While Manning Operates Without Glitches, Campbell Could Crack the Code Soon
Sunday, November 30, 2008; Page D01
They were chosen one year and two dozen NFL draft spots apart, so in some ways there is little that ties together the pro careers of the New York Giants' Eli Manning and the Washington Redskins' Jason Campbell. Everything, from contract to expectations to timetable for success, is different for a quarterback drafted first overall than one drafted 25th.
Even so, they compete in the same unyielding division, and they will share a field today in Landover as the Redskins (7-4) try to draw a game closer to the first-place Giants (10-1) in the NFC East. And now that Manning is the quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champions and the on-field leader of the sport's most imposing team this season, he has become the standard by which the progress of other developing players at the position -- like Campbell -- can be measured.
By that yardstick, some observers said, it becomes clear that while Campbell has made great strides this season, there still is a ways to go for him to make the jump Manning made nearly a year ago by transforming himself into a championship quarterback.
"Look at Eli. Look at [Ben] Roethlisberger. Look at Philip Rivers, and look at Jason," former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said this week. "I kind of put them in there together because they're around the same age. I think that's fair. . . . Jason will get there. But he's a year and a half behind those other guys in his development because he's been forced to learn a new system.
"I think he throws the ball as well. I think he has the same command of an offense. I think he's as tough as those guys are. What he lacks right now is the vertical passing game to showcase his skills as a quarterback."
Manning has spent his football-playing life being judged against older brother Peyton, a fellow top overall selection in the NFL draft. Older brother has rewritten a portion of the NFL record book for the Indianapolis Colts. But younger brother now is tied in Super Bowl victories with one apiece and could forge ahead in that category.
Yet the general consensus in and around the league seems to be Eli Manning doesn't deserve to be talked about with the same reverence bestowed upon conversations about his brother and Tom Brady, the injured three-time Super Bowl winner for the New England Patriots.
Not yet, at least.
"I don't compare him to Peyton," said former Redskins tight end Rick "Doc" Walker, now a broadcaster. "It's not fair to him. He might be ahead of Peyton on his timetable. He's making remarkable progress. He's won the big one. He's dealt with the transition of his team around him. His brother is throwing the ball to Hall of Famers. Eli is doing great for Eli. He's way ahead of his own race."
Eli Manning was drafted in 2004 in the same first round as the Pittsburgh Steelers' Roethlisberger and the San Diego Chargers' Rivers. Now Manning and Roethlisberger are Super Bowl winners. Rivers reached the AFC title game last season and, even with the Chargers struggling this season, is the league's top-rated passer at the moment.
Campbell was taken by the Redskins with the 25th overall pick in the 2005 draft after two other quarterbacks, the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith and the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, had been. Campbell is 31 regular season starts into his NFL career. That's 35 starts behind Manning, who had a mediocre career passer rating of 73.4 at the end of the 2007 regular season before suddenly playing mistake-free football throughout the playoffs as the Giants went on their Super Bowl run.
Manning's superb play has continued into this season, and now he's the league's eighth-rated passer, putting him four spots ahead of Campbell. Former NFL coach Dan Reeves said he never doubted Manning would become an accomplished pro quarterback, and he said sudden jump in Manning's play last postseason had as much to do with an overall offensive improvement by the Giants as it did with anything Manning did personally.