Is Hakeem Nicks Primed for a Breakout Season?



It was just a little over three years ago in the 2011 playoffs when Hakeem Nicks seemed nearly unstoppable. In four games, he amassed 444 receiving yards on 28 receptions and scored 4 touchdowns. The New York Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that season as Nicks showed the size and athleticism that would keep defensive coordinators up at night. The talented wideout seemed to be well on his way to getting a nice big contract to stay in New York once his rookie deal was up.

Injuries and inconsistent play the next two seasons kept Nicks from living up to that first round potential that the Giants hoped they were getting when they selected him with the 29th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. The former Tar Heel played most of 2012 battling foot and knee injuries as he caught 53 passes for 692 yards and 3 TDs in 13 games. As a first round talent heading into his contract year in 2013 many people in the fantasy community, including myself, thought Nicks would bounce back from his disappointing 2012 campaign.

A year ago the New York Giants offense was completely out of sync. Eli Manning threw 15 interceptions in his first 6 games and ended the season with a 69.4 passer rating, his worst since his rookie season. The offensive line was dreadful, as Manning was sacked a career high 39 times. Nicks managed to grab 56 balls for 896 yards, but not a single score. So while he wasn't great, I don't put his mediocre 2013 season all on his shoulders.

With star receiver Victor Cruz locked up through 2018 and former second round pick Rueben Randle emerging, the Giants decided to let Hakeem Nicks walk in free agency. He went on to sign a one-year deal worth $3.5 million that could be worth up to $5.5 million with the Indianapolis Colts. So that begs the question: What kind of fantasy value does Hakeem Nicks have now that he has found a new home and gets a fresh start?

While Eli Manning is likely on the downside of his career, many would agree that Andrew Luck's best days are ahead of him. So not only does Nicks get an upgrade at QB, but I view him as the favorite to start as one of the outside receivers on an offense that I expect to be much improved in 2014. The Indianapolis Colts get future Hall of Fame wide receiver Reggie Wayne back from an ACL tear that he suffered on October 20 last year against Denver. Dwayne Allen, who underwent hip surgery a season ago, is reportedly 100% healthy and ready to take on a prominent role in 2014. Throw in WR T.Y. Hilton and TE Coby Fleener, two third year players who made huge strides in their sophomore seasons, and the Colts have an intriguing group of pass catchers for star quarterback Andrew Luck. There is also reason for optimism when it comes to the running game. Trent Richardson was a huge disappointment a year ago after coming over from Cleveland, but a whole offseason to get him acclimated to the offense at the very least provides some hope for the former third overall pick. They also get running backs Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw back from injury, both who have showed they can contribute at the NFL level.

The situation that Nicks is stepping into in Indianapolis is identical to the position Darrius Heyward-Bey was in a season ago. Both guys were first round picks in 2009, production has not matched their talent, and the two were signed to one-year deals. I expect Nicks to get the first crack at the role that the Colts hoped Heyward-Bey would fill in 2013 as the team's number two wide receiver and the man opposite of Wayne in two-wide sets. But also like Heyward-Bey, I imagine Nicks will be on a short leash. Third year man Hilton had a breakout year a season ago, and at 5'9'' figures to work mainly out of the slot, an area he excelled early last year before injuries hit the roster. But if Nicks starts to show signs of inconsistent play or becomes plagued by injuries like he was in his time in New York, he could be relegated to backup duties like Heyward-Bey was a season ago. Hilton showed in the second half of the 2013 season that he can also be effective lining up on the outside and I expect the Colts to put him there if needed. Indianapolis also has some young talent at the position in Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill, two players that showed they are capable of filling the WR3/WR4 role in the offense.

So while I do expect Nicks to show glimpses of the playmaking ability that made him extremely effective in the 2011 playoffs, there is certainly some risk involved when drafting the former first round pick in fantasy football this year. He has battled many different lower body injuries throughout his career and has never played a full 16 game season. Additionally, there are only so many balls to go around. Luck has already developed chemistry with Wayne and Hilton, and expect both Allen and Fleener to be involved as offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton likes utilizing two tight end sets.

So is Nicks primed for a breakout season? I doubt it. Stepping into a brand new situation on a one year deal, there is certainly reason for optimism. As a player who possesses exceptional strength, big reliable hands, and the ability to make exciting plays after the catch, there is plenty to love about Nicks' game. But I think the production from a fantasy perspective will be unpredictable from week to week with several playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. As a player who is loaded with talent but comes with plenty of risk, he is exactly the type of player I would love to target as a WR4 (assuming 10 or 12 team leagues). Nicks is stepping into a significant role with what should be a productive offense, but there are just too many question marks to recommend him as anything more than a top bench player for fantasy purposes. I would imagine there are many fantasy owners out there who would be willing to take him much higher than the 30-40th receiver off the board because he has such a big name. If you were burned last year by using a high pick on him, don't let it happen again. Do your best to stick to your guns on draft day by not reaching for the oft-injured Nicks and maximizing your value with each pick.

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