New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is enjoying life as an NFL superstar, and to see where he came from to get where he is now is an incredible story. If NFL storylines were fairytales, Cruz's would be one you told your kids very often.
After spending his college days at UMass, Cruz hoped his dreams would come true and an NFL team would draft him. When that fell through, he signed on with the Giants in 2010 as an undrafted free agent. His first season with the team did not go well.
He appeared in a few games, mostly on special teams, before injuring his hamstring. Though it was believed he could make it back by the end of the year, the Giants placed him on IR to make room for Will Beatty.
Fast forward to last season. Mario Manningham concussed himself making a catch against the St. Louis Rams and would miss the third game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. That game would prove to be Cruz's coming out party.
Finally blessed with the opportunity to show what he can do, Cruz exploded with three catches, 110 yards and two spectacular touchdown catches.
Cruz would keep making big play after big play the rest of the season, and when it was all said and done, he broke the single-season franchise record with 1,536 receiving yards. The play of the year during the regular season for the Giants was undoubtedly his 99-yard touchdown reception against the New York Jets in Week 16.
Barden's story is a bit different than Cruz's and obviously does not have the happy ending, yet. But 2012 could be the year Barden rewrites his story and finally makes an impact. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract and needs to show why the Giants made him a third-round pick back in 2009.
Barden's career has been plagued by injuries and he's never been able to live up to the hype that surrounded him coming out of college. He was an FCS product that shattered all kinds of records. He was supposed to be the next Terrell Owens—a strong, big-bodied receiver that could do damage all over the field.
There is no doubting Barden has the physical tools to be a good wide receiver, he just needs to find a way to stay on the field. Even when healthy, he did not see much action.
If you ask Barden what his objective is this season, he does not shy away from the question. “I’m here to be the man. Plain and simple,” Barden told the New York Daily News. “There’s no explanation needed.”
It's hard to see Barden becoming "the man" with Hakeem Nicks and Cruz around, but this is probably his last opportunity to make something of his career with the Giants, which is why you could see a transformation in Barden this season.
He could easily have a breakout season, but he'll have to fight Rueben Randle, Domenik Hixon and Jerrel Jernigan for playing time. It seems like each training camp Barden is making spectacular catches and impressing the coaches, but it never translated to playing time in the regular season.
This is the year that could change.
Don't expect an impact on the level of Cruz's 1,500-yard season, but he could emerge as the team's third wide receiver and a real dominant threat in the red zone.
With the opportunity and the fact that he's in a contract year, he could finally put it all together and be the player the Giants thought he could be.