As E.J. Manuel prepared to compete for the starting quarterback job in Buffalo, N.Y., and the Jets were leaning on Mark Sanchez, Ryan Nassib spent his off-season prepping to stand around. A lot.
That’s what happens when a team with Eli Manning under center drafts you. In fact, somewhere in America, there’s some poor toddler with a Nerf football who may just have the misfortune of being on the same team as one of Peyton’s or Eli’s sons. He, too, will be standing on the sidelines, ball cap turned around, waiting for his opportunities to play.
And waiting …
It’s hard to find any evidence that Nassib is anything but delighted to be part of the NFL experience—even if he is third on the New York Giants’ depth chart. (Hey, it’s better than fourth.) The Malvern Prep alum is past the disappointment of Draft Day, when his former coach at Syracuse University spurned him for Manuel. He had to wait until the third day to learn his pro destination. “I understand the decisions made, and I ended up in a great spot,” says Nassib. “Buffalo got themselves a good quarterback, and I wish them the best.”
A 2008 Malvern Prep graduate, Nassib is unlikely to see time unless Manning and 12-year vet Dave Brown get hurt. In other words, the fourth-round pick out of Syracuse will have a fairly normal NFL rookie arc—at least in historical terms. For decades, rookie QBs spent a few seasons on the bench, learning from the more experienced hands ahead of them. In today’s NFL, where almost a third of last year’s starters were first- or second-year players, the waiting game can be viewed as a slap. Nassib, however, is handling the situation well.
“I’m happy they’re bringing me in to develop me,” he says. “If Eli went down, I hope I could step in and perform and help the team win.”
Just six years ago, Nassib was named first-team all-city by the Daily News, capping a prep-school career that included two Inter-Ac titles and a pair of first-team all-league honors. After sitting out his freshman season and attempting only 68 passes in 2009, he became the starting QB at Syracuse. By the time he completed his career, he was the school leader in career passing yards and completions, and held the marks for most throwing yards and touchdowns in a season.
Nassib is second in career TDs (70) at Syracuse—seven behind some guy named Donovan McNabb. He led the Orange to a pair of bowl wins and an 8-5 record in 2012
that included victories in six of the last seven games, culminating in a 38-14 spanking of West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl’s wintry gloom. As a senior, Nassib threw for 3,749 yards and 26 TDs, and many considered him a first-round talent. Some mock drafts even had him as the first QB to be selected. Then came the real thing.
Ryan Nassib wasn’t the first quarterback taken in the 2013 draft. That was E.J. Manuel from Florida State. Turns out, the mock draft is often wrong. But what made things particularly difficult was the fact that the Buffalo Bills’ new honcho, Doug Marrone, had been Nassib’s coach for four of the five seasons he was at Syracuse. Some people predicted that Marrone would opt for the familiar. Some people were wrong.
Of course, the Bills have a general manager and a well-populated personnel department, so their decision-making process is hardly one-dimensional. Still, it has sting that Marrone is working with a quarterback from another school. But Nassib hasn’t groused—at least, not publicly. “I talked to coach Marrone and told him congratulations,” he says.
Though Nassib wouldn’t be going first among those at his position, he’d certainly be hearing his name called soon thereafter, right? Not quite. The first round ended without any news, and the second and third rounds came about without any team choosing Nassib. As the final four rounds began, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock (whose son played at Malvern with Nassib) was extolling the QB’s talents, talking up his work ethic, strong background, and knowledge of the game.
Then came the news that the Eagles had traded up to the first spot in the round, ostensibly to choose a passer. Could Nassib be heading to his hometown team? Again, no. The Birds took University of Southern California’s Matt Barkley. But Nassib didn’t have to wait too long for his call. Twelve picks later, the Giants claimed him. “It wasn’t that bad,” he says. “I prepared myself for the worst. I’m glad I only have to go through it once.”
The spring was a whirlwind for Nassib. Not only did he have to acclimate himself to a new area, but he also had to learn a new offensive system and adjust to an NFL game that’s much faster and more mentally demanding than anything he had encountered on college fields. “It’s a lot different than what we did at Syracuse,” he says. “The terminology and nomenclature of plays are much different. But it’s not too difficult. The pace, for sure, is different. Sometimes, I’m heading to the line of scrimmage trying to think of the play I’m calling and picture it.”
By the time training camp arrived, Nassib knew the plays. But executing them under real fire—instead of in helmets and shorts—proved to be challenging. At times, he thrived, and the reviews were positive. “He’s got a strong arm,” head coach Tom Coughlin said after one practice.
Nassib showed enough early in camp to climb ahead of Curtis Painter, himself a former NFL starter—albeit hardly the most successful one.
On other occasions, Nassib struggled. In one two-minute drill, he threw a pair of interceptions. But he didn’t get too low. “The Giants have such great coaches, and that will help me develop,” says Nassib. “It’s going to take some time to get acclimated to being an NFL quarterback.”
Let the waiting begin.