By now I think that you’ve all heard how the New York Giants toppled the mighty New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. The Giants put together a game-winning drive in the waning moments of competition to seal their second championship in four years. The key play on that drive was a 38 yard pass to Mario Manningham at the beginning of the series. That completion was the longest play of the game, moved the Giants into good field position, and served as a huge momentum shift. None of that happens without a precision pass from Eli Manning and incredible coordination from Manningham. It was the play of the game and turned Manningham into a Super Bowl Hero.
Manningham absolutely deserves his hero status, at least within the Giants organization and among the team’s fans. However, his new status combined with his upcoming free agency has led to Manningham becoming one of the premier free agents heading into the 2012-2013 season. As a Giants fan who has watched a majority of Manningham’s professional games, I think considering Manningham as a premier free agent is a bit irresponsible for general managers around the league.
Manningham has just completed his fourth season in the NFL. Although he has yet to have a 1,000 yard season, he did show dynamic improvement during his first three seasons in the league (2008: 4 rec 26 yds, 2009: 57 rec 822 yds, 2010: 60 rec 944). However, his numbers dropped significantly during this past NFL season (2011: 39 rec 523 yds). Additionally, his yards per catch dropped by from 15.7 ypc to 13.4 and he scored fewer touchdown than either of his previous seasons (4 TDs in 2011 vs. 9 in 2010 and 5 in 2009). In Manningham’s defense, he did have several things working against him. Due to injury, he was forced to miss four regular season games during the 2011 season after playing all 16 in 2010. Also, the emergence of Victor Cruz as the Giant’s surprise star at wide receiver this season negatively impacted his number of targets. Despite these factors, Manningham failed to improve this season, even though he was often guarded by opposing teams number three defensive back.
So where is all the hype coming from? Sure, Manningham is a quality receiver who could fit well into a pass-first offense as their number two or three receiver. He is quick, agile, has good field awareness, and isn’t afraid to go over the middle. However, he fell to third in the Giant’s pecking order after posting his best career numbers last season. It is unlikely that he will go on to catch passes from a more skilled quarterback than Eli Manning, and he is sure to be guarded by better defenders if he goes on to become the number one or two receiver in another system. With all of that in mind, it is unlikely that he will become a superstar in the NFL. Really, all the hype seems to be coming from the Super Bowl and his knack for timely touchdowns throughout the 2011 postseason.
The recent of assent of Mario Manningham is evidence of how strongly we rely on opinion and snapshots of performance when assessing athletes. Manningham is a great player, but he is not a premier receiver in the NFL and any team foolish enough to make him their number one receiver will likely regret that decision in the future. In honest (read: slightly biased) opinion, Manningham will not find a better performance situation than the one he is currently in with the Giants. However, based on the way teams are blindly assessing him at the moment, it is likely he will move on to a team willing to pay him more for his services. If that is to happen, it will be a mistake made for all parties involved.