Victor is cruising
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz doesn't have Calvin Johnson's height advantage and he's probably not as quick as Wes Welker.

What he does have, though, are six touchdown catches, one for every game this season. That's twice as many as Johnson and Welker have ... combined.

What I look for in a useful fantasy player is simple: the ability to score double-digit points on a weekly basis.

Since disappointing fantasy owners with a wildly inconsistent outing in Week 1 (three drops), Cruz has collected four double-digit fantasy performances in his last five games, including three in a row heading into Sunday's matchup against the Washington Redskins.

Initially, I hesitated to take Cruz with the 35th overall pick in my fantasy draft with Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith still available. Part of me thought Cruz's epic 1,536 yard, nine-touchdown campaign in 2011 had to be some sort of fluke.

I wasn't alone in my skepticism. When I finally settled on Cruz in the fourth round, he was the 11th receiver taken; behind Roddy White, Brandon Marshall, Mike Wallace, Brandon Lloyd and a handful of others.

Looks like we were all wrong. One year after finishing fourth in receiver fantasy points, Cruz has moved up to No. 2 on this prestigious list behind Cincinnati Bengals prodigy A.J. Green.

We all know that the easiest way to put up points in fantasy football is by finding the darn end zone. And when it comes to that, nobody has been better than Cruz this season.

Well, almost nobody. James Jones of the Green Bay Packers has seven receiving touchdowns to Cruz's six. But Jones is a red zone specialist and rarely gets looks from outside the 20-yard line.

Cruz's six scores this season give the third-year wideout 15 end zone receptions over the last two seasons. Only three players (Rob Gronkowski, Jordy Nelson and Johnson) have reeled in more TD grabs in that time period.

Cruz is also in elite company when it comes to piling up the yards. His 2,032 yards receiving since the start of 2011 rank third behind Welker (2,191 yards) and Johnson (2,239 yards).

As fine a season as Cruz has had, some concerns still exist. Touted as one of the game's premier deep threats, Cruz hasn't shown fantasy owners the burst that he displayed during his All-Pro season in 2011.

That year Cruz came down with a ridiculous 25 catches of 20 yards or more -- third in the NFL behind Johnson and Steve Smith. This year Cruz has hauled in only five receptions of that length while watching his yards per catch fall from 18.7 a year ago to an underwhelming 11.5 this season. Even slot-master Welker has a higher yards per catch average (13.0) than Cruz does in 2012.

His 82.7 yards per game is excellent but it's not quite on par with the stunning 96 yards per contest Cruz averaged during his breakout 2011 season. He's on pace to finish the year with 1,322 receiving yards, more than 200 yards less than the total he posted last year.

Though the 25-year-old has mostly been able to keep fantasy owners smiling with his prodigious touchdown totals, Cruz will face his most daunting obstacle yet in Week 7. And no, I'm not referring to the Redskins' paper-thin secondary. I'm talking about Hakeem Nicks.

Nicks, bothered by foot and knee injuries in recent weeks, will take the field Sunday as close to 100 percent as he has been all season. That's sure to reduce Cruz's impact somewhat, but the question is by how much?

At first glance having Nicks, a player who has gone for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in each of his last two seasons, back in the lineup would appear to be a huge hindrance to Cruz's fantasy production. But if you look at what Cruz has been able to do with and without Nicks on the field this season, you'll see that his presence has actually had the opposite effect.

Yes, it's true: Victor Cruz is actually a better player when Nicks is healthy.

During the three games Nicks has played in this season, Cruz has seen an average of 13.7 targets per game while hauling in 98.3 yards per game. In the three games Nicks was hurt, Cruz averaged a mere 9.7 targets per contest and 67 yards per game.

It actually makes a ton of sense. Without the threat of Nicks, opposing defenses have had an easier time keying in on Cruz, forcing Eli Manning to look elsewhere. When Nicks and Cruz are both on the field, defenses can't play as tight coverage on Cruz for fear of getting burned by Nicks and vice versa.

Basically it's a lose-lose situation for the other teams and a win-win for the Giants. Either way, one of them is going to beat you.

That's why I think Cruz will be just fine this week against Washington. Heck, he'll be more than fine. I'm expecting at least two salsa touchdown dances from Cruz on Sunday.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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