Are you ready for some football
Third and Ready?
By JOHN BRANCH
Published: September 3, 2006
Giants quarterback Eli Manning operates in a haze of optimism. He is not yet everything he was hoped to be when he was selected with the first choice in the 2004 N.F.L. draft, but it is generally believed that he still can be. He remains protected by promise.
Maybe there would be more doubt if his name were Eli Leaf. Or if he had not shown marked improvement after his rookie season, when he looked an awful lot like the next Heath Shuler. Or if the Giants had not won a division title in 2005, even as Manning completed barely half of his passes and saw his performance dip late in the season.
For now, Manning is most often measured against his brother Peyton, the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. And the comparisons have come rapidly, if unfairly, with the anticipation of the regular-season opener between the Giants and the Colts.
It may take only a few uneven performances before Eli Manning is compared less with his brother than with the less-accomplished high-level draft choices of recent years — a loose fraternity of quarterbacks who were handed the ball and a franchise’s hopes, mostly falling short of expectations.
The cocoon from criticism has a way of wearing thin in Year 3, a sort of unwritten deadline for quarterbacks to turn potential into performance. It is a time when most highly drafted quarterbacks either continue to glide into the comfort of a distinguished career, or slip forever into the unforgiving realm of draft-day regrets.
Manning was chosen by the San Diego Chargers, then quickly traded to the Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers (drafted fourth over all by the Giants) and three draft picks. Leading an offense with a rare assortment of accomplished players, Manning is the wild card for the Giants’ championship aspirations. Part of the legacy of the retiring general manager Ernie Accorsi and the job security of Coach Tom Coughlin ride on how much better Manning is in Year 3 and beyond than he was in Year 2 and before.
Accorsi and Coughlin are comfortable with that.
“We have never wavered,” Accorsi said.
The Giants hope for and expect fine-tuned improvement from Manning this season. History demonstrates that what the Giants have seen from Manning in the past is probably quite close to what they will get in the future.
In the decade before the 2004 draft, 16 quarterbacks were selected in the top half of the first round — 14 with the top seven choices. Each was billed as the future of a franchise.
Some quarterbacks went to teams on the rise; others to franchises with histories of ineptitude. A few instantly became the starter, while others rarely, if ever, played as a rookie. Still others were sidetracked by injuries or coaching changes.
It is a subjective analysis, perhaps best performed on bar stools, but at least 5 of the 16 have been comfortably categorized as busts: Shuler, Ryan Leaf, Cade McNown, Akili Smith and Tim Couch. Joey Harrington, discarded by the Detroit Lions after four years and now a backup in Miami, threatens to be a sixth.
posted by Steve @ 11:01:00 AM