Eli Manning is excited about having Saquon Barkley in the backfield with him.
But when it comes to the optimism regarding the 2018 season, he has the same challenge for the newest Giants weapon as he does for the oldest (who happens to be himself): Prove it.
Prove the investment the team has made was a good one. Prove the hype is warranted. Prove the faith and the confidence expressed by the front office and coaching staff are justified.
That’s why Manning — speaking about the recent draft for the first time in public on Monday night at an event for Guiding Eyes for the Blind in White Plains — was hesitant to join in the crowning of Barkley as the missing piece for the offense and the team until he actually gets on the field.
“You’ve just got to let him get here and kind of earn his [stripes],” Manning said. “I know he’s very talented. I’m just excited to get him in the facility, get him on the practice field and work with him . . . We have to get him in. We have to get him in and get him to learn the system.”
Manning said he watched the first round of the draft, given the consequences it held for him and his family. “The wife was very curious as to what was going to go on, and obviously, so was I,” he said.
There was a chance the Giants would select a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick, of course. Instead, they chose a running back, giving Manning not only another weapon but a tangible vote of confidence. Last season may have been the first crack in his reign as face of the franchise, but the draft left little doubt that the Giants remain Eli Manning’s team.
“Obviously, I want to get back to winning more football games and playing at a high level,” he said. “I feel I can do that. But hey, I have to prove it and I have to play well.”
Just like Barkley.
Certainly the two can help each other in that pursuit. Manning’s ability to check into and out of plays at the line of scrimmage should help Barkley take advantage of mismatches in the defense. And Barkley’s presence will give Manning the best running back threat he’s had at his disposal since Tiki Barber.
“When you can run the ball, it gives you the ability to wear down a defense and get the offensive line going,” Manning said. “I think it helps everything. It helps your pass protection, it helps your play-action, it helps control the ball a bit better. It helps the defense; they’re not on the field as long. It puts you in great down-and-distance and gives you that toughness mentality from an offensive standpoint.”
The Giants actually used their first two picks to bolster that part of the game, selecting guard Will Hernandez in the second round.
“You like those,” Manning said of the quarterback-friendly combination of a running back and offensive lineman.
Manning said he is eager to work with Barkley, who along with the rest of the draft picks will be at the facility later this week for their rookie minicamp. They then will join the veterans in the offseason program next week.
“We have some players, we definitely have some players,” Manning said of the offensive options now surrounding him, including an apparently healthy Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. “On paper is one thing, but you have to be able to do it on the field and you have to have everybody come together.”
That also goes for the 37-year-old quarterback, who despite having two Super Bowl MVPs to his name has as much to live up to as the 21-year-old rookie. Maybe even more.
“I have a job to play, and at this point, every year it’s year-to-year,” Manning said. “You have to prove that you deserve to be here. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”