2004: ELI MANNING Drafted: 1st round, No. 1 overall by...

Drafted: 1st round, No. 1 overall by the San Diego Chargers
College: Mississippi (10,119 yards, 81 TDs in three-plus years)
NFL: Manning refused to play in San Diego, forced a trade to the Giants and beat the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in 2008. He then beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 as he grew into a truly elite quarterback. He has thrown 320 career TDs but has led the NFL in interceptions three times, too. In 2016, Manning threw for 4,027 yards, 26 TDs and 16 INTs.
Credit: AP

Once upon a time – eh, a little less than a year ago – a debate raged about whether Eli Manning was in the class of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. Forget that. He’s now head of the class… according to Chris Canty.

“He’s No. 1 in my book and there’s not even a question about it,” the Giants defensive tackle said Thursday, when asked where Manning ranks among quarterbacks. “What he does and what he means to our team, he’s my MVP.”

Canty has been on a commendatory crusade of sorts the last few days, heaping high praise on teammates. In recent interviews, he called Osi Umenyiora “underpaid” and said third-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul reminds him of legendary lineman Reggie White.

Canty, a Bronx native, was in Washington Heights on Thursday, hosting his Camp of Champions football clinic for about 300 kids at George Washington High School. The camp, which will continue on Friday, was organized by the Chris Canty Foundation in conjuction with United Way and the Police Athletic League. Canty was among 25 NFL players who coached and conducted drills with the children for about three hours.

But, while speaking to the media, Canty made clear his displeasure with Manning being slotted 31st in the NFL Network’s top 100 players ranking, which was voted on by players. “When you break Johnny Unitas’ record for fourth-quarter touchdown passes, I think he deserves to be a little higher than 31,” Canty said.

Manning, a year after not cracking the top 100, posted a 92.9 quarterback rating – good for seventh in the league – and threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter, setting an NFL record. Won another Super Bowl, too.

Manning placed fifth among quarterbacks in the poll. Aaron Rodgers was voted No. 1 overall. Drew Brees was second, Tom Brady fourth and Ben Roethlisberger 30th. Pierre-Paul was the highest-rated Giant at No. 24.

The quarterbacks behind Manning were Matthew Stafford at 41,  Peyton Manning 50th, Phillip Rivers 61st, Michael Vick 70th, Joe Flacco 74th, Tony Romo 91st and Tim Tebow at 95.

“Two-time champion, two-time Super Bowl MVP, he’s got credentials out the wazoo,” Canty said. “And he plays well in big moments when it really counts, which is crucial for a quarterback. He elevates the play of everyone around him… He allows the defense to play with more confidence.  We know if we get him the football late in the game, we don’t have to worry.”

Canty said that Manning, even entering his ninth season, is often overlooked, in part because “he’s little brother” to Peyton Manning. “And his persona; how he presents himself. He's not brash, he's not outspoken. I think humility gets a bad rap in our league. Everyone wants to talk. He lets his play do the talking.”

As for the JPP comments – “I stand by them and I believe them,” Canty said. Pierre-Paul, 23, finished fourth for Defensive Player of the Year after a breakout season in which he had 86 tackles and 16 ½ sacks. Canty, on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio 98.7, said Tuesday that Pierre-Paul’s talent and versatility on the defensive line is uncommon and “he reminds me a lot of Reggie White.” Thursday, Canty said, “For the people saying I’m crazy, let’s take the wait-and-see approach.”

Canty, 29, said he is recovered from an offseason knee operation and is just awaiting the doctor’s clearance to go full-bore in training camp.

His first two seasons with the Giants were disappointing – after signing a 6-year, $42 million contract – but Canty last year set career highs in tackles (47) and sacks (four). He insisted Thursday that he hasn't yet reached his peak. “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse,” he said, “and I don’t think I’m getting worse. My experience is going to help me moving forward.”

Canty also said he added five pounds of muscle (bringing his weight to 320) and has worked this offseason to increase his upper body strength. “I’m getting a lot of double-teams, so I have to respond to that. My response is spending more time in the weight room… Hopefully I’ll be coming with a little more oomph.”

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