Mario lands in New York after giant slide, and that's fine by him

NEW YORK -- Two-hundred and fifty-two players were selected in the draft here this weekend.

One stands apart in volume of pre- and post-draft character speculation, in enormous fall from first-round consideration to a late third-round landing and in incessant analysis at to whether he will become boom or bust.

A deep search is required to find a player in recent draft history who has taken the shots that Manningham took. Some of it was well earned. Much of it certainly was not.

Forgive this former Michigan receiver if his head is still spinning. Reached via telephone at his home in Warren, Ohio, a day after the Giants made him the 95th pick in the draft -- only four picks from the bottom of the third round and with 13 receivers selected before him -- Manningham offered a mixture of relief, resentment, excitement and payback.

"My family and friends were gathered around the TV on the first day of the draft and that didn't go so well, of course," Manningham said. "I told them not to worry, I'll get picked tomorrow. And then on the second day the Giants made it happen; they were one of my favorites. New York is very beautiful. They've got a long history with Michigan players.

"The media, some of the teams, they are going to talk a lot of stuff as long as they have air. I'm just ready to ball. I've got a team. I've got a chance. These critics and know-it-alls, they give me more motivation. All of them. I'm a risk? Let them think I'm a risk alright. Whether you go in the first round or the seventh round, I know it's all about what you do on and off the field and how you do it. I'm a Giant. And that's good. Let everybody say what they've got to say. Really, I'm not used to talking about stuff like this. Where I come from, we don't wear our feelings on our sleeves."

He is 21 years old.

He left school as a junior.

He helped create the chaos.

Nearly a year ago, he was arrested along with two friends after their car was pulled over and police found Vicodin on him and in his suitcase in the trunk. He said the pills were for post-knee surgery and that he had borrowed them from teammates after he had run out of his. Prosecutors failed to issue a warrant for felony possession. The NCAA and Michigan investigated and cleared him.

He failed two drug tests for marijuana while at Michigan. He lied about it to scouts at the combine. He sent letters to each of the 32 teams apologizing for that, blaming it on being "scared" and "nervous." He wrote that he had passed several tests since and would gladly take more drug tests prior to the draft.

But through 94 picks in the draft, teams ran the other way.

"We like the player, we like the person and we will give him support and a chance," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "It's up to him what he does with it."

Manningham's agent, Don Yee, added: "I've been representing players for more than 20 years in these drafts and I believe the judgment of him was unjustifiably harsh. It was somewhat frustrating that given the history of this draft, where teams have consistently overlooked any matter of things, that they held him to such a harsh standard. Young people make mistakes. But he did not point a gun at anyone. He did not steal anything from anyone. Every draft there seems to be a player that the media and others pick out and pick on, and not even to this degree, for whatever reason, and that was Mario this time. They all were far less forgiving with him. But the Giants are very happy with him and we are very happy he's with the Giants. It's a unique organization that is first-rate in operating as a family."

Yee said that Manningham was born to a teenage mother, has a strong supporting grandfather and agreed with Manningham that the player does not often "wear his feelings on his sleeves." And Yee found it curious that Manningham's Wonderlic Intelligence test score of 6 (out of a possible 50) was leaked prior to the draft.

"What does a score on an intelligence test like that one have to do with catching the ball over the middle and being able to stand up to a guy trying to take your head off?" Manningham asked. "What does that have to do with catching the football? People talked the same stuff about Vince Young when he was drafted. Again, as long as people have air ..."

It simply appears there is not enough there for Manningham to have crashed as he did in the draft. Certainly, teams could hold him to a stricter standard on his truthfulness about past marijuana usage. At Michigan, he was disciplined by his coach, Lloyd Carr, and benched for a game early in the season because Carr said Manningham was not focused.

But his production at Michigan exceeded that mistake.

He made plenty of acrobatic catches. He is the fourth-best touchdown maker (27) among Michigan receivers, behind Braylon Edwards (39), Anthony Carter (37) and Desmond Howard (32) -- Howard and Manningham played in only three seasons. Manningham averaged 16.3 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns last season in a Michigan offense that was often out of sync due to injuries, especially at quarterback. He made frequent game-winning plays against elite competition.

But something about Manningham struck a nerve around the league.

"I don't know exactly what that was, maybe the lying at the combine, which I don't find a major deal for a young, scared kid who later apologized for it," said one NFL head coach, requesting anonymity. "I would not have had a problem drafting him. Sometimes a kid gets stripes on him that are hard to change, and that happened here. But maybe it's best this all happened to him before he got to the pros. Sometimes, especially with young people, this kind of lesson is best learned there so that he can get in the league and go forward without it happening there."

Manningham said he visited the Giants in early April and caught on to what coaches were asking him about playing receiver in their system and had a similar, positive visit with the Colts a couple of days before that. He said he knew both were "job interviews" and hoped one of those teams would grab him. The Giants did. He went from complete puzzlement to the defending Super Bowl champions.

He will arrive in New York in a few days and said that in practice, in camp, in games, he will be the first to throw his hand up when there is a big play to be made.

Before that, he will continue driving more than an hour each way from his hometown to Cleveland to work on his game at a training complex.

"He (Reese) called me during the draft and asked, 'Are you ready to be a Giant?'" Manningham said. "What do you think I said? I know I can play football. Everything in this game at receiver comes natural for me. I see myself scoring touchdowns. I'm not a risk. I've got someone who was willing to believe in me as much as I believe in myself. I'm not worried about anything. I've got a team."

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