ELI’S PERFORMANCE DOESN’T DEPEND ON CRUZ OR NICKS
Added by Jason Mast on June 10, 2013.
Like every year since his rookie season in 2004, Eli Manning is spending his June days at OTAs, preparing himself and his receivers for the upcoming NFL Season. The only difference is that this year, his top receivers are auspiciously missing and Eli can’t even recognize the jerseys of some of his targets. While the absence of two of the Giants (and the NFL’s) top flight receivers, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, may seem alarming, most every great quarterback has been through this before. It happened to his brother Peyton Manning after Marvin Harrison’s retirement, to his rival Tom Brady after Randy Moss’s departure, and even to Eli four years ago after Plaxico Burresses’s implosion.
The common theme among them is that each quarterback has thrived despite the lack of his premier receiver, and Eli will do the same this year, with or without Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
In 2007, Harrison, coming off his eighth consecutive 1000 yard season, injured his knee and missed all but five games of the year. Peyton didn’t flinch, posting his eight 4000 yard passing year, and leading the colts to a 13-3 season. Two years later, when Harrison retired, Peyton was even less deterred, setting career highs in yards and QBR on his way to his second career conference championship.
The same year of Harrison’s injury, Randy Moss burst back into the national spotlight as he and Tom Brady formed the greatest QB-WR duo since Jerry Rice and Joe Montana. Moss caught an NFL record 23 touchdown passes as New England became the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season. Three years later, Moss returned to Minnesota and his career collapsed. Brady, on the other hand, didn’t miss a beat, leading the league in passer rating en route to his second MVP award.
After Pro Bowl WR Plaxico Burress shot himself in 2008, the New York Giants were left without a single proven receiver on the roster. Steve Smith, a former third round pick, had only one career TD pass, Mario Manningham, the Giants third round pick from the following year, had only four receptions to his name, and Hakeem Nicks was an unproven and injury prone draft pick. Eli Manning, however, taught these receivers how to play and subsequently put up his highest career passer rating to date, earning a second Pro Bowl nod.
Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are two of the most athletic and best receivers in the game but the Giants do not need to sign both to long term extensions in order to succeed. Eli, like all great quarterbacks, can withstand losses of top receivers and train new ones. After the fall of Plaxico Burress, Eli worked with previously nameless receivers like Cruz or Smith to allow them to perform in the Giants system. Even just last year, Eli Manning could be seen on the sidelines and at practices talking to and practicing with Domenik Hixon, Martellus Bennet, and Ruben Randle to integrate them into the team. It worked and the three former unknown players combined for nearly 1500 yards and 10 Tds.
The Giants are not close a perfect team, they have gaping holes in the secondary and offensive line that need to be addressed ahead of the wide receiver situation. The loss of a single receiver is simply not an issue, last year Eli averaged nearly 300 yards passing and 2 TDs per game not started by one of Nicks or Cruz. Jerry Reese has to pick one for the future and move on. Quarterbacks make great teams, not receivers.