Projecting QB success is tough, but Eli Manning doesn't measure up
Posted: Wednesday March 3, 2004 11:55AM; Updated: Wednesday March 3, 2004 4:19PM
Eli Manning is Ole Miss' career passing leader with 9,860 yards and 79 touchdown passes.
It's always tougher to judge a player when you're rooting for him. You exaggerate both the good and the bad. So my evaluation of Eli Manning might be a little tougher than that of most people because I've pulled for him in every game in which I've seen him play, mainly because I like the family, and also because I first met Eli when he was a little kid.
Therefore, I have to say that there's a lot about his game that makes me nervous. I like the way he delivers the ball when he's comfortable in the pocket, but I don't think he handles the rush well. I don't see the same analytical approach to the game that his brother had at the same stage of his career, and what bothers me most about Eli is that he doesn't seem to elevate his performance when the pressure is greatest. I've seen him almost fall apart at times.
Now if you tell me I'm nuts, and the kid's got Pro Bowl written all over him, I won't argue, mainly because there are so few people who can analyze this position. It's just like in Bordeaux, when so-called experts try to analyze the young wines in the barrel.
"There are about a dozen people who can taste the wines in the wood and predict what they will turn into," Pierre Tari, the owner of Chateau Giscours in Margaux once told me. "That's all these people do, go around and analyze your wines for you. We can't even do it. And yet here are all these American wine writers coming over and doing all that serious predicting. We humor them because they're good for business."
And the greatest mistakes are made in football by those who would predict the future of young QBs in the wood. I had it right on Ryan Leaf vs. Peyton Manning. I didn't like Leaf's decision-making and the way he handled himself in the biggest game of his collegiate career, the 1998 Rose Bowl loss to Michigan, no matter how much arm strength he had. But I had a lot to make up for, after blowing it completely on Dan Marino, remarking, on TV no less, that his mechanics were wrong and he pushed the ball.
The quarterback who excited me most coming out of college in the last 20 years was Eric Zeier of Georgia. And I thought George Mira of Miami was an absolute passing phenom. So don't worry, all you Eli Manning fans. Old Z isn't always on the money.
Follow the leader?
The lesson of the New England Patriots was absorbed, admired and respectfully noted, and now, as free-agency madness takes over, it will be forgotten. The lesson is that you don't need superstars to make a championship team, you need the right kind of people, who are willing to fit into their perfect role-playing niche (plus, of course, a terrific quarterback).
The problem is that doing it New England's way requires real football savvy in the personnel department, and not many people can match the Patriots' Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick in this area. It's much easier to go the Daniel Snyder route and grab up anyone with a big name, past or present.
So I'm wondering who will pull a Snyder and grab Terrell Owens, assuming he breaks loose from the 49ers. If ever a guy was a coach-breaker, a cancer on the team, it's Owens. The problem is that he can break up a game, too, which can blind you to the fact that this guy causes more problems than he solves.
I've never met him, but watching the way Maurice Clarett handles himself, I'd say he's headed in the same direction. When's the last time this kid thought about anybody except No. 1?
Keyshawn for Joey Galloway? I'll take Keyshawn. Even though he was inactive for the last six games last season, he still caught 11 more balls than Galloway did. Sure, Galloway can go deep, and the announcers are always telling us how he opens up the field for everybody else, but where was the production? Thirty-four catches for two TDs won't do it. The Cowboys lined up with two flyers, Galloway and Terry Glenn, and that didn't work. Besides, Bill Parcells is partial to Glenn, whom he had in New England.
He also loves Keyshawn, not so much for his pass-catching as his ability to provide serious blocking off the edge, which is so much a part of Parcells' offense. When Keyshawn was a Jet, under Parcells, he was absolutely vicious at it, going after linebackers and even defensive ends. I didn't see it so much in Tampa Bay, but maybe the Bucs didn't ask him to do it. Parcells will. On paper, he would seem to fall into the classic role of possession receiver to go with Glenn's burst downfield, but I think the Cowboys might have a problem there, if KJ drops as many balls as he did in the past two years. Even with the drops, I still like him better than Galloway.
Clinton Portis for Champ Bailey? I like Portis. They're both superstars, but I see holes and inconsistencies in Bailey's game, especially in the tackling department, that I don't with Portis. I think he's one of the three or four best runners in football, and he's on the upside. If Mike Shanahan feels he can get the same production out of 5-foot-7, 195-pound Quentin Griffin, God bless him. But it's a long season and little guys wear down.
In defense of the trade, though, I will say that it's a lot harder to find cornerbacks than running backs, and in this era of the multiple-wideout sets, two of them won't do it. You need three.
The Senior Bowl seems to be going the way of the Combine. The players just aren't attending. Pretty soon scouting will involve a series of private auditions, by invitation only. ...
To me one of the most interesting personnel decisions this offseason will involve Kurt Warner. My Rams spies tell me that the guy just can't play anymore. And yet the last thing we heard from him was that the coaches didn't like him because of his religious beliefs. Oh, brother. ...
On the subject, did you see the Mel Gibson movie yet? Well, I didn't, and until I do I can't offer a comment. What's that you say? "No Comment" never has been my style. You're right. My comment is that one thing the movie has done is produce the most poorly written reviews I've ever read. Pro or con, they read like the kind of editorials I used to write when I was a sophomore in high school. ...
Dr. Z will answer select user questions each week in his NFL mailbag.
Latest mailer from the Hall of Fame involves the preliminary nomination list for the class of 2005. It's labeled "Confidential." If I'd have come up with a list of names like this one, I'd be ashamed, too, and label it confidential. I don't want to get canned as a selector, so I can't reveal this roster, but I don't think it would be a major transgression to mention only one name. Under wide receiver -- Preston Roell. I know I'm losing brain cells through old age, and this did strike a gong somewhere way offstage, but gosh ... Preston Roell? So I looked it up in my Total Football. No listing. So I called the Hall of Fame.
It was entered wrong. The guy is Roell Preston, who caught only 30 passes for five different teams during a five-year career, but who averaged 26.3 yards per kick return for the Packers in 1998, which got him into the Pro Bowl. And that fleeting honor earned him a spot on the first of three, count 'em, preliminary lists put out by the Hall. Oh sure, I remember Roell Preston now. He was, uh, fast, and um, shifty, too, but I'm afraid he's not going to be voted into the Hall of Fame, at least not on this ballot.
Fans, you, too, can get your own Roell Preston on a preliminary list. How? By writing to the Hall of Fame on nice, neat paper that's not torn at the edges. I'll even provide the address: 2121 George Halas Drive N.W., Canton, Ohio 44708.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman covers the NFL for the magazine and SI.com. His Power Rankings, "Inside Football" column and Mailbag appear weekly on SI.com.