Since being drafted first overall in 2004 to being eliminated by the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round in 2017, Eli Manning has been the subject to both praise and criticism from the media.
On one hand, his laid-back attitude has led to numerous jokes about him while his career interceptions number is at an alarming rate. On the other hand, Manning is one of the best big game quarterbacks to ever play the game and that’s a proven fact due to his two Super Bowl MVPs. While he has his shortcomings and he certainly didn’t carry those teams to the Super Bowl, he always made the big play when he had to.
But both of Manning’s successes and failures don’t solely rely on his shoulders. The wide receivers he’s had to play with are a key reason behind his play as well. Throughout his 13-year career, Manning has had great talents to throw the ball to while also having some that couldn’t haul in a pass for the life of them.
From Hakeem Nicks to Reuben Randle, from Amani Toomer to Ramses Barden, let’s take a look at Manning’s eight best and seven worst receivers that he’s had to play with.
15. Best: Sterling Shepard
There’s two ways you can look at Sterling Shepard being on the list of best receivers Eli Manning has ever had. On one hand, it shows that the veteran quarterback hasn’t had many reliable targets in his 13-year career. On the other, it’s a testament to Shepard, a player who shined in his rookie season.
Drafted in the second round out of Oklahoma, the slot receiver drew comparisons to players like Randall Cobb and Julian Edelman coming out of the draft. In 2016, he didn’t look like a first-year player when on the field and instead became a complement to Odell Beckham Jr. While the offense took a step back this season, it wasn’t because of Shepard, as the rookie hauled in 65 catches, good for 683 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
As long as he keeps this production up, Shepard has the potential to emerge as one of the best receivers Manning will ever work with.
14. Worst: Mario Manningham
When Mario Manningham was suiting up for the University of Michigan, he looked like a player who would be a star at the next level. Unfortunately, however, issues with drugs and academics hindered his value, as he was eventually taken in the third round back in 2008.
There were times when Manningham looked like Manning’s best target. Not only did he have a stellar 2010 campaign as he set career highs in receiving yards (944) and touchdowns (nine), but he also made one of the most clutch catches ever in Super Bowl XLVI. But most of the time, Manningham could never replicate his collegiate prowess as injuries and ineffectiveness plagued his career in New York.
The receiver eventually signed a free agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers after the 2011 season but a debilitating injury limited him to just 17 games in two seasons out west. Manningham had the potential but it just never manifested with Manning.
13. Best: Domenik Hixon
The addition of Domenik Hixon proves, once again, that the Giants haven’t had the deepest crop of wide receivers since Manning was drafted in 2004. Starting his career out as a return man, Hixon worked his way into the lineup after Plaxico Burress suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound and showed flashes of potential throughout his tenure with the Giants.
Hixon’s potential was hampered by ACL tears in consecutive seasons (2010 and 2011). He did, however, have successful campaigns in 2008 and 2012, respectively. In his first full season as a wide receiver, Hixon registered 596 yards over 43 receptions and followed that up in 2012 with 39 catches and 567 yards.
Those numbers, combined with six career touchdowns, are far from awe-inspiring. Hixon, however, became a reliable target due to his speed and sure hands and helped Manning as much as he could.
12. Worst: Louis Murphy
When the Giants signed Louis Murphy before the 2013 season, GM Jerry Reese considered it big move as he believed the wide receiver’s speed could positively change the offense.
After spending time with both the Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers, Murphy, too, was excited for his new opportunity in New York. Unfortunately, however, the hype couldn’t have been further from the production. Murphy did play in 14 games but registered some terrible numbers, as evidenced by his six receptions, 37 yards, and one touchdown in 14 games.
To add insult to injury, Murphy had 380 receiving yards in just 11 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, showing that he could be the downfield threat that Reese and the Giants hoped he could become in New York.
11. Best: Jeremy Shockey
Was Jeremy Shockey the best teammate to Eli Manning? No. Did he have serious attitude problems during his time with the Giants? Yes. But was he a monster when suiting up on Sundays? Absolutely.
When Shockey was taken in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft, he was seen as a game-changing talent that had yet to be seen at the tight end position. When Manning was taken two years later, the duo found a ton of success on the gridiron. Once the quarterback became the full-time starter, Shockey was able to haul in an impressive 17 touchdowns with 2,133 receiving yards.
Sure, Shockey may not be a wide receiver, but he acted like one on the field. And although his Giants tenure ended in disappointment, there is no denying that he was one of Manning’s best targets when wearing number 80 for Big Blue.