New-Look Giants Part II: Ben McAdoo, Victor Cruz & the Fantasy Impact of Body Language

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By C.D. Carter (4for4 Contributor) on January 4, 2013

C.D. is a journalist and writer specializing in quarterback streaming. Carter's work has been featured in the New York Times Fifth Down blog, and he was nominated for the Fantasy Sports Writers Association's 2012 newcomer of the year award. He's the author of "How To Think Like a Fantasy Football Winner." Follow C.D. on Twitter: @CDCarter13.

Former New York Giants’ offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s offense, criticized for years as stale and inflexible, came undone in 2013 thanks to myriad factors, not the least of which was a misreading of body language.

It was Eli Manning’s connection with his receivers, after all, that hinged on the quarterback’s ability to read the pass catcher’s body language. Giants’ receivers often changed their routes according to what the defense showed, and when the body language connection was in high gear, it worked beautifully.

So it went with Gilbride’s never-ending collection of option routes.

When Manning’s split second interpretation of a receiver’s body language was off, the results could’ve hardly been uglier. Hence, Manning’s 27 interceptions in 2013. (Note: I took a closer look at Eli last week)

New Big Blue offensive boss Ben McAdoo has none of that body language reading in his scheme. His is a decidedly more mechanical offensive approach – a stark departure from what Giants’ skill position players are used to, but one that worked fantasy football wonders during McAdoo’s days on Green Bay’s offensive coaching staff.

Barring an extended in-season adjustment period, this new, efficient approach to pass routes could see Victor Cruz return to fantasy stardom. McAdoo’s anti-Gilbridian leanings could also make viable weekly fantasy options out of red zone monster Reuben Randle and shifty slot man Jerrel Jernigan.

“This offense is less geared on body language, which is what Gilbride’s offense was really geared toward,” Cruz said in a recent interview with NJ.com. “I think it’s going to be easier for [Cruz and Manning] to connect, to be on the same page. … As far as this offense is concerned, it’s a lot more of your route is your route. It’s a lot less dependent on what my body language is and Eli reading that. It’s more so him reading the coverage and finding me in those open holes.”

 

Cruz as Cobb?

Cruz, in a handful of offseason interviews, has said he would like to be deployed like Randall Cobb was used in Green Bay’s offensive machine. Cobb ran 84.4 percent of his pass routes from the slot in 2012 and 94.8 percent from the slot in 2013, while Cruz has run around 70 percent of his routes from the slot since 2011.

That’s not to say that Cruz will certainly not be used like Cobb, though the Giants’ star wideout has said he expects to be moved around the formation much more in McAdoo’s offense.

Then there’s this nugget: “Hopefully I can sneak in that backfield for a couple plays,” Cruz said in an interview with The New York Daily News. “I don’t know how effective that will be. We’ll definitely see where it goes.”

Cruz’s comments seem to betray a misunderstanding of Cobb’s usage that persists in fantasy circles. He’s not a duel threat offensive utility weapon. Cobb has exactly 16 carries in four years as a pro, and Green Bay coaches seemed to beg off the idea of Cobb as a running back after their superstar pass catcher was walloped a couple times coming out of the backfield in 2012.

I wouldn’t expect Cruz to see anything beyond the (very) occasional experimental gadget-play carry in McAdoo’s offense.

Cruz’s per-target fantasy production has fallen off in each of the past couple seasons, though I’m not disheartened by his 2013 numbers, considering the Giants’ stinking garbage inferno of an offense. Cruz coming within range of his 2012 points per target numbers should be welcomed news to anyone willing to invest in the receiver this year.

 

Player/Year

Fantasy Points Per Target

End of Season WR Rank

Victor Cruz 2011

2.3

WR4

Victor Cruz 2012

1.9

WR14

Victor Cruz 2013

1.7

WR28

 

If Cruz thrives in McAdoo’s West Coast offense, as many game film analysts believe he can, then I think Cruz can meet or even exceed his 2012 points per target numbers.

That should leave some – though not a ton – of draft day equity for Cruz, who is being drafted as the 17th wide receiver off the board. An offense not reliant on the quarterback’s ability to read body language as he’s being harassed in the pocket could – and should – do worlds of good for Cruz’s fantasy prospects.

 

McAdoo’s plans for Jernigan and Randle

McAdoo’s approach, like most systems predicated on the West Coast offense, relies on receivers getting open quickly, catching the ball, and creating yards on their own. This emphasis on quick, accurate throws fits Manning in the worst way.

It’s also a potential boon for Jernigan, fantasy football’s No. 2 receiver over 2013’s final three weeks.

New York beat writers widely expect McAdoo to use the lightning-quick Jernigan – so dangerous after the catch – to go from Cruz’s backup to an essential part of an offense that moves receivers across the formation.

“McAdoo's offense, if it Bears any resemblance to the one he helped run in Green Bay, is likely to operate closer to the line of scrimmage and rely more on the ability of its playmakers to catch the ball quickly and operate in space,” Dan Graziano, ESPN’s Giants reporter, wrote in an April 8 column. “That could allow for Jernigan and Cruz to be on the field at the same time, and could result in more opportunities for Jernigan.”

Jernigan’s fantasy usefulness hinges on his ability to get on the field. The tiny slot guy – 5’8” and 188 pounds – could very well get his shot in McAdoo’s offense. The Packers used three wide receivers on more than 60 percent of their 2013 snaps – fully 20 percent more than Big Blue utilized a trio of receivers.

As for Randle, the Giants’ move away from body language as the centerpiece of route running is very much a good thing. Randle, at 6’3” and 208 pounds, has the profile of a traditional No. 1 receiver. But he struggled with route running during large swaths of the 2013 season, and it showed in the 22 year old’s spotty fantasy production.

Randle also wasn’t used all that often in 2013, as 62 wideouts ran more routes. Randle, in fact, averaged a meager 26.5 routes per game. Top-end fantasy receivers run upwards of 40 routes per contest.

The systematic simplification of New York’s route running philosophy is expected to be good news for Randle’s chances of becoming an entrenched part of Big Blue’s offense.

Lest we forget that Randle, upon catching 41 of the 80 balls thrown his way last season, led the Giants with six touchdowns. He’s currently the 33rd receiver off the draft board, and if his average draft position stays put, I think he’ll prove a nice – if inconsistent – value for fantasy owners in 2014.

 

C.D. Carter will have more next week on what McAdoo’s arrival in New York means for the team’s running backs and tight ends.

Filed Under: Preseason, 2014