EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – Though trade talks for a proven deep threat didn’t pan out, the New York Giants may have found a replacement for Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress in the draft, taking receiver Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina with the 29th pick overall.

“We like him a lot,” Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. “He’s a big, strong kid, very productive.”

Nicks set 14 school receiving records in three seasons with the Tar Heels, leaving as their all-time leader in catches (181), yardage (2,840) and touchdown receptions (21).

Coming to the Giants, many are going to expect the 21-year-old to take over for Burress, who was released earlier this month after turbulent seasons that were highlighted by his game-winning touchdown catch in the Super Bowl against the previously undefeated New England Patriots in February 2008.

However, his tenure was also dogged by fines and suspensions and eventually ruined when he accidentally shot himself in the thigh in a New York City nightclub in November. It led to his suspension, criminal gun possession charges that still could land him in prison and his eventual release by the Giants after the team concluded he was not going to change his ways.

There had been talk in the weeks leading up to the draft that the Giants were going to trade for a veteran receiver with most of the chatter centering on Braylon Edwards of the Cleveland Browns.

Reese, however, said Saturday that the Giants never came close to a deal, adding that taking Nicks was the best value among the four players the team considered.

“We expect him to come in and get in the mix,” Reese said.

Nicks had 68 catches for 1,222 yards (an 18-yard average) and 12 touchdowns this past season.

The junior tweaked a hamstring at the NFL Combine and gained some weight, but he has recovered and expects to be ready for rookie camp in early May.

Nicks will have to compete with veterans Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham for playing time next season, but he does provide the deep threat that they cannot provide on a consistent basis.

Coach Tom Coughlin said Nicks has outstanding hands, long arms and goes over the middle well. Coughlin was impressed with his performance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against West Virginia in his final collegiate game. He had eight catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns.

Coughlin cautioned about making comparisons to Burress.

“He is his own man,” Coughlin said. “We’re not into the comparison between players. We have to give Hakeem an opportunity to come in here. His ability level is very high. Let’s let him be who he is, and I think he will do very well.”

Speaking on a conference call from Charlotte, N.C., Nicks said he can’t wait to join the team and contribute. He had heard the Giants were interested, but he decided to just wait until he heard his name announced.

Besides waiving Burress, the Giants also did not offer a contract to veteran receiver Amani Toomer.

“I just want to get in the program and find my role,” Nicks said. “You know, just compete the best way possible. I am Hakeem Nicks and I want to get there and prove I have talent and that I want to play in the National Football League.”

AP-ES-04-25-09 2037EDT

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