The New York Giants not only lost 27-0 to NFC East rival Philadelphia on Sunday, they also lost wide receiver Victor Cruz for the rest of the season to a torn patellar tendon. Cruz, the team’s leading receiver each of the past three seasons, suffered the injury while trying to catch a short touchdown pass in the third quarter.
Cruz underwent surgery on Monday to repair the damage to his knee. Besides putting an end to this season, this injury could impact Cruz’ availability at the start of next season, depending on the severity. But it’s too soon to start worrying about 2015, as the Giants must figure out what they are going to do to replace Cruz for their remaining 10 games this season.
From a fantasy standpoint, Cruz came out of nowhere to emerge as the No. 4 wide receiver in 2011 (Athlon scoring) and followed that up with a top-15 campaign in ’12. His numbers dipped a bit last season, but he still wound up just outside of the top 30 at his position. He entered this season as a top-15 option, but got off to a slow start in the Giants’ new offense under rookie coordinator Bob McAdoo.
After totaling just 84 yards in the first two games, Cruz posted back-to-back 100-yard efforts in Weeks 3 and 4. Now, McAdoo as well as Eli Manning will have to look elsewhere to fill Cruz’ production, as do his fantasy owners. Here are eight possible options that could fill the bill, starting with two of Cruz’ own teammates. In fact, this list also could prove helpful for Calvin Johnson (ankle) and A.J. Green (toe) owners, as both are expected to miss at least one more game due to injury.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants
Randle should assume the role of Giants No. 1 wide receiver following Victor Cruz’ season-ending injury. Already the most targeted Giant (49); Randle’s scoring opportunities (2 TD catches thus far) should increase in Cruz’ absence. Randle has had opportunities to emerge as a reliable, every-week fantasy starter in the past, but this could be his best chance yet. Manning needs Randle more than ever, so it’s just a matter of the third-year wideout rising to the occasion. Regardless, any wide receiver that averages 10 targets over a four-game span is worth some attention.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
While Rueben Randle moves into the No. 1 spot, don’t sleep on Beckham. He was the Giants’ first-round pick for a reason and if not for a bothersome hamstring injury that kept him out until Week 5, he may not have even qualified for this list (from an ownership standpoint). As it is, Beckham’s injury could turn out to be a blessing for a hamstrung fantasy owner, as it took just one game for the former LSU Tiger to make an impression. Two weeks ago, Beckham caught four passes in his NFL debut for 44 yards and a touchdown. He had just two grabs in Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia, but every Giant offensive player struggled in that game. Despite the missed time, Beckham was already established as the team’s No. 3 wideout and his opportunities should only increase with him moving into Victor Cruz’ starting spot alongside Randle. It’s not out of the question that Beckham finishes the season with better fantasy numbers than Randle.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals were without pair of injured wideouts in A.J. Green (toe) and Marvin Jones (ankle) against the Panthers, leaving Sanu as the No. 1 guy. He filled in admirably, as he was targeted a team-high 14 times. He paced the offense with 10 receptions for 120 yards to go along with a touchdown. The initial reports are that Green will miss at least another game, while Jones has yet to even practice, so Sanu’s reign as Cincinnati’s top wideout should last at least one more week. And even with Sanu having to share the spotlight (and targets) when Green is on the field, he’s done enough to rank just outside of the top 10 in fantasy scoring at his position.
Brian Quick, St. Louis Rams
Perhaps the most surprising member of this list, Quick has emerged from obscurity on his own team to become the Rams’ top receiving threat. Prior to a virtual no-show (1 rec., 10 yds.) on Monday night against San Francisco, Quick had produced double-digit scoring efforts in his previous four games, including a two-touchdown showing against Philadelphia in Week 5. St. Louis is already on its third starting quarterback of the season, but it looks head coach Jeff Fisher has settled on Austin Davis. Based on the early returns, if Davis wants to succeed he needs to make sure Quick remains actively involved in the passing game.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
An under-appreciated asset in fantasy, Shorts’ 2014 season has been hampered by injuries. He missed the first two games with a hamstring injury, then returned and paced the team in targets and caught a touchdown pass. He re-aggravated the hamstring injury a week later, but was out just one game before catching 10 passes (on 16 targets) for 103 yards Sunday against Tennessee. Don’t forget that Shorts was the Jaguars’ top wideout in both 2012 and ‘13. With first-round pick Blake Bortles now in place as the starter, Shorts is an established No. 1 wide receiver that could develop into a legitimate WR2 fantasy option before this season is over. He just needs to show he can stay healthy.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
A popular breakout candidate entering this season, Hunter may finally be settling in as the Titans’ No. 1 wide receiver. He’s third on the team in targets (37) and receptions (15), but he’s second in yards (314) thanks to a gaudy 20.9 ypc. He has five catches of 20 or more yards, and he’s seeing the most snaps of any wide receiver on the roster. Tennessee’s quarterback situation remains a work in progress, but Hunter should remain at the forefront of the Titans’ passing game moving forward. WR1 potential and upside clearly exists with Hunter. It’s just a matter of him putting it all together.
James Jones, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have plenty of issues on offense and are starting a rookie quarterback, but Jones has provided a steady, veteran presence that has provided top-25 fantasy production. The former Green Bay Packer leads the team in targets (35), receptions (26) and yards (328) and is tied for the lead in touchdowns with three. He has caught at least three passes in every game and while Oakland may have more explosive options in players like Andre Holmes, but no one has been more consistent than Jones. Sometimes consistency pays off, even in fantasy.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is on bye this week, but that actually could make Evans’ even more appealing from here out. The Bucs’ first-round pick suffered a groin injury late in the Week 4 win in Pittsburgh, a game in which he posted his best effort (4-65-1) of the season. Initially expected to miss two to four weeks, Evans sat out last week but returned Sunday against Baltimore. He caught just four passes for 55 yards in the loss to the Ravens, but what was encouraging were the targets (8) and he scored another touchdown even though he was at less than 100 percent health-wise. Now with a week to fully recover, Evans should maintain a steady presence in what has become a productive passing attack since Mike Glennon took over for an injured Josh McCown.