John Fennelly, Lead WriterAs the Giants’ season wound down last December and injuries began to pile up, Tom Coughlin was relegated to playing the end of his bench. Like a scene out of the film, “Rudy,” little-used, third-year WR Jerrel Jernigan got his chance to play after Victor Cruz was lost for the season.
Coughlin did not play the role of a begrudgingly resistant Dan Devine, but rather a coddling father who finally realized it was time to let go. So far down the depth chart was Jernigan that he was almost a cinch to be bumped off the roster this summer.
Before Cruz injured his knee in the Giants’ Week 15 loss to Seattle, Jernigan’s Giant career was nonexistent: 13 receptions for 112 yards and no touchdowns in 27 games. He was basically used as a kick returner and an afterthought on the offense.
Jernigan made the best of what was probably his last chance to prove that he was worth spending a third-round pick on. He finished the Seattle game with an impressive seven catches for 67 yards to go with 74 more yards on KO returns.
The following week in Detroit, Jernigan caught six more balls for 80 yards and scored his first NFL touchdown. He finished the season in style vs the Redskins with a career-high 90 yards on six catches and another TD. The most memorable play was not a reception, however, but a 49-yard run for a TD to break the game open for the Giants at the end of the 3rd quarter.
The Giants, who had practically written Jernigan off, began scratching their heads. Perhaps CEO John Mara said it all:
“I’m not sure why it took us three years to find out that Jerrel Jernigan can play. We finally put him in the game and he starts making plays…”
Now comes the decision to either promote Jernigan, who projects as a slot receiver in the NFL, although the Giants have lined him up outside. Cruz owns that position as he currently one of the league’s best SRs. Jernigan will revert to being Cruz’ backup and scrambling for playing time in a crowded field.
With Hakeem Nicks gone via free agency, there is an opening in the Giants’ lineup on the outside. Rueben Randle will get first dibs. Mario Manningham, an Eli favorite who was brought back this winter, will push JJ for the other wideout spot. The draft is coming as well. If Texas A&M’s Mike Evans is still around when the Giants pick, Jernigan could have his back up against the roster bubble again.
Jordan Raanan of the Star-Ledger wrote the Giants might be foolish to discount Jernigan a second time. (READ)
I believe WR is a need for the Giants this season, even if Jernigan plays a significant role. Randle is not a lock to be a No. 1 wideout and Manningham’s health is always questionable. I expect Jerry Reese to use one of his top three picks on either a WR or a pass-catching TE.