Giant FA, Draft plan – ‘Tis better to receive

There's no question the Giants have a superb starting receiving tandem in Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard. Many would say it's the best duo they've ever had at WR.

When last season ended, it appeared that the Giants would move forward without WR Ike Hilliard. It also seemed after such an impressive rookie campaign by Jeremy Shockey that Big Blue couldn't possibly improve at the tight end spot. Wrong. And wrong again. Surprising even Hilliard, New York locked up its tough-as-nails, oft-injured receiver to a five-year deal not long after free agency began. Then, the Giants surprised the NFL world again by selecting Morgan State TE Visanthe Shiancoe in the third round of April's draft. As a result, the Giants believe they took two very strong receiving units and made them even better.

Who will it be at number three?
There's no question the Giants have a superb starting receiving tandem in Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard. Many would say it's the best duo they've ever had at WR. There's also no disputing that reserves Ron Dixon and Tim Carter are both plenty fast and loaded with ability. Now it's time for them to show what they can do for a sustained period of time. In defense of Dixon, he did make numerous positive strides on the field.

However, his off-field mishaps and immaturity also led to a one-game suspension. As for Carter, he wasn't able to accomplish much in the five games in which he was healthy enough to play. But he's fully recovered from Achilles' surgery and ready to make a run at the third receiver job currently held by Dixon. New York isn't really concerned which player steps forward, just that at least one of them does.

There are several other wideouts coming to camp – including brief '02 starter Daryl Jones and three '03 late-round draft picks – that will be competing for playing time. But there appears to be a pretty sizable drop-off after New York's first four receivers.

How much more Shock value?
Everyone believes the sky is the limit for Jeremy Shockey. He came on the scene last season and basically took the NFL and New York by storm. His on-field antics would sometimes take attention away from just how good he really is. His 74 grabs for 894 yards warranted him a spot in both the Pro Bowl and on the more prestigious All-Pro team. His enthusiasm and desire to win became contagious around New York's offense and it was very easy to overlook the fact that he was just a rookie.

Veterans loved and respected him from Day One; he got into a fist-fight with teammate Brandon Short the first day he arrived in Albany. He then ruffled some feathers with his criticism of the New York media in a TGI player diary. He's the true definition of a football player. The words ‘throwback' and ‘superstar' are tossed around way too much in sports circles, but both certainly fit here.

Opponents will have their sights set on him this year, and his coach and general manager have said they would like to see fewer on-field theatrics. But there's no slowing down Jeremy Shockey. Don't be caught the least bit off-guard as he just continues to get better and better.

Shank you very much? The last thing most draft prognosticators believed the Giants needed was another tight end, what with the aforementioned Shockey already on board. Needless to say, the Giants thought otherwise. New York couldn't pass up the raw, but talented Visanthe Shiancoe in the third round.

Now the Giants believe they'll be able to run the two-TE sets that were so successful last season as often as they'd like. Incumbent backup Marcellus Rivers, who ascended upon Dan Campbell's departure, will get first crack at playing behind/with Shockey, but assume Shiancoe will be that man before long. He definitely needs some blocking work, but seemed to be a natural, fluid receiver with excellent hands during the off-season camps. For the record, he says he never said that he was going to be better than Shockey, just that he can't wait to play with him.

Shiancoe wowed everyone at the Combine with his excellent athletic ability. Don't think the Giants are going to handle him with kid gloves. With all the focus being placed on Shockey, and rightfully so, Shiancoe could come in and grab 40 passes as a rookie. Boy does Kerry Collins ever have receiving options or what? And we didn't even mention Tiki Barber and the other backs coming out of the backfield.

Strength of Unit: You've all heard of Jeremy Shockey, right? And Amani Toomer? Yeah, they're both real good.

Weakness of Unit: It's a shame the Giants can't clone number 80, huh? New York would also love some consistency from its third WR. Key additions: Visanthe Shiancoe will make his mark at tight end, and at least one of the three drafted receivers could have an impact. Our guess is that David Tyree stands out on specials and Kevin Walter turns out to be a seventh-round steal. Sorry, Willie Ponder.

Key losses: Dan Campbell. Hardly a huge receiving threat, Campbell will be missed more for his blocking prowess and locker room leadership.

Darkhorse: Willie Ponder. While all three late-round picks are vying for roster spots, Ponder seems to have the longest shot.

On the hotseat: Ron Dixon. Maybe for the Giants and Dixon, the 73rd time will be the charm.

Too-mer Much. Paralleling Kerry Collins's success, Amani Toomer set career highs in receptions (82), yards (1,343) and TDs (8) in 2002. That was the single-best receiving season in Giants history.

Nice Complement. While Toomer catches seemingly every ball in sight, Ike Hilliard somehow managed to grab 179 passes from 1999-2001. Had he stayed healthy for more than seven games last season, he would have easily posted his fourth consecutive 50-plus catch campaign.

Nice Complement II. Last season, Dan Campbell and Marcellus Rivers combined for only 24 catches, while Shockey hauled in 74 balls. This year, the Shiancoe/Rivers combo should easily double the reserve TE production from a year ago.

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