MOBILE, Ala. – Whomever the Giants tap for their next quarterback will have at least one very large obstacle to overcome. When the team decides it is time to make that move, the guy they turn to for the job will be following a two-time Super Bowl MVP, the most decorated quarterback in the history of the franchise, and a likely Hall of Famer. That’s a tough act to follow.
The very first step by that unknown player will have to be to emerge from Eli Manning’s long shadow.
Maybe the person best equipped to do that is Duke quarterback Daniel Jones.
If there is anyone who knows what it’s like to be regularly compared to a Manning, it’s Jones. His college coach, David Cutcliffe, was an influential figure in the careers of both Peyton and Eli Manning as their coordinator at Tennessee and Ole Miss, respectively, and he remains a close confidant and adviser to them.
Jones said on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl that Cutcliffe throws on clips of his two prized pupils “a couple times a week” in Durham.
“We watch a lot of film on those guys, a lot of technique stuff,” Jones said. “The offense has kind of changed a little bit since his days with Peyton and Eli, but we will occasionally watch an Ole Miss play for something to install. But a lot of technique.”
The Manning impact isn’t just on film for Jones. Like almost every high-level quarterback in the country, he attended the Manning Passing Academy. But he’s also spent some more intimate time with Eli Manning, who usually takes a week each spring to bring his receivers and other teammates together on the Duke campus for an unofficial minicamp. Jones has participated on the periphery of those.
“Being around those guys, watching Eli work and lead those workouts and meetings and those types of things is really cool,” he said. “I got to interact with them a little bit. I got to sit in on one of Eli’s meetings and just kind of talk to him walking through the building.”
Playing for Cutcliffe has other advantages. Duke runs about as close to a pro-style offense as can be found in the NCAA, and Jones has more experience doing some of the basics – such as huddling a team – than many other college prospects at his position.
Of course, hearing “Manning this” and “Manning that” from his college coach can get a little old.
“I can’t remember a certain instance where that happened,” Jones said, chuckling, when asked if he ever gets sick of hearing about them. “But maybe there is a little bit of that. I always saw it as it was cool to have a perspective on what Peyton or Eli was like as a freshman in college or something like that. When Coach Cut says ‘Peyton would have done this ...’ I think that’s kind of cool to me. It was always a challenge to see if Coach Cut can compare you to Peyton in a positive light. I think hearing from their experiences through Coach Cut was always a cool experience for me.”
As for following one of them with the Giants, well, that remains to be seen. Although Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who is running the North team in the Senior Bowl, predicted that Jones will be a first-round pick, it’s unlikely he’ll rise so high that the Giants will consider him with their sixth overall selection. A more likely path to the Giants would be as a late-first or early-second rounder.
In that case, the Giants may keep Manning for one more year to both play in 2019 and have him help groom Jones. It’s something Jones said he would enjoy, being a teammate and protégé – and, if he’s selected that high, probably the eventual replacement – for Eli.
“That would be a huge opportunity for me to learn from one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it,” he said. “He’s proven how great he is, and over the course of his career he’s achieved a whole lot. To be able to learn from him and observe his daily routine, his practice habits, his preparation in areas of the game, would be a huge opportunity for my growth and development.”
So which Manning is he more like? It may be Eli, especially when Jones describes himself as a leader by example and not a “rah-rah guy.” He also plays more like Eli.
“I’m probably different from both of them in ways and more similar to them in other ways,” he said. “But I don’t know. Maybe you have to ask Coach Cut.”
Ultimately, though, he’s not a Manning. He’s Daniel Jones. And this week he gets to show the NFL who exactly that is.
“I saw this as the first opportunity to separate myself,” he said of the Senior Bowl. “Unlike any other parts of this draft process, this is an opportunity to play in a game and play football. And hopefully for me it’s an opportunity to separate myself.”
From the other quarterbacks in his draft class, but also from his old coach’s most famous products.