Positional Analysis: WRs, Kick and Punt Returns

The buzz word going into this years 2002 college draft for the New York Football Giants was ‘SPEED'! You will live or die by it. To quote Mickey from the movie Rocky II, "…We need speed; speed's what we need, we need greasy, lightening fast speed!" Mission accomplished.

The Giants bulked up on speed demons this year that should make an immediate impact come game day. We'll take a look at the wide receivers and return specialists drafted this year and what they bring to the table.

The incumbents of course are Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard. Despite all the off-the-field noise with Hilliard, Ike showed up at the first rookie mini camp bulked up and with a toe that is finally close to 100% healed. He and Coach Fassel "cleared the air" and Ike is looking to make the 2002 season his best ever. He also said he wants to remain a Giant for the rest of his career. Gone is Joe Jurevicious who signed a free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after auditioning with the St. Louis Rams. JJ never quite panned out the way the Giants had hoped—just like another WR draft bust Brian Alford. This void now gives Ron Dixon a clear shot at the number three position behind Toomer and Hilliard. Dixon to date has not become all the Giants had hoped, but in a recent article he eluded to the fact that he knows his time is running out and he is working very hard this off-season so he can make a statement this year. It could also be that with the likes of two new speed demons (#2 pick Tim Carter of Auburn and #7 pick Daryl Jones of Miami), not to mention the return of Jonathan Carter, (who is also very fast), Dixon is feeling the pressure to perform or be cut. Ron has a leg-up to easily secure the number 3 spot, or lose his roster spot completely. It's all up to Dixon, and the clock is ticking.

Tim Carter was the Giants 2nd round pick and 46th overall out of Auburn in the recent 2002 draft. Upon arriving at Auburn he was a cornerback who was converted to the offensive side in his sophomore year. He runs a 4.32 in the 40 and a 2.5 in the 20 yard dash. As a return specialist he made his mark with a 23.9 yard avg. He gained 956 yards on 40 kickoff returns, one for a touchdown. He caught 57 passes for 842 yards and four touchdowns for an average of 14.8 yards per catch. He added 173 rushing yards on 24 carries for an average of 7.2 yards per carry. He averaged 84.3 all-purpose yards per game in the 2001 season. He also returned one punt. He is fast and versatile and can make an immediate impact on the special teams both as returner and coverage "gunner". He will no doubt give Ron Dixon a run for his money in both returning kicks and possibly as a slot receiver. He has speed, good hands, he runs disciplined routes and has good concentration. Running disciplined routes as well as concentration are things Ron Dixon has been sorely lacking.

Daryl Jones was drafted in the 7th round, number 226 overall and is another speed demon from the National Champion Miami Hurricanes. He joins his fellow ‘cane and Giants first round pick TE Jeremy Shockey. While Jones was injured his last season and did not see much playing time, Daryl runs a 4.35 in the 40 and has great hands. He is a very good slot receiver who also returns kickoffs and punts. The possibility of Jones and Carter receiving kicks for the Giants this year is not only possible, but could be scary for the opposing Special Team Coaches. Both rookies are fast and love to return kicks. They will both give Ron Dixon and Jonathan Carter plenty of competition for the return duties as well as challenge for his number 3 WR spot in the rotation Jones ended his career in Miami with 59 receptions for 819 yards and 5 touchdowns for an averaged of 13.9 yards per catch. He returned 11 punts for 189 yards for an average of 17.2 yards including a touchdown and 16 kickoff returns for 395 yards for an average of 24.6 per return.

These are the kind of numbers that are sure to make the Giants new Special Teams Coach Bruce Read smile. Jones has also played "gunner" on special teams to which he has said he not only loves, but loves to hit people and loves being the first man down the field. Daryl brings a Special Teams hunger that the Giants have lacked the past few seasons. He will be an immediate impact on both sides of the ball, returning and gunning (as will Tim Carter). Jones will also have a shot at un-seeding Tiki Barber as the punt returner. Coach Fassel stated he would like his offensive MVP (Barber) out of the punt return business, but no one has stepped up in the last few years to take it away. Amani Toomer did an adequate job when Tiki was injured, but having your number 1 WR fielding punts is not the best solution either. Tiki Barber stated he will not give up the punt return job easily, but then, one would expect nothing less from him. Training camp and the pre-season will be a battle for roster spots as well as starting jobs, however all Giant fans would like to see one or both of these rookies step-up and un-seat Tiki so he can take less beatings during the season.

