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Casting off the Notion of Eli Manning as a Top 10 NFL Quarterback

Eli Nelson Manning (photo courtesy of

Earlier this week, Eli Manning jumped into a halogen lit trap with warning signs all around it when he glibly answered in the affirmative to ESPN Michael Kay’s inquiry “Do you consider yourself a top 5 QB?” As expected, NFL pundits and fans  wrung their arms up in the air. The collective reaction wasn’t in surprise, mind you: we all know Eli is susceptible to falling into traps as evidenced by his league leading 25 interceptions last year. It was more in the frustrated realization that the Giants francise QB, who also displayed daft indifference to re-uniting with former elite #1 receiver, 6’5 Plaxico Burress, is perhaps a little more dim witted, listless, and diffident than we thought.

Still, the mainstream sports media has taken an unjustifiably gracious stance toward Eli Manning since 2009, consistently labeling Manning a “Top 10” QB ranking in the league.

Eli Nelson Manning: The Son Sports Media Has To Love

His statistics since the the Giants 2008 Superbowl victory been unremarkable: a three year average of 88.0 QB rating, 79 touchdowns to 49 interceptions and 0-1 in the playoffs. Still, there is so much about Eli Manning that makes the mainstream media want so very badly to put Eli Manning in NFL top 10 company. There is his All-American, clean cut and blonde hair parted Midwestern boyscout look, his generally affable and congenial nature during interviews, his attractive and winsome wife, his storied Manning family legacy, and of course most importantly (right?) his miraculous game-winning Superbowl XLII pass to David Tyree (that year Manning lead the NFL in regular season interceptions and had a 73.9 QB rating). That pass, by the way, isn’t getting caught 90% of the time and feels like the penultimate scene in a cliched sports movie, but still…look at it. It’s pretty magical:

Almost As Unreal as James Vanderbeek Playing a QB who Wins Football Games in Varsity Blues

Even in our current media’s stats happ and matter of fact climate, many writers simply insist on nestling Eli Manning right below the NFL’s current crop of elite QBs. Mother hen syndrome – protect your favorite chick at all costs? Seems that way, as  heaps upon heaps of some fairly ridiculous pro-Eli arguments have been shoveled our way for quite a while now. Amongst the more ambitious qualifications of Eli’s poor play from 2010:

  1. “Well, you know, he had 25 interceptions last year, but a lot of those were not really his, lots were tipped off his young receiver corps’ hands; really, he should have only had like 19.
  2. “But look, the Giants did go 10-6 last year, and they probably would have beat NFC east division rival Philadelphia Eagles in October had Eli hadn’t not inexplicably dived to the ground on a 4th down run conversion, with no looming opposing contact in site, and then fumbling the ball when he hit the ground.  And what about December, when the Giants played the Eagles again – the Giants were up 24-3 before Eli Manning posted an anemic 7-14, 101 yard second half, and the Eagles came back to win that one.

What’s next – “if that receiver he threw it to wasn’t in triple coverage, Eli would have had a completion there, so his numbers are really a lot better than they appear.”? C’mon…

What We Need Here is a Good Solid List

Usually, I find that when priorities or NFL QB rankings become unjustifiably skewed, the only sensible solution is to break out a pen and paper and write a list. Actually writing the thing down – thinking before you strike that pen across the page – helps manifest the right perspective a little better. See example below:

All you need is a pen, paper, and coffee to realize that Eli Manning is pretty “meh.”

We’re not going to waste any time justifying that top 5 (1. Peyton Manning, 2. Tom Brady, 3. Aaron Rodgers, 4. Drew Brees, 5. Ben Roethlisberger), save to say that all these QBs have won at least one Superbowl and have consistently put up outstanding regular season numbers and playoff performances in their careers. Yes, in Aaron Rodgers case we’re looking at a relatively small sample size, but does anyone really think barring injuries he isn’t going to continue putting up torrid numbers?

Moving on. Right below that list, Phillip Rivers is in a class of his own – since the 2008 regular season, Rivers has passed for 92 TDs to 33 interceptions, had a three year 104 QB rating (Eli hasn’t broke a 95 in a single season), and has lead the league each year in passing yards per attempt. He’s the sole reason NFL pundits continually flirt with preseason predictions that the San Diego Chargers will make the Super Bowl, even if the Chargers defense is routinely shoddy and that they are in the ultra-competitive AFC. While Eli Manning’s somewhat fortuitous Super bowl run is the principle reason that he’s even mentioned in Top 10 QB conversation, the only thing holding Rivers back from being an indisputably elite QB is his Chargers’ team normally slack defense and overall inability to make key stops in the playoffs.

The next tier in top 10 quarterbacks belongs to Michael Vick and Matt Schaub. Yes, Michael Vick, having overcome his sordid past off the field, is a bona fide top 10 QB by sole virtue of his 2010 season resume. Here are some highlights: shredded NFL defensive lines once he became a starter for 12 games last season, put up 21 touchdowns to 6 interceptions at a QB rating of 100.2,  re-assumed his status as an elite QB rusher (54 yd/pg in 2010), thoroughly beat Eli Manning in both heads up matches last year, put up perhaps the greatest regular season QB performance against the Redskins last November (333 yards passing, 80 yards rushing; 4TDs passing, 2 rushing), displayed signs of veteran leadership and comportment and established the Philadelphia Eagles as the go-to place for the Free Agent Class of 2011. Michael Vick is decidedly better than Eli Manning. Case closed.

