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Player Spotlight: Peyton Manning

A detailed look at Peyton Manning's fantasy prospects for 2015

A New Offensive Cook in the Kitchen

Much of the narrative surrounding Manning’s 2015 has concerned the arrival of Gary Kubiak’s supposedly run-dominant offensive scheme. It’s widely assumed that Manning’s passing volume will decrease noticeably as Kubiak remakes the offense in his own image. But a look into some recent history indicates that those concerns, while real and legitimate, may be a bit overblown.

When projecting offensive numbers, the first key is to set solid expectation baselines. After all, we can’t figure Manning’s yardage and touchdown forecast until we know how many passes we can expect him to throw. To build that expectation, we look at the two most relevant measures at play here: play volume and run/pass ratio.

Here are the relevant offensive numbers posted by Kubiak’s last three offenses:

 2014 Baltimore2013 Houston2012 HoustonAverage
Plays/Game 63.8 68.1 68.1 66.7
Pass:run Ratio 56:44:00 62:38:00 53:47:00 57:43:00
Total Pass Plays 573 675 582 610

And for Manning’s Broncos over the same span:

 2014 Denver2013 Denver2012 DenverAverage
Plays/Game 66.7 72.3 68.1 69
Pass:run Ratio 58:42:00 60:40:00 56:44:00 58:42:00
Total Pass Plays 624 695 609 643

A drop in attempts does indeed seem likely for Manning, but probably not to a wild degree. Kubiak offenses have been run-friendly, but flexible and not damning to passing games. Last season under Kubiak, Joe Flacco posted career highs in both yardage and touchdowns. The scheme has consistently adapted for personnel, situation, etc. – there’s no reason to assume he’ll rigidly force some slow-paced, run-dominant offense onto one of the game’s best quarterbacks. For what it’s worth, he’s already said as much publically: 


The key factor here is that Manning’s volume prognosis doesn’t change terribly much from recent offseasons; his Bronco teams have already been more run-happy than you might think. They’ve run the ball on 42% of plays since Manning’s arrival, right in line with the league average.

Also, don’t lose sight of the fact that Manning’s offense is a fast-paced, audible-heavy system, which certainly won’t change. He’ll stay in primary control of the team’s oft-used no-huddle attack, so much of the offense will be wholly unaffected. Manning can expect to hand the ball off a little more in 2015, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be throwing significantly fewer passes.

(Usually) a Volume-Proof QB1

And ultimately, a modest drop in volume shouldn’t doom Manning’s prospects anyway. He could easily remain near the top tier of fantasy quarterbacks while dropping an attempt or two per game. Even at 38, Manning remained among the game’s most efficient passers. His net yardage per attempt and touchdown rate both ranked third in the league, and no regular quarterback took fewer sacks. He posted 4,727 yards and 39 scores, after all. And most importantly, Manning remains a dominant red zone passer:

Red zone passing by attempts, 2012-14

 

Att

Comp%

PaYd

PaTD

Peyton Manning

314

65.6

1439

93

Drew Brees

277

64.3

1216

81

Ben Roethlisberger

268

54.9

940

58

Matt Ryan

254

60.6

961

63

Matthew Stafford

253

50.2

993

54

Manning will remain one of the league’s busiest (and most productive) passers near the goal line, leaving him with a great fantasy ceiling and an acceptable QB1 floor. We can’t rule out another run at 40 touchdowns, and we can’t really expect him to fall below 30-35. It’s far more comforting to rely upon quarterbacks of this ilk than guys who don’t produce well in the red zone (or whose offenses don’t put them there very often).

Can he Keep Producing Like This at 39?

There’s a reason that, through 95 years of NFL football, only one quarterback (Brett Favre) has topped 25 touchdowns beyond his 17th season. Legends aren’t immune to Father Time, and even the best are limited to some degree at this stage. And what’s really concerning fantasy players is the stretch run of Manning’s 2014, which was objectively bad:

Peyton Manning splits, 2014

Weeks 1 - 12

 

Week 13 – Playoffs

10

Games

6

39.6

Att/Gm

33.5

69.4%

Comp%

59.7%

8.45

Yd/Att

6.86

33:9

TD:INT

6:6

28.06

FanPt/Gm

12.73

It’s hard to know what to make of this, one of the most drastic second-half drop-offs we’ve ever seen from a fantasy superstar. But it’s also hard for me to assume that Manning’s age was the culprit. Age touches all things, for sure, but you rarely notice those changes from one week to the next. If Manning was excelling at 38.8, I assume he brings roughly the same skill set at 39.5.

