CRUZ NAMED 2011'S MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
You know you've made it big when "Dancing With the Stars" comes calling.
Not long ago, Giants WR Victor Cruz was best-known for a three-TD preseason
game in 2010, after which the Jets' Rex Ryan infamously said — caught by HBO's
"Hard Knocks" microphones, "I don't know who the (heck) No. 3 is, but holy
The uniform has gone up from camp-invite status to legitimate WR digits —
he's No. 80 in your program now — and the fame has followed proportionally.
"I understood that I was going to have my opportunity and when my name was
called upon I had to succeed," Cruz told PFW.
Armed with his patented salsa dance that's inspired by his grandmother, Cruz
has become one of the great feel-good stories of the season, going from three
reception-less games as an undrafted rookie in '10 to a Giants-record 1,536
receiving yards and nine touchdowns — each spiked with the salsa flair at the
Hence the "DWTS" call to have Cruz join the show. This is territory reserved
for Kardashians and Osmonds in popular culture and for football legends named
Rice, Emmitt and Hines.
Cruz passed; maybe Tom Coughlin got in his ear. Whatever the story, Cruz
hasn't let sudden fame — or anything else — slow him down. Some say he has
surpassed Hakeem Nicks as Eli Manning's favorite target. It's a big reason why
Cruz was voted the 2011 PFW/PFWA Most Improved Player.
"I don't think anybody really saw it coming," Manning said. "A guy who had a
good preseason game last year versus the Jets, and then after that, he wasn't
around. He was on I.R."
Cruz made a similar statistical jump from nowhere, although on a far smaller
stage — between his sophomore and junior years at the University of
UMass QB Liam Coen, Cruz's roommate at the time, had seen the talent. All the
Minutemen had, but Cruz had been held back by the death of his father as a
freshman and academic problems the following year.
Cruz caught only one pass as a sophomore before busting out with a 1,064-yard
season, highlighted by a 262-yard, two-TD game against James Madison.
"What's amazing is that he took a slant for 69 yards in that game," Coen told
PFW, "and was caught from behind. Otherwise, he would have had a third TD.
"I watch him now in the NFL — like that (74-yard) TD against the Cowboys,
where he ran right by Terence Newman. I said to myself, 'Man, he has gotten
faster in the NFL! Who does that?' "
The Giants weren't sure Cruz would. They signed Brandon Stokley to play the
slot, but Cruz fended him off. His breakout happened in Week Three, when he
caught two TDs (with 110 yards) vs. the Eagles, when the dance was born. Two
weeks later, he went off again — eight catches, 161 yards and a 68-yard TD — but
a crucial drop and a fumble in the fourth quarter allowed the Seahawks to upset
After some inconsistencies, Cruz hasn't looked back. He averaged 113.8 yards
in the final 10 games after the bye, many of those yards coming after making the
first defender miss. He was able to flash his now-famous dance six more times as
the Giants won the NFC East.
Only four NFL teams contacted Cruz after he went undrafted. Now he has the
eyes of the nation watching every hip shake he throws out there on the
Most Improved Player of the Year
2011 WR Victor Cruz / N.Y.G.
2010 RB Arian Foster / Hou.
Miles Austin / Dall.
2008 RB Deangelo Williams / Car.
2007 QB Derek
Anderson / Clev.
2006 RB Frank Gore / S.F.
2005 DE Osi Umenyiora /
2004 QB Drew Brees / S.D.
2003 QB Jon Kitna / Cin.
Chad Pennington / N.Y.J.
2001 QB Kordell Stewart / Pitt.
2000 QB Jeff
Garcia / S.F.