We got our first good look at him on August 16, 2010 in a preseason matchup against the New York Jets. There, he reeled in six receptions for 145 yards and three scores.
He wouldn’t finish out rookie season in that very same year due to injury. But he would return in 2011 where he made himself known to the football world. This man finished his sophomore season with 82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. In addition to turning in a surprise breakthrough campaign, he also became a Super Bowl Champion.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m speaking of perhaps the biggest 2011 breakout star in the NFL, wide receiver Victor Cruz. Despite being picked up as an undrafted free agent, Cruz became one of the league’s most dangerous aerial threats in the blink of an eye.
So are the Giants currently holding another Victor Cruz on their roster? Here are three breakout candidates for the G-Men for the upcoming season:
Marvin Austin, DT
Thanks to a suspension in 2010 and a torn pectoral muscle in 2011, defensive tackle Marvin Austin hasn’t seen an official snap of the pigskin in two years.
Austin did, however, flash some promising pro talent during his time as a North Carolina Tar Heel. In his three seasons at Chapel Hill, Austin piled up 9.0 sacks on the middle of the line. Austin displayed his great upper body strength as well as his above average pass and run defense. He also has the capability to collapse the pocket and draw double teams.
At 6’2” and 312 pounds, perhaps the most intriguing plus of Austin’s game is his speed. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell recently commended Austin for his quickness stating it brings “a new dimension” to the team.
If not for his questionable character coming into the 2011 draft, Austin would have surely ended up as a first-round selection rather than slipping to Big Blue with the 52nd overall pick.
As it appears now, the former Tar Heel will not be a starter on Fewell’s defensive line. But depending on happens with Linval Joseph, Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard this year, we may get some glimpses of Austin in 2012.
Ramses Barden, WR
Giants fans have been waiting for this guy to breakout for some time now.
Ramses Barden, 6’6”, possesses the prototypical body of an elite NFL wideout. Unfortunately, he hasn’t produced like one. Despite catching 206 balls for 4,203 yards and 50 tocuhdowns during his four-year collegiate career at Cal Poly, Barden hasn’t exactly excelled at the next level.
In three NFL seasons, Barden has played in only 17 games. He reeled in one catch in 2009, 5 in 2010 and 9 in 2011. The 26-year-old receiver has yet to see some legitimate playing time let alone the endzone as a professional.
Whether it’s a lack of opportunity or a bit of trouble translating his game at the pro level, Barden needs to produce to keep afloat. And with Mario Manningham out to San Francisco, Barden may be on the field for some more snaps this year.
Martellus Bennett, TE
We’ll cap this off with a former Dallas Cowboy, tight end Martellus Bennett.
At 6’6”, 270 pounds, Bennett has some nice size at his position. In addition to his size, Bennett is also considered to have some freakish athletic ability. So what went wrong in Dallas?
The short and simple of it is that he never really found his niche in the Cowboys offense. Bennett made some not-so-smart moves during his time with the team and often came off as a lazy and unmotivated player.
But with Jake Ballard being claimed by the New England Patriots, Bennett may have his opportunity to breakout in a fresh role. If he keeps his head straight, Bennett’s hands and athletic ability should be an incredible asset to Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants offense.