November 5, 2001
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
by Keith Weiland
The Houston Texans have embarked on a Homeric odyssey to find a treasured quarterback to lead their new team to greatness, but are they looking in the right places? General Manager Charley Casserly and his staff of scouts will have evaluated hundreds of viable quarterbacking options before they make their first selection in next year’s draft, but should any of them be chosen to assume the burdensome weight of an expansion franchise?
You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek.
The results so far have been inconclusive. There is not a clear-cut star emerging this season in the list of college players expected to be eligible for the 2002 NFL draft. Some of the sirens that blared from David Carr’s fast start have quieted after he and his miscreant Bulldog teammates lost two in a row. Joey Harrington of Oregon has bounced up and down draft boards as his play, though spectacular at times, has been inconsistent. Tougher questions still remain for the other college prospects.
The existing NFL talent isn’t providing many answers, either. Gus Frerotte and Jim Miller may top the list of free agents at the end of this season, but there’s a good reason why other teams don’t already have either of these guys locked up in a contract. Early speculation has under-performing stars like Jake "the Fake" Plummer and Drew "Bleeding" Bledsoe possibly available in the expansion draft, but they are potential landmines and salary cap killers.
We’re in a tight spot!
With such an unfocused picture in 2002, the Texans’ questions at quarterback may not be answered until 2003 or 2004. And that answer may be found in a precocious underclassman playing in a big-time conference, one that possesses impressive quarterbacking bloodlines.
His name is not Chris Simms. It’s Eli Manning.
Eli, who currently is better known as Peyton’s little brother, is raising eyebrows at his father’s old stomping grounds in Oxford, Mississippi. A redshirt sophomore, Manning is in his first season as the Rebels’ starting quarterback.
Unlike his older brother, Eli chose to take on the challenge of continuing his father’s legacy at Ole Miss. Before anyone labels Peyton as gutless by running off to Tennessee to avoid the scrutiny, Peyton graduated from high school at a time when Ole Miss was having problems with the NCAA, and he thought his chances for a national championship were better elsewhere. Still, understanding what his father meant to that school, Eli is not shy about the opportunity.
He’s a suitor!
Manning has the size NFL teams are looking for at 6’4", and he throws bullets in tight spirals. He shares his brother’s intelligence; regularly making honor rolls in the classroom. Not quite 21 years old, Eli was perfecting his five-step drop soon after he learned how to walk. His head coach at Ole Miss, David Cutcliffe, was coincidentally Peyton’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Tennessee. Though Cutcliffe says their personalities may separate the two brothers, the way they throw the football and play the game does not.
He’s bona fide!
It’s tough living in the shadow of one legend, much less two, but Eli is living up to the hype thus far, even surpassing the standards set by his kin. Eli began his first season as a starter by setting the school record for consecutive completions (18), finishing the day 20-23 with five touchdown passes. He is currently on a streak where he has completed a touchdown pass in six consecutive games, a school record that he shares with his father. Eli has led the Rebels, a young team without many high expectations entering the season, to a 6-2 record following this weekend’s 58-56 seven-overtime loss to Arkansas (that’s right — seven overtimes!).
The idiotic lunacy of college football’s overtime system aside, Manning was clutch on several occasions against the Razorbacks in the loss, throwing six touchdown passes (five in overtimes), another school record. That continued a late-game trend for Manning, as he already has led his team to stunning fourth quarter comebacks against Alabama and LSU. Eli is displaying poise unheard of in just his first season as a starter.
His accuracy has been amazing, completing 65% of passes. Eli, who already owns the school’s record for most TD passes in a single season, has a 23-2 touchdown to interception ratio, which currently leads the nation. It is a better pace than even Peyton had in his sophomore season when he was 22-4. Peyton finished his career 89-33, and many whispered before the season that Eli might be just as good, if not better, than his older brother. Those people aren’t whispering anymore.
Thinking back on the last decade of college quarterback prospects, only one name comes to mind as being a sure thing for NFL success — Peyton Manning. Since Eli is the last of Archie’s three sons, and as a society we haven’t quite sorted out the whole moral issue with cloning human beings, it may be the last chance for Houston to add a Manning quarterback to their roster once Eli declares for the NFL draft.
With up to two more seasons of eligibility left – and his older brother setting the example by staying for a senior season – it’s possible Eli may not be drafted until 2004. That’s a mighty long time for the Texans to wait. Archie and Peyton were both All-Americans in college and Pro Bowlers in the NFL, so Eli may be worth the wait. Besides, the potential Manning vs. Manning matchups in the AFC South twice every season would be epic.
This column ‘don’t make no sense’ if you haven’t seen O Brother, Where Art Thou? by the Coen Brothers (Fargo, Raising Arizona). Keith Weiland has said his peace and counted to three. Eli Manning Home