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Giants' roster preview: QB Eli Manning remains under-appreciated

Manning just keeps going ... and going ... and going ... and doing it at a high level

NFL: New York Giants-OTA
Eli Manning during OTAs
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Eli Manning is probably one of the most divisive figures in the NFL today. Which is pretty amazing in that Manning has had a Jeter-esque career as quarterback of the New York Giants, representing the NFL with class and never making any unwanted headlines away from the field.

Come to think of it, the comparison to former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is probably right on target.

No matter how many championships the Yankees won with Jeter, or how many individual honors he compiled, there were always naysayers. His defense wasn’t good enough. He didn’t hit enough home runs or drive in enough runs. He never won an MVP. He was only Jeter because of the New York media market.

Now, look at Manning. Two Super Bowl MVP trophies. Four Pro Bowl appearances. He is re-writing the Giants’ record book when it comes to passing statistics. Manning is already in, or close to, top 10 all-time in a number of career passing categories. The stats, and the rings, say Manning is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks to ever play the game.

And yet. And yet, Manning-bashing is a favorite pastime of many non-Giants fans — and yes, even some Giants fans. The Internet meme seems to have been invented for making fun of the often-goofy Manning Face. Critics say he throws too many interceptions, and that when he’s bad he is really, really bad. At times, yours truly has said the same thing.

There is also the inarguable fact that despite the two Super Bowl titles, there has been too much losing in recent seasons. The Giants have been to the playoffs only once in the last seven years, but individually only the 18 touchdown, 27 interception 2013 season has been truly awful for Manning. His play, statistically, has actually been stellar during much of that time.

Truth is, it is unfortunate that the Giants have not been able to put a better supporting cast around a quarterback of this caliber in recent seasons.

Will that finally change in 2016? It needs to change soon if the Giants are to maximize the best years Manning has remaining. Over the past couple of seasons, adjusting from the risky, downfield-oriented passing attack of Kevin Gilbride to the rhythmic, quick-throw, completion-driven attack of Ben McAdoo, Manning has perhaps played the best regular-season football of his 12-year career. Still, he is 35, Father Time is undefeated and the twilight of Manning’s career is beckoning.

Let’s take a closer look at Manning as we continue our series of player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp later this summer.

2015 Season in Review

While the Giants floundered to a second straight 6-10 season you can make the argument that 2015 may have been the best individual season of Manning’s career. His 93.6 passer rating was the highest of his career, and his 60.46 QBR was among the best marks of his career. His 277.3 yards passing per game was the second-highest average of his career, as were the 4,436 total yards he passed for. He completed 62.6 percent of his passes, second only to the 63.1 percent he completed in 2014. His interception percentage of 2.3 was tied with his 2014 mark for the second-best of his career. Manning’s 35 touchdown passes were a career high. While Odell Beckham is a formidable wide receiver, Manning accomplished all of this while sometimes having only Beckham as a reliable target.

NFL: New York Giants-OTA
Eli Manning during OTAs
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

2016 Season Outlook

Manning appears a touch leaner than he has in recent years, perhaps a concession to getting older. A year ago, Manning appeared to be throwing the ball with more zip than in prior years. He said during the spring that he maintained the same training regimen.

"I just continued to do what I was doing last year, a continuation of that, and I think I have a good program, a good system to do during the offseason and what I do before practices and after practices," Manning said. "I think I have a good routine and I’m just sticking with it."

After two seasons in an offense that required him to change his footwork and throw more quick, precision passes than he had under Gilbride, Manning has now completely mastered the McAdoo offense.

"I think just being the third year in the offense for me makes a difference, just the comfort level of just plays coming in and knowing my assignments, knowing my checks, knowing what I am looking for," Manning said. "You are not having to make the mistake first before you correct it, kind of getting it right the first time. I feel more comfortable and, I think, playing faster and making better decisions."

Early indications are that in 2016 Manning could have the best group of pass-catching weapons at his disposal since the heyday of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz several years ago.

There is Beckham, of course. Cruz could finally be back. There is Sterling Shepard, the exciting second-round pick. The solid Dwayne Harris is back for a second season with the Giants. There is a deep group competing for time at tight end, with Will Tye looking like a developing receiver. There may not be one star running back, but there are several quality ones who can both run with and catch the ball.

If the Giants can keep Manning healthy and give him time to get the ball to the array of play-makers he should have at his disposal, there is no reason why the veteran quarterback should not once again post some of the best numbers of his career.