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.
10. Worst: Ramses Barden
Back in 2009, the Giants were looking for an upgrade in the offense. Their primary target was Cal Poly standout Ramses Barden, whom the organization traded up to select in the third round. At a glance, the choice was a strong one, as Barden’s 6’6” frame was something the Giants lacked. Unfortunately, however, the size didn’t translate to the NFL level.
Despite spending four seasons in New York, Barden was never able to crack the lineup on a regular basis. He finished his career as a Giant with 29 receptions in as many games, good for 394 yards and a grand total of zero touchdown catches.
Barden went on to play for the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars and continued to underwhelm. Manning thought he had a new primary target, but unfortunately, Barden was anything but.
9. Best: Hakeem Nicks
When Plaxico Burress was on his way out of the Giants organization, GM Jerry Reese was searching long and hard for his heir apparent. With the draft on the horizon, he set his sights on UNC receiver Hakeem Nicks, who was eventually selected with the 29th overall pick back in 2009.
With a combination of size, speed, and massive hands, Nicks looked like one of the league’s best receivers when he was healthy. Despite never playing a full 16 games in New York, Nicks had over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons (2010-2011) and registered 27 career touchdowns when playing catch with Manning.
With injuries mounting, however, the Giants let him walk, and Nicks ended up signing with the Indianapolis Colts in 2014. Unfortunately, the receiver took a step back and never looked the same and that showed when he returned to the organization that drafted him. Either way, that doesn’t change the fact that he was a true asset when playing with the Giants in his initial run with the team.
8. Worst: Jerrel Jernigan
When Jerrel Jernigan was starring at Troy University, he drew comparisons to Steve Smith and DeSean Jackson. Despite playing in a small school, his ability as a receiver, runner, and returner caught the eye of many NFL teams; and at the time, the Giants were fortunate enough to select Jernigan in the third round back in 2011.
As was worst feared, he was never able to live up to the lofty expectations.
Despite getting a number of chances to gain playing time, Jernigan was never able to impress enough to earn a full-time role. Spending four seasons in New York, the receiver was only able to catch two touchdowns while gaining 391 receiving yards. Even worse, Jernigan wasn’t an impact player as a returner, making his stint in New York even more disappointing.
7. Best: Victor Cruz
Talk about a rise to stardom like no other. Despite being passed during the 2010 draft, the New Jersey native earned a spot on the Giants preseason roster and burst onto the scene with a three touchdown, 145-yard performance in a preseason game against the New York Jets.
Because of that performance, he made the Giants roster. After injuries sidelined him for a chunk of 2010, Cruz got a chance to be the team’s third receiver due to Steve Smith leaving via free agency and Hixon’s aforementioned ACL tear. Once integrated into the offense, Cruz became one of Manning’s favorite targets and has compiled over 4,500 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns with the organization.
While injuries have slowed the veteran down, he was a big-play threat throughout the 2016 campaign. His future with the Giants remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that he’ll be remembered as one of Manning’s most reliable targets.
6. Worst: Preston Parker
If a casual fan is reading this, the name Preston Parker may not ring a bell. But if you’re a true fan of the Giants, this name will only bring back bad memories.
He may have only spent two seasons with the organization, but the stark difference in production was staggering. In year one (2014), Parker emerged as an option in the passing game (36 catches, 418 yards, two touchdowns) and was also a core member of special teams.
In 2015, he entered the season as the slot receiver. His stint in the new role lasted just two games, as multiple dropped passes from Manning led to his tenure ending by being cut. Parker won’t be remembered by many, but for those who do, it’ll only be bad memories.
5. Best: Amani Toomer
When a quarterback is drafted which such high expectations, one of the best things to have on the roster is an experienced wide receiver. Fortunately for the Giants, Amani Toomer was entering his ninth season with the organization when Manning was brought into the fold.
From 2005-2008, Toomer was arguably the most consistent target for the young quarterback. Over that span, Toomer collected 2,384 yards through the air and also hauled in 17 touchdown receptions.
At that stage of his career, Toomer was in his 30s and past his prime. But he was also a great target for Manning to have, as his veteran instincts, leadership, and his consistent ability to catch balls was vital to Manning’s transition from a player with hype to franchise quarterback.
4. Worst: Brandon Myers
Since there’s a tight end on the best receivers side, we need to have one for the worst. Unfortunately, Brandon Myers was one of the worst players to ever catch a ball from Manning, no matter the position.
When the Giants inked Myers to a modest four-year, $14.25 million deal, they were going through a time when it was believed Manning could work with any tight end. Sure, Myers just finished a career-best season with the Raiders; but he couldn’t replicate that success with New York.
Myers was a complete liability in the blocking game and didn’t provide much as a pass-catcher as he caught just four touchdown passes in 2013. Due to his unsuccessful campaign, Myers was cut just one year after he signed the contract and that deal remains as one of the worst signings in recent memory.
3. Best: Plaxico Burress
As mentioned in the Toomer slide, you always need a veteran receiver when you draft a quarterback. Another thing you can use is a legitimate number one talent and that’s what the organization got when they signed Plaxico Burress to a five-year contract before the 2005 season.
While the monstrous receiver spent just four seasons with Big Blue, he emerged as Manning’s go-to target over that span. From 2005-2008, Burress combined for 3,691 receiving yards and 33 touchdown grabs and was the biggest contributor behind the Giants’ Super Bowl victory back in the 2007 season.
If it wasn’t for shooting himself in the leg, the Giants may have went on and won back-to-back Super Bowls. But either way, it’s hard to deny that Burress wasn’t a great help for Manning’s growth. His production, and more importantly his championship ring, prove that to be true.
2. Worst: Rueben Randle
Out of all of the Giants wide receivers that have caught passes from Manning, Rueben Randle takes the cake as the worst one to do so. Despite being a star at LSU, Randle’s shoddy knees and maturity issues hurt his draft stock and the Giants were able to select him in the second round back in 2012.
When looking at the stats, Randle appeared to be a success in four years with the organization. The wide receiver compiled 20 touchdowns and over 2,500 receiving yards, including an impressive 2015 campaign where he reached career highs in scoring catches (eight).
But his placing on this list goes beyond the numbers. Randle constantly struggled in route running, frequently dropped balls, and had his motor questioned on numerous occasions. Because of this, it was no surprise to see Randle fail to make the Eagles roster out of training camp this offseason.
1. Best: Odell Beckham Jr.
Could there be anyone else to top this list? Sure, Odell Beckham Jr. just finished his third season in his NFL career. But over that span, the enigmatic receiver has gone from athletic beast to legitimate top talent as many consider him the best wide receiver in the game today.
From 2014-2016, the former first-round pick has seen his numbers rank among some of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history as it relates to their first three years in the league. Emerging as Manning’s top target, Beckham has registered 288 receptions, 4,122 receiving yards, and 35 touchdowns, ranking him alongside with players like Jerry Rice and Randy Moss.
Many think Beckham’s antics will hurt his standing with the organization, but Manning recognizes that the youngster simply loves the game. As long as Manning and Beckham continue to play together, they will be among one of the best quarterback/wide receiver combinations in football.