As far as Matt Schaub is concerned, he’s a junior version of Phillip Rivers, which is still superior stead to the Giants quarterback. Over the past two years, Schaub has quietly amassed an impressive 53 to 27 QB / INT ratio and averaged a 95 QB rating. Schaub has accomplished these fine numbers on a squad that in 2010 ranked 29th in the league in defense. In other words, more times than not, Shaub was earning his touchdown passes starting from deep in Houston’s own territory. And here’s another thing about Shaub – even though his team’s abject defense was responsible for Houston’s 6-10 record last year, when the Texans went up against the NFL’s elite competition, Schaub brought his “A” game.  Against the Ravens #3 ranked defense in the league last year, with the Texans already out of the playoff hunt, Schaub passed for 373 yards, 3TDs, and 2 INTs (one in overtime). If the Texans defense improves even to just average, Schaub will make the Texans a major threat come playoff time. Still not convinced? Try this:  if you had to pick right now who you want on the Giants, Matt Schaub or Eli Manning, who would you choose? Thought so.

That leads to QBs nine through eleven, a young crop of players knocking on the Top 8’s door: Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Tony Romo. These are the borderline top 10 quarterbacks of whom if you really want to fudge it, if you really want to be generous with ol’ Eli, you can say he’s ranked higher than they are, squeeze him into the top ten. The problem is that football is an unforgiving game of mistakes, and the difference between 12-4 and 10-6 is just a handful of more intelligent or dynamic plays at the QB position, not to mention contagious leadership both on and off the field. In these important respects, each of these three quarterbacks have evidenced more potential at the respective stages in their careers than Eli Manning.

Twenty five years old, and in his 3rd year at QB, Flacco has steadily improved to a 94 QB rating, 25 TDs to 10 Ints in the 2010 regular season. In the playoffs, he razed over the Kansas City Chief defense for a 25/34, 265, 2TD and 0 INT, and went on to  put in a gritty albeit errant performance in the AFC Conference Semi-finals against eventual AFC champs Pittsburgh Steelers (16/30, 125, 1TD, 1INT). NFL pundits gushed over the also 25 year old Matt Ryan’s regular season campaign in 2010 (28 TDs / 9 INTs), extolling his laser-like passes, work ethic, and competitive tenacity during the Atlanta Falcons 13-3 regular season. Tony Romo – 30 years old but only going into his 5th year as a starter (he entered the league late at 24 years old) may have a care-free, Hollywood-athlete media persona, but before his 2010 season ending injury, his  2009 season bespeaks of a dangerous competitor: 16 games, 26 TD to 9 INTs, 97.6 QB rating, and a 243 yd, 2 TD, 0 INT performance in an outright 34 – 14 walloping of the Phladelphia Eagles in the NFC wild card game.

Stats Aren’t Everything:  Talk About Character

Joe Flacco looks like he hates losing more than Eli Manning does.

What further distinguishes these last three QBs, as well as everyone else who I’ve condescended to rank above Eli Manning, is that all of them have a tough, championship quality countenance. Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan are both only 25 years old and three years into their NFL careers, but they already walk on that field like cagy veterans a high percentage of the timeThey have that semi-obsessive competitive vigor that makes you believe that at some point in their careers, they are going to lead their teams deep into playoffs for many years to come; when it happens, it won’t be a surprise as was the case with Eli Manning in 2007. And if you asked any of them about whether or not they wanted to take a chance with hyper talented ex-con, and the one former target that started to make Eli Manning look good in 2008, Plaxico Burress, they would (or did) say “absolutely.”  Eli Manning, on the other hand, maintained that he was content with his current receiving core.

Sadly, this is who Eli Manning may be: Generally affable, piteous and boyishly sad whenever he throws a bad pass, dutiful to winning but not passionate about it, rarely a recognized leader in the lockeroom; a man who wants to put struggles on the field behind him and go home to a warm glass of milk and Season 4 of Everybody Loves Raymond. And that’s fine if not sympathetic, but it’s not Top 10 NFL QB material. Really, it’s not even all that close. At 31 years old, Eli Manning may want to edit his own top 10 list, and ask what separates the play of several higher ranking quarterbacks from his own. Some stronger and more passionate leadership both on and off the field and a few less interceptions might be a good place to start.

About Argun M. Ulgen

When I was young, my dad and I used to watch a lot of MSG midnight replays of Knicks basketball after he came home from work. One night at 1am we grilled steaks and watched the Knicks somehow hold onto a 4th quarter lead. Sometime later, I started to fall in love with reading all sorts of literature, including sports books.The dawning of this romance came soon after my deep relationships with HBO reruns of its fine series programming, not to mention the Encore channel's more than generous replays of Scarface, came to a close. I write, but only when I don't feel like being idle. Feel free to AIM me at YoProtein (that's "Yo, Protein!") with comments or suggestions about my work. I more than welcome feedback.

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One comment for “Casting off the Notion of Eli Manning as a Top 10 NFL Quarterback”

  1. New Post: Casting off the Notion of Eli Manning as a Top 10 NFL Quarterback

    Posted by Sports of New York | August 21, 2011, 9:37 pm

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