A lot of ink has been devoted to what the New York Giants will do with the second overall selection later this month in the 2018 NFL Draft. Most of the coverage has been geared towards the club taking a future franchise quarterback. This year seems to be a banner one for a young signal caller, and with the second pick most folks assume that this should be the choice.
Especially since the new regime hasn’t any conclusions on whether Davis Webb, a 2017 third-round choice, is the definite heir-apparent to current starter Eli Manning. The fact that Webb is a third-rounder alone should give everyone notice since the Giants have been well-documented on striking out on players taken in this single round.
Taking a young buck to learn behind Manning for a season or two appears to be the right call. Of course, it does not help the team this season - or even the next - but somebody has to be ready when Eli finally hangs up his cleats. And the second overall slot in the first-round is instant gold for a fresh QB.
But how has the franchise done in the past regarding drafting quarterbacks? Are these players the backbone of the franchise or has the club fared better with acquiring one instead? What is the success rate with QBs the club has drafted? Should they take a QB with the second pick this year? Does drafting a quarterback compute success?
Best of the best
Many Giants’ fans will attest that Phil Simms was the greatest QB drafted by the club. He took the franchise to two Super Bowls, one of which he won as the starter while the second one as a spectator as he became injured after an 11-3-0 start. Drafted in 1979 out of tiny Morehead State (and perennial losers) with the seventh overall pick in the first-round, he was coveted by the San Francisco 49ers who were poised to take him with their selection in the third round. Head coach Bill Walsh even flew to Morehead, Ky. and worked him out. After the Giants surprised most draftniks with the selection of Simms so early in the draft, the 49ers were “forced” to take Notre Dame QB Joe Montana in the third-round instead, a player deemed too short and with abbreviated arm strength.
Simms was the model Giants quarterback, although the beginning of his career didn’t start off that way. After being drafted fans asked, “Phil who?” Constantly hurt, fans grew impatient with the former first-round selection and at one point suggested trading him or an outright cut. He also tossed quite a few interceptions. In his third season, he separated his shoulder. In training camp the following year he tore a knee ligament. When Bill Parcells was named head coach he benched Simms in favor of Scott Brunner, to which Simms asked to be traded. Fans were horrible with their constant berating of the young QB.
In 1984, he finally finished a full season without any injury and had a banner year and emerged as the offense’s leader. After the 1986 season, he led the Giants to their fifth championship and first Super Bowl victory with a 39-20 win over the Denver Broncos. Simms set the record for QB accuracy and passer rating and was named the game’s MVP.
The Giants have only taken five QBs in the first-round all-time. In addition to Simms in 1979, the Giants have drafted Utah’s Lee Grosscup with the 10th pick in 1959, Auburn’s Travis Tidwell with the seventh overall selection in 1950, Philip Rivers of North Carolina State in 2004, plus Duke’s Dave Brown in the 1992 supplemental draft.
Grosscup was a first-team All-American at Utah. He played sparingly for three seasons for the Giants and never started a game. He was then traded to the Minnesota Vikings and ended up in the upstart American Football League. Tidwell was the MVP of the Senior Bowl and had a stellar college career. At the time, Charley Conerly was the veteran at QB and was still a very good quarterback. Tidwell struggled to unseat him and only started five games in two seasons throwing five TDs with seven INTs. Brown was taken in the first-round of the Supplemental Draft which cost the Giants their first-round pick the following year. He never lived up to expectations because of poor play and multiple injuries in six seasons. Rivers never played a down for the Giants and was traded to the San Diego Chargers on draft day.
A select few
There have several quarterbacks who did find some success with the Giants. First and foremost is Jeff Hostetler from West Virginia. Taken in the third-round, he labored behind Simms for most of his career. When the Giants went 11-3-0 during the 1990 season, Simms broke his foot and Hoss was elevated to the starting position. For the remainder of the season, he did not lose a game, including Super Bowl XXV.
Don Heinrich of Washington was taken with the 10th pick in the third-round of the 1952 draft, which followed Frank Gifford taken in the first-round. Heinrich had led the nation in passing in 1950 and also his senior college campaign. Even though Conerly had been the starter for four seasons already, the club was shocked Heinrich was still available in the third stanza. After a few seasons, the Giants employed a two-quarterback system whereas Heinrich would start the game and play the entire first quarter. Conerly would watch from the sidelines and see what type of scheme the defense was playing, and then enter the second quarter and play the remainder of the contest. Over six seasons Heinrich would start 43 games yet had marginal stats.
Florida State’s Danny Kanell was an excellent college QB and threw for 2,957 yards with 32 TDs and 13 INTs his senior season. Taken in the fourth round by the Giants in 1996, he sat behind Dave Brown for only one season. After the first six games of the 1997 season and a 3-3 record, Brown was benched and Kanell guided the Giants to a 9-2-1 record and a playoff berth. The following season after a 3-7-0 start, Kanell was benched and then the club signed Kerry Collins to lead the offense. Kanell was later waived.
Other high-round picks
The Giants simply haven’t taken many QBs in the early rounds. For Rounds 2 through 4, the club has only chosen eight players since the draft began in 1936. One might assume that the second round is a perfect area in which to nab a future starter, but the fact is this franchise has only taken two QBs – ever.
