Charlotte native, UNC grad, and familiarity with GM Dave Gettleman, WR Hakeem Nicks has been linked to the Panthers for years. His production, 1,192-yards 7 TD's in 2011, 1,052-yards & 11 TD's in 2010, has only heightened the association. And with Carolina's mounting desperation at WR, what was once a wish-list item has seemingly become a necessity.
In the past couple of days, Nicks, the 29th overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, has made it known that a long term contract is his priority. Even with a couple of down statistical years, the Tar Heel is still expected to command high-end money. Without question, the wide receiver position is precarious; is Nicks worth big money and a long contract?
I'm not going through Nicks' game in its entirety. He's proven he is a capable starter in the NFL. These plays below give me pause in his ability to be the longterm number one wide receiver.
This play occurs in the Giants matchup against Carolina Week 3.
Nicks is running an 8-route and is up against Captain Munnerlyn in man coverage.
Munnerlyn gives Nicks a free outside release, and the WR takes advantage. By all appearances, Nicks has beaten the nickel CB.
Nicks makes a technically sound break on his route. The problem being, Nicks has run the route with the assumption that he's facing single coverage. The Panthers are in man two high coverage; Nicks isn't accounting for the safety overtop.
Because Munnerlyn was aware of the coverage, he gave Nicks the free release, and waited for the wideout's break to undercut the route. Anything thrown on a line is in risk of being intercepted by Munnerlyn. Lead Nicks, and the safety, Robert Lester, is there to disrupt the pass.
If Nicks identifies the safety help, he is able to make an earlier, or sharper break, taking away the safety's leverage. Think Steve Smith's fourth down conversion versus Miami.
Because he's had Victor Cruz as his running mate, Nicks rarely, if ever, saw double coverage, or safety help. It doesn't preclude him from learning, or adapting, but there will be some adjusting.
The Giants also took on the Seahawks this past season. Nicks was targeted five times, three of which resulted in interceptions (albeit, one was an end of half Hail-Mary).
This play has Nicks run a slant versus Byron Maxwell.
Nicks is given free release, and is able to separate. The Giant WR doesn't turn his shoulders back to the QB. Therefore Manning has a smaller target to throw to, and the CB has an opportunity to make a play on the ball.
The pass is slightly underthrown, and Maxwell intercepts it.
Here Nicks has Richard Sherman in man coverage.
Without blazing 4.3 speed, 6'4" height/length, or a 39" vertical, on deep balls, Nicks has to win with technique.
Nicks does a good job of framing his separation, not letting Sherman into his body. The WR also keeps suitable distance from the sideline, giving him real-estate to make the catch over his outside shoulder.
Sherman has great positioning too. If the ball is thrown to Nicks' inside shoulder, the CB is in prime position to make the interception. The pass has to be to the sideline; there is almost no room for error here. Nicks has to assume the role of defender, to bail out Manning.
The Tar Heel did a fine job of framing his separation, with his hands on the CB's back. Now he has to make sure he gets the first window at the ball. Nicks' hands need to be above Sherman's arms, which would allow him to have the first chance to attack the ball, in spite of the CB's perfect position. Worst case, should Sherman get his hands on the ball, Nicks would be able to chop or strip the pass.
Nicks mistimes his jump, and doesn't change his hand positioning to combat Sherman's advantage. As a result, Sherman intercepts the pass. Not a perfect throw, but it was an avoidable interception. Quarterbacks have to give their playmakers a chance to make a play; here, Nicks came up short.
Juxtapose Nicks' tape with that of Brandon LaFell, and you'll see a more consistent player, but a receiver who still has the occasional concentration drop, runs apathetic routes, and hasn't mastered his technique. The other difference being, we know Nicks can handle a higher volume of targets. Hakeem Nicks is a high-end starting wide receiver, but he's not a great #1 option. He's not an 'X-WR'.
If the Panthers, or another team, give the former Giants WR a big contract with a lot of guaranteed money, it will be out of desperation. A gamble that Nicks can fill out the rest of his game, and develop into a formidable #1. Not impossible, but a gamble to be sure. The much more prudent move, would be offering that one, or two year 'prove it' deal, minimizing the risk.
If you're looking for Nicks to be the savior of the passing game, returning the offense to its 2011 glory, prepare to be disappointed.