You’re aware that Victor Cruz is more than just a diamond hidden amongst some rough. He’s a needle that’s buried in a mound of rough that’s underneath a stack of needles, and this whole mess was originally hidden several layers deep in the Earth’s crust.

When we discuss these particularly rare jewels in the NFL, we do it knowing that early in their careers they’ve achieved their rarity through more than just unanticipated production, or a sudden explosion. What creates jewels like Cruz are those two factors combined with another important number: their paycheck.

This is the second straight year that a player who was either undrafted or selected very late has made a significant contribution to a playoff team. Cruz just finished third in receiving yards during his first full season as a starter, averaging 96 yards per game, and logging six 100-yard games. It’s a season that was punctuated by Cruz’s 178-yard game during the Giants’ NFC East-clinching win over the Cowboys in Week 17, and a record-tying 99-yard touchdown reception against the Jets on Christmas Eve.

To a lesser extent, James Starks had a similar outburst last year, sliding in to finally give the Packers an answer at running back after Ryan Grant went down in Week 1. His numbers weren’t nearly as staggering, but Starks still averaged a respectable 78.8 yards per game throughout the playoffs. That included 123 yards against the Eagles on Wild Card Weekend, which is far more than the Packers expected from a sixth-round pick.

By now you’re also well aware of Cruz’s story. He went undrafted and then gained national attention during a preseason Monday Night Football game prior to the 2010 season when he dazzled with 145 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He then resumed the role of an undrafted backup, playing minimally and not recording a single catch over three games before a hamstring injury ended his season.

Now he’s more than a bargain. Signed to a three-year deal worth $1.215 million with a base salary of $405,000 in 2011, he’s an NFL front office’s equivalent of the lost city of Atlantis. Again, none of this is shocking, but we’re three days away from the playoffs, and in the infancy of draft scuttlebutt season, so we wanted to get a better appreciation for the anatomy of an NFL diamond lurking in that rough.

To do that, we compared what the Giants paid Cruz during the regular season for each reception, receiving yard, and touchdown to the payment given to the other four elite receivers who occupied the top five in receiving yardage. And when we did that, this happened…

(stats for each category are in brackets)

Player Draft position 2011 salary $ per reception $ per yard $ per touchdown
Victor Cruz Undrafted $405,000  $4,218.75 (96)  $263.67 (1,536)  $45,000 (9)
Larry Fitzgerald 3rd overall $2 million  $25,000 (80)  $1,417.43 (1,411)  $250,000 (8)
Calvin Johnson 2nd overall $8.875 million  $92,447.92 (96)  $5,279.60 (1,681)  $554,678.50 (16)
Wes Welker Undrafted $2.15 million  $17,622.95 (122)  $1,370.29 (1,569)  $238,888.89 (9)
Steve Smith 74th overall $7 million  $88,607.59 (79)  $5,021.52 (1,394)  $1,000,000 (7)