Eli vs. Daniel at Similar Stages of Their Careers: Who's Better?

Giants fans continue to wonder whether Daniel Jones can ever be the QB to lead the Giants to the Super Bowl. Many of you have already made up your minds. Our point of comparison is St. Eli Manning, who led us to the promised land twice against the big bad Patriots in thrilling fashion. Giants fans call for Eli to be admitted to the Hall of Fame, even though many experts, some of them with HOF votes, do not agree. (I personally think Eli is a HOFer, but not first ballot.)

But fans' view of Eli is clouded by those thrilling 2007 and 2011 playoff runs. People forget that Eli had a rough start to his career. If we want to compare Daniel Jones to Eli Manning, then those two seasons are not the way to do it. Fortunately, we are at a point in Daniel's career where his body of work (2019-2021, 37 starts) is similar in volume to that of Eli's in his first 3 seasons (2004-2006, 39 starts). Let's see how their production compares over those same time periods (numbers from Pro Football Reference):

Starts Comp. % Yards TDs 1st downs INTs Fumbles Sacks GW drives Rush yards Rush TDs
Eli Manning 39 54 8,049 54 388 44 21 66 5 136 1
Daniel Jones 37 62.6 8,398 45 414 29 36 105 3 1,000 5

Eli had a lower completion %, fewer passing yards and 1st downs, but more TD passes and game-winning drives than Daniel. Eli had many more INTs but about as many fewer fumbles. Rushing is no contest - Eli was no runner, while Daniel is a real weapon in the rushing game (so far; we'll see if the Giants continue to use him that way considering how often he gets injured).

On balance, it is hard to say that Eli was any better a QB in his first 3 seasons that Daniel has been.

Some other relevant pieces of information:

Eli's passer rating during these years was 72.7. Daniel's is 84.3. Here are Eli's worst games (< 60) in that time by passer rating:

2004: 45.1, 16.9, 0.0, 56.3
2005: 51.3, 39.5, 27.9
2006: 28.3, 51.9, 59.1, 41.2

Here are Daniel's worst games (< 60) by passer rating:

2019: 35.2, 49.4
2020: 56.6
2021: 44.7, 57.7

Here are Eli's best games (>100) by passer rating:

2004: 103.9, 101.5
2005: 102.9, 120.7, 130.0
2006: 111.7, 102.6, 107.4

Here are Daniel's best games (>100) by passer rating:

2019: 112.7, 124.2, 121.7
2020: 100.9, 106.9
2021: 102.2, 108.5, 104.2

Eli went on to have another mediocre year in 2007 with a 73.9 passer rating, but from then on his rating was in the 80s or greater every year except 2013 (69.4). But Eli had many more stinkers than Daniel has had (2004 @BAL, who will ever forget that debacle?)

Here are Eli's primary receiving targets along with the games they missed in each of those 3 seasons:
Amani Toomer (1, 0, 8); Plaxico Burress - 2005/6 only (0, 1); Jeremy Shockey (1, 1, 1); Tiki Barber (0, 0, 0)

Here are Daniel's primary targets:
Sterling Shepard (6, 4, 6); Saquon Barkley (3, 14, 4); Evan Engram (8, 0, 2); Kadarius Toney 2021 (2); Darius Slayton (2, 0, 3); Golden Tate 2019-2020 (1, 1); Kenny Golladay 2021 (3)

And as a reminder, here are the OL starters for the Giants during that part of Eli's career along with number of games missed each season: Luke Petitgout (0, 1, 7); Jason Whittle 2004 (0); Shaun O'Hara (4, 0, 1); Chris Snee 2005-6 (5, 0, 0); David Diehl (0, 0, 0); Kareem McKenzie 2005-6 (2, 1).

Daniel Jones has had a receiving corps as good as that of the 2004-2006 Giants only this year, and his receivers have been unavailable much more often than the ones Eli threw to in those years. Jones has has a mostly embarrassingly inept OL in front of him during his entire career, while Eli had a very stable and very capable OL across the board during his first 3 years.

We can't predict the future. Daniel Jones may never improve beyond his first 3 years, as Eli was eventually able to do. But he has been hamstrung (quad-strung?) by injured or inadequate receivers and by one of the worst OLs in the NFL his entire career. Yet he has put up numbers comparable to or better than Eli Manning during a similar part of Eli's career. Let's see whether with a different play-caller whether the TD totals will rise. Let's see whether the Giants can field a capable OL in 2022. But at this point, Jones is clearly not a worse QB than Eli was early in his career.

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