- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So I've been trying to figure out what the New York Giants are doing with second-year wide receiver Rueben Randle. The guy can look like a mess, often running the wrong route or failing to communicate effectively with quarterback Eli Manning in a key spot. He nearly cost the team in a big way Thursday night when he threw a temper tantrum and slammed the ball on the ground at the end of a play that could easily have been ruled a fumble but wasn't. Six of Manning's 15 interceptions this year have come on throws targeted for Randle. He is a work in progress, and he looks like a young player getting his feet wet in the NFL.
Yet Manning and the Giants continue to go back to Randle, in spite of the errors. Star-crossed running back David Wilson found himself on the bench in Week 1 due to fumbling issues, but Randle has made mistake after mistake and still gets the ball thrown his way.
"That's kind of the way this has been with him," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said last week, assessing Randle's complex performance in the loss to the Bears. "He's made some outstanding plays, but I wasn't real happy about the play where he threw the ball on the ground. You have to be smarter than that. He's a talented young man who is figuring this thing out. He brings a lot to the table. We just have to keep working with him and refining that talent."
The Giants spent a 2012 second-round pick on Randle, partly because they believed he was a better player than his college stats showed. They believed him to be a first-round talent who hadn't played with a good quarterback at LSU, and they believed Manning could make him into a star. They appear to still believe that, as Randle is running neck-and-neck statistically with veteran Hakeem Nicks in receptions and targets. Manning has targeted Victor Cruz the most (60), but Randle's 43 targets are right behind Nicks' 46 for second on the team, and he has 20 catches to Nicks' 25. He also has three touchdowns to Nicks' zero.
And the Nicks comparisons aren't going to stop, mainly because of Nicks' situation. Nicks is in the final year of his contract and the subject of trade speculation as the Giants limp along at 0-6 and need to start thinking about the future. They haven't ruled out re-signing Nicks beyond this year because they believe he's capable of being a special, difference-making player. But he hasn't played like one, and in fact he looks a bit like a guy on whom leg injuries of recent years have taken a toll. Working Randle into the offense could help them make a decision on whether to trade Nicks, let him walk at the end of the season or bring him back. If Randle emerges as a real No. 1 wideout, that makes Nicks expendable.
He has yet to do that, though, and the Giants would like to see more from him in terms of consistent reliability. He didn't make the wrong decision on the play that led to Tim Jennings' interception returned for a touchdown in the first quarter Thursday, but had he run the route more crisply and decisively, Manning might have seen what he was doing in time to adjust. These are the intricacies of the Giants' passing game, and there's nothing wrong with a guy needing a couple of years to figure it out. But watching what the Giants are doing with Randle, it becomes apparent that they're determined to find out as much as they can about his place in their future puzzle, even if they have to accept the short-term damage done by his youthful mistakes.