Thabiti Davis is another speedster who has been on the Giants roster for two years and has a chance to step up and be an impact player this year. In the 2001 season he only caught 3 balls for 34 yards and an average of 11.3 yards per catch, but he has speed and can be a deep threat. He will get every chance to move up the ladder in the pre-season. Again, he will be pushed by Dixon and the 2 rookies drafted this year. He has the tools to be an outstanding receiver and he will get his chance to prove it this year. Davis was originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers out of Wake Forest and made the team due to outstanding Special Teams play, but didn't stick with either Carolina or later with the Jacksonville Jags, who gave him an opportunity. Davis spent 2 springs in the NFL Europe league catching 55 passes for 700 yards and 3 TD's. He then signed on with the Giants in June of 2000. In his first season as a Giant, Davis played in 13 regular season games and 3 postseason games. He caught 2 passes for 40 yards, with a long of 27, and he added 9 Special Teams tackles, but did not catch a pass in the post-season. He played on Special Teams in Super Bowl XXXV, but did not have a tackle vs. Baltimore.

Jonathan Carter is another young speedster who has a chance to establish himself this coming pre-season. Drafted out of Troy State, he was considered a ‘draft sleeper'—which in the NFL typically means a "project". Although he played just 2 seasons of college football, Carter quickly established himself as a dynamic receiver and kickoff returner. Jonathan became a deep threat as a senior while scoring 11 touchdowns on just 46 career catches and averaging 25.5 yards per kickoff return. He proved to be a very effective blocker for the running game and has above average speed and explosive acceleration coming out of his breaks. Like Ike Hilliard, Carter is tough over the middle, sacrificing his body to make the play and is very capable in positioning his body when going up for the catch. Carter has posted 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In 2001, Carter played in 2 games, returning 8 kickoffs for 155 yards and an average of 19.4 per return. He also returned 2 punts for zero yards. He did not catch any passes in 2001—other than in the pre-season, but he should also get a long look in training camp and the pre-season not only in catching passes, but handling both kickoff and punt returns.

Several other Giants had a hand in kickoff and punt returns, mainly to see if anyone could establish themselves as the ‘man'. New FS Omar Stoutmire returned 7 kicks for 111 yards while reserve RB Damon Washington added 6 returns for 99 yards. TE Dan Campbell, DB Emmanuel McDaniel, and reserve TE Marcellus Rivers all contributed as well, Campbell having 2 returns and E-Mac and Rivers one each. Dixon of course had the best production (albeit not great numbers) with 35 returns for 661 yards and an average of 18.9. Nobody returned a kick or punt for a touchdown in the 2001 season. This is another area where Ron Dixon needs to step up if he wants to remain involved on the kickoff return team, and will be pressed by both Carters and Jones.

One of Coach Reed's goals is to increase the starting field position by increasing the average kick return well into the 30's and maybe produce a touchdown or two. With Omar Stoutmire penciled in to start at FS opposite new SS Shaun Williams, Omar's days of returning kickoffs are likely over. The same thing might holds true for Tiki Barber with respect to returning punts. Should either or both of the rookies step into Special Teams as return specialists, that will would take Tiki (or Ron Dixon) out of that portion of the game and keep both fresher throughout the season. Although Tiki has proven he can be an every down player, he is still the guy on offense who makes the team go. If the Giants can get him out of the return game, that will make him much more dangerous in the running and passing game as he will take fewer hits during the game.

The outlook is very promising for not only the Giants offense, but it's Special Teams too! The team has added speedsters that can provide Kerry Collins the deep passing threat they have been lacking. These additions to the personnel can result in "stretching the field" and providing Collins a bevy of weapons to choose from. Of course, Kerry will also have TE Jeremy Shockey as an outlet or down the deep seam if need be. Special teams will be younger and inexperienced, but will be quicker and more athletic. With the rookies the Giants have drafted, or signed as free agents, as well as the incumbents, wide receivers, kick/punt returns and kick/punt coverage should be areas that fans will see immediate improvement this coming season.

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