Eli Manning's Choice: NFL or SEC?
Junior signal-caller passed for 313 yards in Rebels' Independence Bowl win over Nebraska.
Jan. 3, 2003
From The Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. - Eli Manning has until Jan. 15 to decide whether he wants to be big man on campus at Mississippi for another year or start cashing NFL paychecks.
If Manning is leaning toward staying or giving up his senior year to enter April's NFL draft, he has given little indication.
``I don't really know,'' he said after throwing for 315 yards against Nebraska last week in the Independence Bowl. ``I am going to go home and sit down and talk with my dad. It'll start there.''
That's probably a good place to start.
Manning's father, Archie, had a long and successful NFL career with the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings. The former Ole Miss quarterback still lives in New Orleans and has worked as a broadcaster for the Saints and Tennessee Titans, so he has plenty of connections in the NFL.
With all that information at his disposal, Eli Manning has said he won't ask the NFL for a projection on his draft status.
``I know this about Eli,'' Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said. ``I know he's capable of making a good decision. Of course, I hope he stays, but I'm going to support him whatever he decides.''
Manning's numbers fell off some from his sophomore to junior season, but he still is considered a top prospect. He threw for a school-record 3,401 yards, completing 58 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
How high Manning could be drafted is hard to pin down.
Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer of Southern California and Marshall's Byron Leftwich both had great senior seasons and early projections have them as possible first overall selections.
Louisville's Dave Ragone has also been mentioned as a possible first-round selection.
If Manning returns to school, he would go into next season as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country.
Manning could also turn to his big brother, Peyton, of the Indianapolis Colts, for some advice on whether to stay or go.
After his junior season at Tennessee, Peyton Manning labored over whether to turn pro. He even called Michael Jordan looking for advice.
Peyton Manning ultimately decided to stay in school, returning for a chance to win a Southeastern Conference title, the Heisman Trophy and, maybe, a national championship. Peyton ended up with one of three as the Volunteers won the SEC. He finished second in the Heisman race to Michigan's Charles Woodson.
Manning hasn't said when he will announce his decision, but at least one teammate thinks he'll be back.
``He hasn't said anything to me, but it's just a gut feeling,'' wide receiver Mike Espy said. ``With the talent we have coming back, we have a chance to do something special. Of course, he'll be successful in the NFL, too. He wins either way. And we support him either way, too.''
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