Tuffy Leemans played quarterback, fullback and halfback for the Giants and started 29 games behind center including a loss in the 1941 NFL Championship Game against the Chicago Bears. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978 and was named to the NFL 1930s All-Decade Team.
Oklahoma QB Eddie Crowder led his squad to the school’s first national championship and was named All-Conference two years. When his name was called in the 1952 draft in the second round, the Giants already had Conerly entrenched as the starter with one Pro Bowl under his belt. Instead, Crowder opted for the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL.
Hostetler and Heinrich are the lone third-round picks in the third round. In the fourth-round, the Giants have taken Glynn Griffing (1962), Jesse Palmer (2001), Carl Summerell (1974) and Ryan Nassib (2013).
There were a few QBs drafted in the later rounds that had some limited success. Kent Graham was taken in the eighth-round of the 1992 draft and started 10 games in three different seasons amidst two times signed. During the 1998 season, he replaced Kanell and promptly went 5-1 as the starter, but struggled the following year. The 1980 draft found Delaware’s Scott Brunner in Round 6. He became the starter in 30 games and was the go-to QB when Simms was repeatedly hurt early in his own career.
The Giants as a franchise have won eight NFL titles, four of which are Super Bowls. This places them third on the list of total NFL championships behind the Green Bay Packers (13) and Chicago Bears (9). They also played in the championship game an additional 12 times - all losses.
With Simms, Leemans and Hostetler being the lone successful QBs the team has actually drafted, where did those QBs come from who led all these squads to their success?
Well, trades and free-agency signings.
Y.A.Tittle was the starter 49 games amidst four successful seasons. His squads went to three NFL Championship Games and lost all three. Tittle was NFL MVP twice during that span, but he was not drafted by the Giants. He was traded at age 34 by the San Francisco 49ers for the Giants’ first-round draft pick offensive guard Lou Cordileone. With Tittle in the shotgun, the Giants went 10-3-1, 12-2-0 and 11-3-0. Tittle was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and is listed in the Giants Ring of Honor plus had his number 14 retired.
Fran Tarkenton, another Hall of Famer, started 69 games and came over in a trade for three players with the Minnesota Vikings in 1967. Norm Snead, Earl Morrall, George Shaw, Jim Del Gaizo and Craig Morton were also involved in trades.
Joe Pisarcik started 23 games while Kerry Collins started 68 games including a loss in Super Bowl XXXV. Kurt Warner was the starter when the club got rookie Eli Manning. Charley Conerly was cut by the Washington Redskins, then signed with the Giants and became NFL MVP in 1959. During his tenure he led the Giants to three NFL Championship Games, winning the 1956 crown. Arnie Herber took the club to the 1944 title game after being waived by the Green Bay Packers. All were free-agent signings.
Manning has been the face of the franchise for over a decade. Until last season, he has been an asset on not being injured as evidenced by his remarkable 210 consecutive starts. He guided the franchise to two Super Bowl victories when the team was blessed with superior offensive lines and stout defensive units. Manning was taken first overall in the 2004 draft by the San Diego Chargers, and then traded him to the Giants for a bounty of draft picks plus newly-drafted QB Philip Rivers. Two championships, two Super Bowl MVPs, four Pro Bowls, Payton Man of the Year Award (2016), over 51,000 yards passing amongst other great success, yet was not drafted by the Giants.
Obviously, the Giants rarely take a QB in the upper rounds of the draft much less in round one. Over the annals of the franchise, they relied mainly on trading for an established guy to take the reins instead of grooming a younger player. The majority of the successful QBs were Charley Conerly, Y.A. Tittle, Fran Tarkenton, Craig Morton, Norm Snead, Kerry Collins, Arnie Herber, Ed Danowski, Earl Morrall, George Shaw, and even Eli was acquired in some other means other than the college draft.
Take a look at this graphic:
Giants Championships Won: Starting QB
1938: Ed Danowski – free-agent signing
1956: Don Heinrich – drafted third-round 1952
1986: Phil Simms – drafted first-round 1979
1990: Jeff Hostetler – drafted third-round 1984
2007: Eli Manning – acquired via trade 2004
2011: Eli Manning – acquired via trade 2004
Giants Championships Lost: Starting QB
1939: Ed Danowski – free-agent signing
1941: Tuffy Leemans – drafted second-round 1936
1944: Arnie Herber - free-agent signing
1946: Frank Filchock - acquired via trade 1945
1958: Charley Conerly - free-agent signing
1959: Charley Conerly - free-agent signing
1961: Charley Conerly - free-agent signing
1962: Y.A. Tittle - acquired via trade 1961
1963: Y.A. Tittle - acquired via trade 1961
2000: Kerry Collins - free-agent signing
Basically, in a nutshell, the Giants have had very few seasons using a starting QB that they actually drafted. The cold hard facts are this: the vast majority of success that this franchise has had was done with a quarterback that was acquired either through a trade or free-agency. And if Davis Webb does one day become the face of the franchise he will buck two trends: 1) players the club drafts in the third-round ultimately become busts, and 2) a QB the team actually selects in the draft is successful.
And in the upcoming draft if the Giants pass on a young QB with that second overall pick, don’t worry about it. They can always trade for one.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association