Eli has arrived…

Don't expect first-year miracles from Eli Manning just because he was the No. 1 selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. History isn't on your side.

The adjectives "unspectacular" and "inauspicious" best describe how the first full season as a starter has panned out for the majority of quarterbacks taken at No. 1.

However, one must also take into consideration the fact that the first pick is awarded to bottom-dwelling teams with a poor supporting cast of players - a fact of NFL life that often exacerbates the normal learning-curve problems facing a first-year starting quarterback.

The exceptions, of course, are quarterbacks that are the focal point of a draft day transaction that enables a higher-quality team to trade up to the number-one slot, as the Atlanta Falcons did with the Chargers to nab Michael Vick in 2001. The Giants acquired Manning by swapping their No. 4 pick (quarterback Philip Rivers) with San Diego.

Now it's Eli's turn: With Kurt Warner at the helm for the Giants' first nine games, Manning has undoubtedly benefited from a "continuing education" time period without the physical punishment he would have certainly suffered had he been named the starter in Week 1. The Giants' offensive line has played poorly for much of the season, particularly in the last few weeks, evidenced by the 39 sacks Warner endured prior to his benching.

In addition to the hours he invests in daily study, Manning's position on the sidelines had him privy to in-game situational consultations with Warner and Giants offensive coordinator John Hufnagel.

But lining up behind center is an entirely different matter, as defenses will attempt to confuse the rookie with disguised coverages and rattle him with an assortment of blitzes.

Should Eli struggle in his first season as a starter, he will be in renowned company.

A rough start for most: During the past 28 years, 11 quarterbacks have been No. 1 selections. Of those, only Denver's John Elway (1983) and Michael Vick (2002) have taken teams to the playoffs in their first full season as a starter. Elway did it as a rookie, Vick in his second season.

Elway won only four of 10 starts in 1983, but he still helped Denver attain a Wild Card berth. The future Hall of Famer had his share of struggles as a rookie, completing only 47.5 percent of his passes for 1,663 yards, seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His quarterback rating was a lowly 54.9.

Dallas' Troy Aikman had similar first-year difficulties, taking over signal-caller duties for a rebuilding Cowboys team that he would eventually lead to three Super Bowl titles. Starting 11 games as a rookie in 1989, Aikman managed only nine TD passes, was intercepted 18 times, and had a rating of 55.7.

While Elway and Aikman overcame their youthful inexperience to develop into first-rate players, a couple of No. 1s who failed to live up to expectations compiled decent statistics in their first season as starters.

In 1990, Indianapolis Colts rookie Jeff George started 12 games, throwing for 2,152 yards and 16 touchdowns while being intercepted 13 times in leading his team to a 5-7 mark.

Tim Couch, the Cleveland Browns' pick in 1999, started 14 contests, completing 55.9 percent of his throws for 2,447 yards and 15 TDs. Couch was intercepted 13 times. But while Couch performed admirably, the Browns only won two of the games he started. George posted a 73.8 rating, Couch a 73.2.

George was inconsistent for the remainder of his career, and Couch has become an enigma. He is presently out of football - cut by the Browns prior to the 2004 season and later released by Green Bay Packers. The Chicago Bears expressed an interest in Couch in late October, but decided not to sign him.

Top picks starting today: Excluding Eli Manning, there are currently six starting NFL quarterbacks who were No. 1 picks: Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe (1993); Houston's David Carr (2002); Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (1998); Cincinnati's Carson Palmer (2003); Dallas' Vinny Testaverde (1988) and Vick.

In 2002, second-year player Vick started 15 games in leading the Falcons to a 9-6-1 mark and a trip to the NFC divisional playoffs after defeating the Green Bay Packers, 27-7, in a Wild Card game at Lambeau Field. Vick completed 231 of 421 passes (54.9 percent) for 2,936 yards and his quarterback rating was a respectable 81.6. In addition, his remarkable speed and running skills - unseen in an NFL quarterback until his arrival - kept many a defensive coordinator up until the wee hours.

But one statistic that may best explain Vick's first-year success was his two-to-one touchdown pass-to-interception ratio. He threw 16 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions.

Eli's big brother, meanwhile, had a schizophrenic rookie debut - but it offered foreshadowing of spectacular seasons on the horizon. As the Colts' starter for all 16 games in his rookie year of 1998, Peyton Manning threw 26 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions. He recorded an eye-opening 3,739 yards on 326-of-575 completions (56.7 percent) for a quarterback rating of 71.2 - but Indianapolis still finished a dismal 3-13.

Similarly, Bledsoe threw an equal amount of touchdown passes and interceptions (15) in 13 games of his debut season with the New England Patriots in 1993. But the current Bills' quarterback struggled with accuracy - completing less than 50 percent of his throws (49.9) for 2,494 yards and compiling a poor 65.0 rating.

Dallas' Vinny Testaverde has the longest tenure of current starters among former No. 1 picks. Selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987, the Long Island native started 15 games in his sophomore season of 1988.

Testaverde's first season as a fulltime starter offered solid proof that the skill set of a Heisman Trophy winner doesn't necessarily translate into immediate success at football's highest level of competition.

In 1988, Testaverde clicked on only 47.6 percent of his throws for 13 touchdowns and an astounding 35 interceptions. His quarterback rating was only 48.8. Some critics sardonically questioned Testaverde's intellect and judgment as he struggled with on-the-field demons.

The first-year grades are incomplete for another Heisman winner - Cincinnati's Carson Palmer. Drafted in 2003 out of USC, Palmer was thrust into a starter's role at the beginning of the season by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, whose decision was met with some backlash because of Jon Kitna's outstanding performance last season.

After 10 starts, Palmer completed 194-of-343 aerials (56.6 percent) for 2,062 yards. He had thrown for nine touchdowns and was intercepted 13 times. The Bengals were 4-6 under Palmer entering their Week 12 match with the Browns.

Health concerns: The expansion Houston Texans made Fresno State's David Carr their first-ever draft selection in 2002 and anointed him the starter. The rookie helped kick off the franchise's inaugural season in spectacular fashion by engineering a Week 1 upset win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Carr played all 16 games, completing 233-of-444 throws (52.5 percent) for 2,592 yards and nine touchdowns. He was intercepted 15 times and compiled a rating of 62.8.

But Carr took a horrid beating during that rookie season with the neophyte Texans, and was sacked an NFL-record 76 times. Although he didn't miss any time because of injury, the physical pounding he absorbed convinced some observers that the youngster's long-range health was in jeopardy.

Given the poor protection offered this season by the Giants' offensive line, Manning's well being must also be a concern for the team's brain trust. Manning got a small taste of what Warner endured when he was rocked on a blind-side sack during his garbage-time debut in the season opener at Philadelphia.

Dad answers the rookie question: When the New York Jets selected quarterback Chad Pennington in the first round of the 2000 draft, a reporter asked Archie Manning whether the rookie should "sit and learn for a couple of seasons" or be inserted immediately into the lineup.

"You could do it either way," said Manning, Eli and Peyton's dad, who quarterbacked the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings. "Chad can sit and learn on the sidelines - or the Jets could throw him into the fire right away, like Indianapolis did with Peyton. Peyton took his lumps, but he also learned on the job."

Archie's younger son is now on the same path.

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