The start of the New York Giants 2018 training camp is rapidly approaching, as it is for the rest of the league.
However, for now, we are still stuck in the dog days of summer, when real football news is scarce — and, frankly, it’s just better that way. But that means that we have to fill our days with anticipation, speculation, lists, and retrospectives.
And in that vein, NFL.com’s Adam Rank has taken a look back at the Big 3 from the quarterback class of 2004 — Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger — and asked the question “Which quarterback has been surrounded by the most talent?”
The winner is, ultimately, Roethlisberger. Having played with guys like Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, and now Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster, it isn’t really a contest.
The contest between Eli and Rivers is closer. While Eli has probably played with more good players — Tiki Barber, Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress, Kevin Boss, Steve Smith, Ahmahd Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr., and lately Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram — Rivers has played with two of the best who have every played their positions in LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. Also, as Rank notes, “...the Chargers always find those rangy, 6-foot-5 receivers.” Not to mention Darren Sproles, who provided a deadly contrast to those big, rangy receivers and LdT (sorry, Chargers’ fans. There ain’t but one “LT”).
So what separates them? The answer, I think, is consistency.
Issues with personnel will likely be pinned on Jerry Reese, but in this case I have to defend him. That Eli wasn’t consistently surrounded with top-tier talent wasn’t his fault.
Eli never played with any of his top players for long. Tiki and Shockey never respected Eli and were off the team by 2007 and 2008, respectively. Plax and Eli developed great chemistry through 2007 and 2008, but Burress’ career with the Giants was over before the end of 2008. Toomer was in the twilight of his career when Eli established himself as a true franchise QB. Steve Smith was incredible for Eli in 2009, but suffered what was ultimately a career ending injury in 2010. Hakeem Nicks started out at a torrid pace, but injuries quickly took their toll and he was a shadow of himself by 2013. Likewise, Victor Cruz took the world by storm in 2011, and played great in 2012 as well, but as Nicks faded Cruz couldn’t shoulder the load and then his career was ultimately ended by injury as well.
Jacobs and Bradshaw have probably been the most consistent presences for Eli. While both were solid backs (Jacobs holds the Giants’ touchdown record), and both played key roles in both of Eli’s Superbowl runs, injuries limited both (Jacobs’ knees and Bradshaw’s feet and ankles.)
How much different could Eli’s career have been if he had a full eight years with any of these groups healthy and in their prime?
The Giants tried to surround him with talent, but for much of Eli’s career they just couldn’t seem to keep the band together. In some cases stubbornness on behalf of the coaches hurt the team, and in so, so many others injuries were the culprit.
So then, have the Giants done right by Eli Manning? Well, I think they’ve tried.
But, there is also plenty of reason for optimism that Eli might now have the best group of weapons of his career. And if all goes according to plan, the Giants’ offensive personnel could, even should, rival the Steelers.
To quote Rank, “I mean, OBJ, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley. This team could be so amazing.”