By Ernie Palladino
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The whole world seems to be in a rush these days to draft Eli Manning’s successor.
Turn on the radio and listen to one caller after another proclaim Manning as over the hill. Pundits hit the airwaves to say the quarterback, at 36, only has a couple or three years left in him.
Actually, the Giants probably feel that way, too. Thirty-six certainly qualifies as getting on in years. The Giants, like any organization trying to build for the long term, need to take that into consideration.
The career clock is clearly ticking. But this is not the year to find a replacement for after their offensive leader steps away. And it’s not just because the majority of scouts view the draft-eligible quarterback crop as less than awesome.
It’s because Manning still has a lot of football left in him. To hurry the issue and pick one of this year’s quarterbacks at No. 23 overall, or even blow a second- or third-rounder on a thrower instead of a more needed running back, offensive lineman or linebacker, would not only be a mistake, but an insult to a player who has given much to the organization.
Manning has shown the physical skills are still there. Forget about the 16 interceptions he threw last year. He’s done worse, like the career-high 27 he threw in 2013. A lot of what happened in 2016 had to do with the Giants’ lack of a running game and an offensive line that couldn’t keep the pressure off him.
Get him another veteran lineman when free agency starts Thursday, draft a stud who can shore up right tackle — or left, depending on what coach Ben McAdoo wants to do with Ereck Flowers — and one might see a different performance from Manning.
It won’t completely cure him of those head-scratching interceptions he sometimes throws. Those have always stood out as Manning’s least endearing characteristic, even in the best of times. But that extra split-second might allow him to stop locking onto Odell Beckham Jr. and find a streaking Sterling Shepard more often, thus reviving the true downfield game that brought Manning his two Super Bowl titles in 2007 and ’11.
That’s assuming the Giants won’t go after former Jets receiver Brandon Marshall. If they do, Marshall would add a bigger (6-foot-4, 229 pounds), physical target who could develop a similar end zone rapport to what Manning had with Plaxico Burress.
Manning’s durability also remains. His regular-season starting streak, the longest among active players, is up to 199. Barring injury next season he’ll pass brother Peyton for the second-longest all-time behind Brett Favre’s 297.
He’s like a Timex watch — takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
That means he’s always there. Despite obvious shortcomings, Manning is the one player whose game-day availability McAdoo never has to worry about. To draft a high-round quarterback now would be to turn that prospect into another Ryan Nassib, who has sat behind Manning for four years without a single start.
Better to wait another year to find a successor, especially since Clemson’s Deshaun Watson seems like the only standout in this year’s crop. He’ll go top five, anyway. North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes didn’t impress the evaluators at the NFL Combine as must-haves.
Next year’s class, with USC’s Sam Darnold leading it, will be much deeper. The Giants could find Manning’s ultimate successor there, and he’ll only have to wait a year or two to prove himself.
In the meantime, have patience. And remember that half the league would gladly take Manning as their starter, flaws and all. His work ethic, attitude and health will allow him to exceed last year’s numbers. He may even have one more Super Bowl run in him.
Anything is possible. What is certain, however, is that even the most critical observers will miss him when he’s gone.
In time, someone other than No. 10 will have to quarterback the Giants.
Until then, what’s the rush?
Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino