THE CASE AGAINST ELI MANNING AS A HALL OF FAMER
The idea that Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a Hall Of Famer perplexes me. It was first proposed on Boston sports radio a few weeks back and the conversation nearly led me to drive off the road. My entire commute home that night was spent trying to find any sane reasons why somebody would try and make such an argument. Eli Manning seems like a nice guy and a good teammate. He also seems like the very definition of a league average quarterback.
Now yes, I’m a Patriots fan. I hate that he beat the Pats in two Super Bowls and denied us a perfect season, but I don’t really hate Eli Manning. It’s not like he torched the Pats in those games. He was a big reason why the Giants won, but he never sparked my ire. Let’s be honest, he’s a little too dopey to truly hate.
But a Hall Of Famer? That idea angers me. Because he’s not. By any measure. Eli Manning does not belong anywhere near the Hall Of Fame. Since the discussion once again popped up on the radio today, and since @LouMerloni basically took the words out of my mouth by incredulously wondering when the hell Eli Manning has ever been even remotely elite, I thought I’d put down for posterity all the thoughts that have been running through my mind since that perilous drive home a few weeks ago.
The Case For?
The first thing Eli HOF’ers throw out when making their absurd declaration is “HE WON TWO SUPER BOWLS!”. Big deal. So did Jim Plunkett and you won’t find him sniffing around the HOF. “BUT HE WON TWO SB MVP’S!”. Okay, slightly more impressive. Although let’s look at his stat line from that game in ’08…
Super Bowl XLII
19-34 (56%) 255 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT, 3 SACKS, 2 FUM
That is not a MVP-like stat line. In fact, it’s pretty putrid for a QB in 2007. Let’s also remember that on the fateful drive where he led the Giants to the game-winning score he threw a surefire interception that Asante Samuel flat out dropped. I mean it was in his hands as if he was the intended receiver. If Samuel holds onto that pass we aren’t even having this discussion. Eli made a spectacular scramble before heaving up the David Tyree helmet catch, but one clutch play does not a HOF case make. He won the MVP that game for that final drive and because no other Giant player stood out to the voters.
So the Super Bowl wins and the SB MVP’s are nice little resume padders. If he was a borderline case those things would clearly put him over the top. But he’s not a borderline case, and in the end they are not nearly enough to get him into the HOF. Not even close.
The second thing Eli HOF’ers toss up are his career cumulative stats, in particular that he currently resides 8th all-time in career passing yards and will most likely pass into 6th next season. Okay, that’s certainly an impressive number, until you consider the era in which he has played and the way the passing game (and its stats) are heavily skewed towards guys who played in the 90’s and beyond, particularly the 00’s and beyond (Eli’s era). I mean, Vinny Testaverde is currently 11th all-time, Drew Bledsoe is 13th, and Kerry Collins – YES, KERRY COLLINS – is 16th. So let’s take a look at where Eli’s Giants rank in comparison to the rest of the league in passing yards per game during his career…
Average passing yards per game
2004 – 25th
2005 – 13th
2006 – 21st
2007 – 23rd
2008 – 19th
2009 – 12th
2010 – 10th
2011 – 5th
2012 – 13th
2013 – 19th
2014 – 7th
2015 – 7th
2016 – 16th
In 13 seasons, Eli’s Giants have finished in the top 10 in passing YPG just 3 times, and never higher than 5th. What does that tell me? That Eli’s career passing yards mark is the product of 1 thing: durability.
Since he was made the Giants starting QB midway through his rookie year in 2004, Eli has never missed a start. That’s impressive. He’s a tough player and he should be commended for coming to play every week. But in a league where QB’s get knocked out at a rate of about 2 a week, his durability – while admirable – is also somewhat a product of dumb luck.
So at this point Eli’s Hall Of Fame resume is built on the fact that he captained two teams on improbable Super Bowl runs and has played moderately well in a whole lot of games. Is that what a Hall Of Famer looks like?
To me a Hall Of Famer is a guy who transcends the game. He has to have been among the elite players (top 5) at his position during the peak of his career and been a player that other teams feared. Eli has been neither. Eli Manning is not a guy I’m going to look back on in 20 years and say, “wow, I’m glad I got to watch Eli play. He was something special.” I will say that about his brother Peyton, I’ll say it about Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. I’ll obviously say it about Tom Brady. Hell, I’ll even say that about Kurt Warner, who for a few brief seasons played the game like he was the greatest of all time. But Eli? Nope. Not in the conversation.
Eli Manning has never lead the NFL in passing yards in season. Or touchdowns. Or completion percentage. Or passer rating. You know the one major QB stat that Eli *has* led the league in, 3 times? Interceptions.
In the modern era of football completion percentage has become to go-to stat for QB’s. Look back over the history of the NFL and QB completion percentage has increased dramatically through the years. Once the 90’s rolled around and offenses opened up it shifts noticeably. Pro Football Reference lists 185 qualified QB’s for all-time career rankings when it comes to percentage based stats. Of the Top 50 in career completion percentage, only 5 guys played outside of the 1990-and-beyond era (Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, Ken Stabler, Danny White, and Dan Marino – all but White are HOF’ers). Of the other 45 QB’s, Eli currently ranks tied for 42nd with Ryan Fitzpatrick and David Carr (not Derek, mind you, but David), one place behind 41st ranked Tim Couch. TIM FREAKING COUCH!!
Passer rating is a pretty flawed stat. At this point Ryan Tannehill is percentage points higher than Dan Marino in career rating, which I guess makes Tannehill the greatest Dolphins QB of all-time. This is of course, preposterous. So comparing guys across generations based on rating is silly. Eli is currently just ahead of Roger Staubach for crying out loud. But like with completion percentage it is pretty useful when comparing guys of a similar era. Marino may only be 26th all-time in career rating, but he’s 3rd among guys who played outside of the modern era (1990’s-now), behind only Joe Montana and Otto Graham. Among the modern era guys Eli is ranked 36th. Limit that to just guys who played from 2000 onwards and he moves up to 26th. Think about that, of guys at his position who played during the same years he did, Eli Manning ranks 26th all-time in passer rating. Even while admitting it’s not a great stat, that’s pretty telling. In his career he’s finished in the top 10 during a single season only once (he finished 7th). His best season – a 93.6 in 2015 – is currently 192nd all-time. For comparison, Ben Roethlisberger (who came into the NFL the same year as Eli and who I can’t STAND) has exceeded that total 9 times, while Philip Rivers (also entered in 2004) has exceeded it 6 times.
Eli Manning has led the Giants to a two Super Bowl victories. He’s also led them to a career record of 201-199. In his 4 best career seasons statistically his team has gone 8-8, 9-7, 6-10, 6-10. When he’s asked to do more, the team generally suffers. He gets credit for playing exceptionally well during the 2011 Super Bowl run, but that’s one 4 game stretch. Outside of that, what has he got?
Statistically speaking Eli Manning is the epitome of an average NFL quarterback. Year-by-year he ranks in the middle of the pack in every major category. On the field he is not a transcendent player with a resume full of amazing plays. The two most famous plays he’s involved in – the Tyree helmet catch and the Odell Beckham Jr. one-handed grab– are famous for the catch, not the throw.
No matter how you try and frame it, there is simply nothing about Eli Manning’s career that should put him in the Hall Of Fame.