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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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