By Jason Keidel
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Giants general manager Jerry Reese mused profoundly on Big Blue’s future after the NFL Draft, and asserted with some measure of confidence that he has found the successor to Eli Manning. That would be Davis Webb, the former Cal quarterback whom the Giants bagged in the third round.
Forgive us if we smirk, chuckle, giggle or ROFL.
Wasn’t Ryan Nassib the future of the franchise? Not to knock the former Syracuse QB, but it’s hard to unearth Manning’s replacement at all, much less in the fourth round of the draft, where Nassib was selected.
Sure, Tom Brady was taken in the sixth round. But he’s hardly a parable or metaphor for the modern franchise quarterback. Russell Wilson was taken in the third round. The 2016 Rookie of the Year, Dak Prescott, was taken in the fourth round.
But let’s not pretend we have QB unicorns dancing around the lower rungs of the draft. Let’s browse the big names in the NFL over the last decade.
Andrew Luck. First pick. Eli Manning. First pick. His brother. First pick. Aaron Rodgers. First round. Ben Roethlisberger. First round. Matt Ryan. First round. Philip Rivers. First round. Alex Smith. First pick.
The young studs of 2017 are also first-rounders, like Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who were picked first and second, respectively, in the same draft. The only bona fide young star not plucked in the first round, other than Prescott, is Derek Carr, who was still taken in Round 2.
Eight of the last 12 Super Bowl champions were led by QBs drafted in the first round. Out of the four who weren’t, two were led by Brady, one by Wilson and one by Drew Brees, who was just one pick short of being a first-rounder.
Of the last 25 Super Bowl champions, 21 were led by signal-callers who are either in the Hall of Fame or will be there five years after they retire. (This assumes Brady, Big Ben, Rodgers, Brees, Peyton and Eli Manning will reach Canton.) If Russell Wilson reaches the Hall — not an absurd speculation — that will make 22 out of 25.
There are three non-Canton winners of the Lombardi Trophy. Trent Dilfer — who actually was a first-round pick — played behind that monstrous Ravens defense in 2000. Joe Flacco — also a first-round pick — played like a Hall of Famer during the 2012 Super Bowl run. Only Brad Johnson, Tampa Bay’s quarterback in 2002, was laughably short of the first round, and came quite close to Mr. Irrelevant status, as the 227th pick.
Other than the aforementioned exceptions, the NFL is a QB’s world. More now than ever, with rules bent comically toward the passing game. And while the Giants haven’t put too much muscle into developing a quarterback, they know that a player of Manning’s talent, toughness and temerity is nearly impossible to find.
Not to put the gridiron cart before the horse, but is Webb that kind of prospect? Is he even this year’s Prescott? We won’t know, of course, because he won’t play for at least two years. Because Manning hasn’t missed a snap since Pop Warner. The Giants would be thrilled if they found Phil Simms. Or even Jeff Hostetler. (Simms was picked No. 7 overall. Hostetler, like Webb, went in the third round.)
There are a few reasons a gaggle of head coaches get whacked after every NFL season, like the baptism scene from “The Godfather.” But high among them is quarterback evaluation, which is almost a crapshoot. The Bears desperately moved up to pick a quarterback who beat James Madison and Citadel last year, Mitchell Trubisky. The Chiefs were uncharacteristically desperate, moving up over a dozen spots to pick Patrick Mahomes, who ran a college offense that has yet to produce a Pro Bowl QB.
Maybe Webb rewrites history, or the orthodoxy. Maybe he’s everything Reese thinks he is. For the sake of Big Blue, their fans, and those of us who cover them, it makes for great copy. At least he went to Cal, which produced Rodgers. But also produced Jared Goff.
We thumb through the archives, waxing romantically about the overlooked quarterback who morphed into an icon, the QB version of Rudy. Or Rocky. It makes for great gridiron poetry. We love the outhouse-to-penthouse narrative. But for every underdog who scales the Super Bowl mountain, there are scores of blue bloods who were fast-tracked to the pros, just cradle-to-grave gifted.
By all standards, this was a weak draft for quarterbacks. So to suggest the Giants found Eli Manning 2.0 at the back end of a soft class is reaching. Out of respect to Big Blue, and to Webb, we won’t ROFL just yet. Maybe just an SMH will do.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel