Apparently the Giants’ Achilles Heel is a nondescript foot bone. Once again, a key Giant has fractured the fifth metatarsal in his foot, the bone that runs along the outside of the foot up to the pinky toe. Last year it was rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara, who missed the first half of the season after breaking the bone in training camp and was largely ineffective even after he came back in November. Now star wideout Hakeem Nicks has fractured the fifth metatarsal of his right foot and will miss at least 12 weeks. Nicks suffered the injury while running a routine pattern during team-run offseason practices on Thursday.
If Nicks is a quick healer and can be back in 12 weeks, he’ll be healthy by early August, just in time for the Giants’ preseason games. But when it comes to metatarsal fractures, there’s a world of difference between “healthy” and “playing like his old self”. Consider the following from ESPN.com:
The fifth metatarsal generally takes a long time to heal because there isn’t a lot of blood flow to the area.
Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez was limited to five games this past NBA season after breaking his fifth metatarsal in training camp. He returned after missing 33 games of the league’s shortened season, and then sprained an ankle on the same foot and never came back.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara, the Giants’ first-round draft pick in 2011, broke his fifth metatarsal in training camp on Aug. 6. He did not play in a game until Nov. 20 and he never looked 100 percent in his rookie season as the Giants won a Super Bowl.
Ouch. If Nicks has a similarly sluggish recovery, he could be forced into a limited role for the entire season. If so, Eli “ELI-te” Manning may find himself with no one to throw to come September.
Last season, Eli completed 359 passes on 589 attempts for 4,933 yards. In order of times Eli attempted passes to them, his favorite targets were:
- Nicks: 133 targets, 76 catches, 1,192 yards
- Victor Cruz: 131 targets, 82 catches, 1,536 yards
- Mario Manningham: 77 targets, 39 catches, 523 yards
- Jake Ballard: 60 targets, 38 catches, 604 yards
Manningham signed with the 49ers in the offseason. Ballard tore his ACL in the second half of Super Bowl XLVI and will not be back until October at the earliest. Now Nicks may be hampered or unavailable to start the season. That’s 270 targets (45.8% of Eli’s 2011 total), 153 catches (42.6%) and 2,319 yards (47%). Throw in Brandon Jacobs, who also signed with the 49ers in the offseason, and half of the Giants’ receiving production from last season is either gone or under the knife.
With Nicks down until at least early August, a trio of young receivers will get the chance to show off their skills. Rameses Barden, Domenik Hixon and second-round draft pick Rueben Randle will be starting alongside Cruz in training camp in the short term and auditioning for the slot receiver job in the long term.
The three young receivers are more similar than you might think. All have been erratic throughout their careers, particularly Barden, a 6’6″ behemoth from Cal-Poly who was selected 56 picks after Nicks in the 2009 draft but has struggled with route-running and mastering the playbook. All three wideouts are at least six feet tall, a major plus because the 6’1″, 210-lb. Nicks has been the Giants’ only physically imposing receiver since Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg. The 6’4″ Randle had a breakout season at LSU in 2011 (53 catches, 917 yards, 8 TDs), but he’s untested and will have to re-adjust to the Giants’ wide-open passing attack.
Hixon, meanwhile, is rehabbing from a right ACL tear for the second straight season, and the list of athletes who have had successful careers after suffering two severe knee injuries in two years is pretty damn short. Former Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins chose retirement over rehab when he tore his ACL for the second straight season in 2010. While Hixon is much younger than Jenkins, it remains to be seen if he can make the cuts required of an NFL wide receiver on virtually every play.
One of these players will likely become the team’s No. 3 wideout for the 2012 season. But the Giants need a fully healthy Nicks to make a run at a third Super Bowl in six years.