Sports Illustrated had an article on their site today talking about a recent interview Eli Manning had on a radio program. He was asked if he considered himself to be in the same elite class of Quarterbacks as Tom Brady (who Eli and the Giants defeated in the Superbowl a few years back). Naturally, Eli did say he’s in the same class, and that’s to be expected from an NFL star. Of course, he’s received a lot of grief by his critics and the media, as covered in SI’s article “The never-ending debate over Eli Manning.”
He has his problems, but he’s undervalued as well. One of the problems plaguing Eli (and the Giants in general) is their WR position. Look at the point leaders of the WRs over the past few years.
2010 WRs: Nicks, Manningham, Smith (Smith injured)
2009 WRs: Smith, Nicks, Manningham (Nicks and Manninghams’ second year)
2008 WRs: Toomer, Burress, Hixon
2007 WRs: Burress, Toomer, Moss
2006 WRs: Burress, Toomer, Carter
Burress and Toomer were Eli’s go-to guys for much of his high-point years (so far), with Smith taking over that role (almost solely) in 2009. These three WRs compensated for Eli’s sling-and-pray throwing style. Eli knew they would catch the ball, and the WR’s knew when to expect the ball to come their way.
In 2009, Eli was fortunate to have two raw receivers step up to fill the gap with Nicks and Manningham, though both didn’t play a full season. In 2010, Smith, Nicks, and Manningham all returned, but only Manningham played a full season. The lack of time on field with Nicks and Manningham (plus 4 green WR’s becoming starters in 2010 due to all the injuries) hurt the chemistry between them and Eli, which is why we saw so many “should have caught that ball” moments, with more than a few landing in the defenses hands.
“CAN” Eli become “elite?” It depends on your definition, but he definitely does have room to improve. John Elway wasn’t considered elite until near the end of his career, and a lot of that came with finding the right chemistry with the right personnel. If Manningham and/or Nicks stay healthy enough to mature into the next Burress, Eli might see his on-field performance improve (he does have great stats under the large turn-over figure). Then again, he simply might end up taking the Brett Favre path of “turnovers be damned.” Favre had 1.51 Touchdowns for every interception he threw. Eli is currently at 1.38 touchdowns for every interception. Of course, Elway had 1.33 touchdowns for every interception.