Eli Manning has played with plenty of talented receivers in the last decade - from Steve Smith to Victor Cruz to Hakeem Nicks to Odell Beckham. But for the last eight years something big has been missing from his targets.
That has mattered more than the 6-foot-4 Giants quarterback has admitted throughout the years, but this year that has changed. For the first time since the 6-5 Plaxico Burress was released, the Giants have a truly viable big receiver. They signed the 6-4 Brandon Marshall in February, and Manning is excited as everyone else in the organization seems to be to have a truly big target on his side.
"Plaxico was obviously the last one who was similar to that size," Manning said Thursday night at the Elite Eleven banquet at the New York Athletic Club. "They can be open when they're not really open. It's not a jump ball (situation), but you can throw them open, and that's something I've seen him do in his career -- make back-shoulder catches down in the red zone, make big plays."
Marshall, 33, has made plenty of big plays throughout his career, which is why Giants co-owner John Mara insisted "Brandon can have a great effect on our offense." Mara also said Marshall "is what we need" - a big receiver who can take a lot of the pressure off Beckham, who is constantly double-teamed.
And Manning - who was at the banquet to receiver the Ernie Accorsi Humanitarian Award, named for the former Giants GM who traded for his draft rights in 2004 -- believes Marshall, who spent the last two years with the Jets, will fit in well and quickly. The two of them have already had a chance to work together, at Manning's annual mini-camp for his receivers (and some tight ends and running backs) earlier this week at Duke.
"I was excited when we made that acquisition," Manning said. "(He's) a big target who's been in the league a long time. Very professional. Got to work with him the last couple of days and he's obviously a big target, but smart. Asks a lot of questions. He's going to pick up the offense quickly.
"And he's excited. He's excited about coming to this offense and I think staying in New York and having kind of a No. 1 receiver on the opposite side of him. So I think he thinks that'll give him some one on one opportunities and that's good for us."
Manning also said Marshall "will be good for that receiver room and our locker room, having that veteran presence." Aside from Marshall, the Giants receiving corps is very young. Tavarres King is the elder statesman of that group and he's only 26 years old.
But the Giants have pointed out often that Marshall was brought in more for his on-field talent than for his locker room presence. None of the Giants' other regular receivers are taller than 6-1 (King). And as big as Beckham often plays, he's only 5-11. The last time Manning had a receiver this big was in 2008, when Burress and the 6-3 Amani Toomer were still two of his top targets.
Now that he's got a big receiver to work with again, Manning is excited to see what he can do.
"(Marshall) gets open a lot of different ways -- very disciplined in his route running and understanding concepts," Manning said. "I think he'll be good."