Few athletes have been under the microscope like Eli Manning, both in magnification and length of time.
The New York Giants’ two-time Super Bowl MVP has been pressed between two pieces of glass for 15 years, going on 16. Daniel Jones has been there for four days. The Giants drafted the Duke quarterback sixth overall last Thursday night in finding their next franchise quarterback. In his first conference call with the New York media shortly after being selected, Jones said he is going to try to be himself, not a long-lost Manning brother. But the two already have a lot in common, particularly with their personalities. That’s why this week hasn’t been a problem for the 21-year-old.
“I haven’t paid too much mind to that,” Jones said on SiriusXM NFL Radio’s “Late Hits” about the draft reaction. “I think that’s key to playing quarterback, to being consistent as a quarterback, is keeping your head in the same place. I think that just comes down to your confidence in yourself, and your confidence has got to come from inside of you. I think if you’re looking externally for confidence, then you’re also going to be affected by the negative as well. Just finding confidence in yourself and knowing what you can do as a player, as a person, is kind of the way that works and the best way to think about handling a lot of that stuff.”
Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe coached Eli (Ole Miss) and Peyton (Tennessee) at their respective schools, and Jones first met the younger Manning in 2016. Eli was holding his annual spring workout with the Giants’ wide receivers on the Duke campus.
“I think I admire his consistency,” Jones said. “His temperament is always very consistent. He stays level-headed and he never loses confidence in that. I think that’s something you can learn a lot from watching, and it says a lot about a person.”
Now he will see it through the lens of a teammate -- and a competitor to some degree. If all goes according to plan, Jones will take over for Manning. Whether that happens in months or years depends on a lot of things. In the meantime, Jones will do what any smart rookie should: watch and learn.
“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for a young guy to go into a place where there’s a future Hall of Famer who’s done it for a really long time at a really high level and definitely knows what it takes,” Jones said. “So that to me is a big advantage in where I am right now. So I’m looking forward to it, just being teammates with him, being able to learn from him in the building every day. I think that’s a special opportunity. I’ve spoken to him once (since the draft) and he just congratulated me, said he’s excited to be up there. I think I understand he’s got a job to do, I’ve got a job to do, so we’re going to do the best we can to help the Giants win as many football games as we can, and I’m certainly happy with whatever my role is.”
Veterans are into the third week of their voluntary offseason workout program. The 10-man draft class and a host of undrafted free agents and tryout players will gather at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center at the end of the week for rookie minicamp. Jones is eager to get to the facility and dive in with head coach and offensive play-caller Pat Shurmur.
“Coach Shurmur has had the opportunity to be in a lot of different places and coach a lot of different quarterbacks, coach a lot of different offenses,” Jones said. “I think that’s given him an advantage in the way he’s put together this offense and drawing a lot of things from a lot of different systems and kind of putting the best of it all together into his offense now. Just his experience there, his understanding of the league and just being in a lot of different places is an advantage to us with that offense. I think he’s certainly a great coach.”
When the rookies arrive, Jones will see a familiar face in his class. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, the 17th overall pick by the Giants, played in the same conference at Clemson. His national champion Tigers beat the Blue Devils, 35-6, last season. Jones was sacked four times, and Lawrence had two tackles for loss and broke up two of Jones’ passes.
“For one, his size and strength is something we didn’t see all year for sure,” Jones said. “He’s 6-5, 340, or whatever he is, and that’s tough to handle. But he can move as well. He can make a pass rush move and get to the quarterback as well, so he’s not just someone who’s going to clog up the middle. He can really do it all. He’s really a special player and going to be really special for us with the Giants. I’m looking forward to getting to work with him and getting up to New York.”
“I like him a lot,” Lawrence said of Jones on his post-draft conference call. “Playing against him when we played Duke, I gained a lot of respect for him. He did not quit and he’s deceptively fast. His arm is really accurate. I feel like a lot of his balls were dropped, so his stats weren’t really there watching film, but I think he’s really special.”
On a somber note, Jones and the rest of Giants are eager for the healthy return of cornerback Corey Ballentine, a sixth-round selection who was shot hours after being drafted. Dwane Simmons, his friend and teammate at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., was killed in the incident. The Giants released the following statement on Sunday: “We are aware of the tragic situation and continue to gather information. We have spoken to Corey ... Our thoughts are with Dwane Simmons’ family, friends and teammates and the rest of the Washburn community.”
Meanwhile, Jones said he has spoken to Ballentine since it happened.
“I think that’s just a really tough situation for him, and I definitely just wanted to let him know that I was thinking about him and I was here if he needed anything,” Jones said. “But certainly that our thoughts and prayers were with him and I look forward to being his teammate. But certainly it’s a tough situation for him, and like I said, we’re thinking about him.”