth option for the Bills when the year began. Hodgins said his goals at the time were to get 200 yards and two touchdowns.

He crushed that in just a few games with the Giants. Now, the expectations have grown.

"I have high aspirations for myself. It will always be like that," Hodgins said. "I always write my goals down in my notes well before the season even starts. Now I'm training, so I'm in the process of doing that now. I don't sell myself short of anything. As long as I'm out there on the field and I'm given an opportunity and doing my part in taking advantage of it, I can set career numbers again in yards, catches, touchdowns, all that.

"My goal is just to go out there and do my part and help the team win games."

Where Hodgins slots in this year will, in large part, be contingent on how the Giants address the wide receiver position. Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and Richie James are among the team's long list of free agents. Kenny Golladay is likely to get cut, freeing up $6.7 million in cap space.

The only locks right now appear to be that last year's second-round pick Wan'Dale Robinson (recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee) and Hodgins will be in the mix. Which takes us to this week's NFL scouting combine.

What to watch

This year's group of receivers is relatively deep and wide open. It may not have a Julio Jones or Ja'Marr Chase at the top, but there are plenty of options. The Giants' first two picks are No. 25 and No. 57 overall.

Scouts Inc. has seven wide receivers graded among its top 50 players: TCU's Quentin Johnston, USC's Jordan Addison, Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Boston College's Zay Flowers, North Carolina's Josh Downs, and Tennessee's Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt.

All four of ESPN’s draft analysts pegged a wide receiver to the Giants in the first round, with three different names being mentioned.

The wide receivers will hold interviews with the media on Friday and have on-field workouts Saturday. The Giants will be monitoring closely.

The free agent WRs

The combine is also essentially the start of free agency, even if the negotiating window doesn't officially open until March 13. But with agents and team officials face to face, general discussions begin in Indianapolis.

Let's put Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, the Giants' two biggest free agents, aside for a second and stick to the wide receiver position. This week will be an opportunity for Slayton and James to see what kind of market exists. Shepard might have to wait until the late spring or summer as he recovers from a torn ACL in his left knee.

But the Giants will also be checking to see what is available in free agency in order to upgrade the position, though this isn't the best year for free agent wide receivers. The New England Patriots' Jakobi Meyers, former Giant Odell Beckham Jr., Kansas City Chiefs' JuJu Smith-Schuster and Detroit Lions'. DJ Chark are the four wideouts listed among ESPN's top 50 free agents.

General manager Joe Schoen should also get an idea on whether there is a true No. 1 receiver option available through a trade. The Arizona Cardinals' DeAndre Hopkins has been the subject of rumors, as has the Cincinnati Bengals' Tee Higgins. This week will go a long way in figuring out where things stand.

The Giants are expected to add wide receivers in the draft and free agency, given their current depth chart at the position. Schoen may need to get creative in order to land a true No. 1 receiver. Or he may need to wait for a year due to lack of supply.

"A number one receiver doesn't guarantee you anything. I think it's important that we continue to build the team, and there's multiple positions where we want to upgrade throughout the offseason," Schoen said after the season. "So, yeah, I'd love to have a number one wide receiver. But we've got to place value on everything we do, and if it makes sense, that's something we'll look to do."