I’m more inclined to blame the nasty quad tear he suffered in his plant leg in Week 15. That not only hampered his play – it also likely steered the team toward a much more run-heavy game plan down the stretch. In Week 1, Manning will be nearly nine months removed from the injury, but following his recovery through the offseason will be key. Thus far, no news has been good news; Manning has trained extensively this offseason and is reportedly fully healthy.

Positives

  • Blue-ribbon efficiency. Even during rough stretches, Manning still produces as much yardage and scoring as anyone. He’d likely threaten for QB1 numbers in just about any system or situation.
  • Red zone volume. No quarterback throws from the red zone as often – nor as productively – as Manning. The fact that he’s never out of the 35-40 touchdown range is a boost to both his ceiling and his floor.
  • A more-than-capable supporting cast. With Demaryius Thomas leading the way, Emmanuel Sanders becoming an elite slot option, and a solid group of tight ends and receiving backs in tow, Manning carries little concern when it comes to opportunity.

Negatives

  • Age. We’ve only seen one great fantasy season from a quarterback at this stage, and last year’s second-half stumble could be a harbinger of things to come.
  • Health. Manning’s recovery from last year’s quad injury should be monitored closely for signs of a setback.
  • He’s no longer a volume king. Even with a new playcaller on board, a Peyton Manning system is a Peyton Manning system. As a second coordinator on the field, he’ll likely remain largely in control of his own passing volume. But given his age and Kubiak’s presence, it would be naïve to expect another run at 600 attempts.

Projections

StafferGCmpAttPassYdPassTDIntRushRushYdRushTDFumL
Justin Howe 16 387 586 4666 31 13 23 -11 0 3
Maurile Tremblay 16 371 574 4510 32 16 35 13 1 1
David Dodds 16 368 557 4390 35 14 28 -20 0 2
Jason Wood 16 365 580 4525 33 13 25 40 1 2
Bob Henry 16 369 560 4390 33 13 21 5 0 3

Final Thoughts

Manning is slipping back into the next tier of QB1 options, but he might carry the best realistic upside of all of them. Considering his monstrous age-37 and and-38 seasons, I’m not inclined to expect some mythical free-fall at 39 – more of a natural scaling back. His 600-attempt seasons are likely done, but his top-five ceiling is not, as long as his touchdown production remains world-class. Armed with unmatched red zone opportunity a bevy of attractive targets, Manning seems as likely as anyone to close the year #3 among fantasy quarterbacks.

While Manning’s positional ADP should high, however, his overall one shouldn’t be especially so. He’s now entrenched in a tier of very closely projected guys, and while he maintains a top-notch ceiling, his floor is somewhere in the midst of the next 5-7 quarterbacks on your board. He’s no longer the ultra-safe, ultra-productive juggernaut you once chased in the first few rounds. Feel free to make him the third or fourth quarterback off the board, but don’t burn a premium pick here. His current ADP sits at 4.09; if you’re set on targeting a bonafide QB1, you’re better off looking at Cam Newton or Tony Romo 3-4 rounds later.


Thoughts From Around the Web

Pro Football Focus’ Ngandu Kasuku echoes these sentiments, that Manning is crammed amongst a crowded tier of QB1s but could overachieve as well as anyone:

“As it currently stands, Manning is the third quarterback coming off the board. Our staff has ranked Manning sixth. Given his age, and his regression last year (39 touchdowns compared to 55 in 2013), Manning’s best days as a quarterback are behind him. Still, his weapons (assuming Demaryius Thomas eventually shows up to camp), his accuracy (73 percent completion rate on passes aimed), and track record (second-most touchdowns in the league last year) make his draft price plausible.”

RotoViz’s Justin Winn is excited about owning Manning this year – thanks to the (relatively) discounted price tag after his 2014 swoon:

“I couldn’t be happier about [Manning’s late-year faceplant]. Last season Manning was consistently being drafted in the 1st or 2nd round, too rich for my blood. I had zero exposure to Manning last season. But that’s all going to change this season.”

But Andy Richardson of Fantasy Football Index is skeptical:

“Taken all together, it's reasonable to think Manning won't be as good in his age 39 season, and Denver's passing game won't be as good. He's not going to be traded, but he's not going to be the kind of dominant quarterback he was in 2013 and the first half of 2014 either.

He'll probably slip a little in drafts, and if he falls too far it becomes difficult to pass him up. But the second half of last season Manning might be closer to what you get than the Hall of Famer. Think Brett Favre in 2010 rather than 2009. Not a player you want to take too early.”