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Spotlight: Eli Manning

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 13th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Eli Manning has been the league's best consolation prize for years. Every year, he's never one of the quarterbacks talked about as elite - nor is he ever mentioned as possible sleeper breakout candidate. But he's not reviled either. He's one of those guys who fantasy owners never actively target on draft day, but if you end up with him, it's not going to hurt you.

At the start of his career, Manning was a glorified game manager. The Giants wanted to win games by playing aggressive defense, controlling the clock, running the ball, and letting Manning occasionally take shots downfield off play action. It's funny how first impressions can linger even when there's a bulk of evidence to the contrary. I still come across fantasy managers who think of Manning as a game manager, and yet, his stats tell a much different story:

Year G GS Cmp% Yds TD Int FPTs QBRank
2004 9 7 48.2 1043 6 9 63 36
2005 16 16 52.8 3762 24 17 274 5
2006 16 16 57.7 3244 24 18 240 10
2007 16 16 56.1 3336 23 20 244 13
2008 16 16 60.3 3238 21 10 243 13
2009 16 16 62.3 4021 27 14 301 10
2010 16 16 62.9 4002 31 25 303 9

Manning has put up back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons and thrown 58 touchdowns over that span. Those are hardly the numbers of a "game manager." As importantly, take a look at his fantasy ranking year to year. Since becoming a full-time starter six years ago, Manning has never been worse than QB13, and has been a top 10 fantasy QB in each of the last two seasons. Yet, in every single year you could've drafted Manning later than his year-end ranking. THAT, is the very definition of value.

2011 Poses New Challenges
Had I written this Spotlight in early June, I would've continued driving home the point that Manning is a perennial QB1 that costs QB2 prices, and articulated how he was yet again set up to deliver value as your backup or more likely as part of your QB tandem. But the Giants have had one of the most disappointing offseasons in the NFC.

  • Shaun O'Hara was released - O'Hara has been Manning's starting center for most of his career. We can't underestimate the value of a trusted center, particularly when it comes to the center-QB handoff
  • Rich Seubert was released - Seubert, like O'Hara, has been a fixture on the Giants line for much of Manning's tenure
  • Steve Smith signed with the Eagles - The Giants dragged their feet with Smith - who is recovering from microfracture surgery - and lost him to the Eagles. No matter what the NY media may be saying, there's no question the Giants (and Manning) did NOT want to lose this precise route-running, 80 to 90 catch dynamo
  • Kevin Boss signed with the Raiders - Boss wanted to stay in New York, but the Giants weren't in a hurry to give him a new deal, and the Raiders surprised with a 4-year, $16mm deal. Now the Giants are scrambling to find a suitable replacement, behind the inconsistent Travis Beckum and Bear "converted fullback" Pascoe

Any time a quarterback loses a reliable target - it's a concern. Now Manning has lost two of his favorites, AND the offensive line has been shuffled. None of these moves are insurmountable - far from it, but they are troubling and certainly don't point to much chance of IMPROVED play in 2011.

The Cupboard Isn't Bare
Manning will have to adjust, but he still has an enviable cast surrounding him.

Offensive Line - Chris Snee, David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie remain, and 3rd year William Beatty has impressed the coaching staff enough to replaced Diehl at left tackle. Finally, the addition of David Baas (from San Francisco) is actually an upgrade over O'Hara.

Hakeem Nicks & Mario Manningham - Nicks was last year's breakout star (79 receptions for 1,052 yards and 11 TDs in 13 games) while Manningham flourished in a starting role (60 receptions for 944 yards and 9 TDs). Not many NFL QBs can lay claim to two Top 20 fantasy receivers, yet Manning does. On top of that, Domenik Hixon, Victor Cruz and J. Jernigan are enviable backups who have looked quite competent in training camp.

Ahmad Bradshaw & Brandon Jacobs - A good running game is a quarterback's best friend - and Giants were lucky to retain Ahmad Bradshaw's services with a new 4-year contract. Bradshaw and Jacobs had strong years in 2010, are healthy, and should provide a powerfully effective 1-2 punch. They'll keep the defenses guessing, and make Manning's play action passes work to perfection.

Beware the Gunslinging
The increased yardage, completion rate and TD% are great - but they've come at a cost. Manning now takes chances downfield, and sometimes they're ill advised. Last year he led the league with 25 interceptions. Sadly, that's not the first time he led the league in picks (he threw a league-worst 20 in 2007).

Rank First Last TDs INTs +/-
1 Brett Favre 132 110 22
2 Eli Manning 150 104 46
3 Drew Brees 179 94 85
4 Carson Palmer 136 82 54
5 Matt Hasselbeck 104 80 24
6 Jay Cutler 104 79 25
7 Peyton Manning 183 78 105
8 Ben Roethlisberger 127 75 52
9 Jake Delhomme 74 65 9
10 Tony Romo 118 62 56

In his six years as a full-time starter, Manning trails only Brett Favre in interceptions. While that hasn't really hurt his fantasy value (most leagues don't penalize INTs all that much), it does pose a risk, as it means fewer sustained drives, fewer scoring opportunities, and the potential ire of his coaches. My concern this year is that Manning will feel compelled to force throws, even more than usual, because he won't trust some of his new receiving corps as much as he did Smith and Boss.

Positives

  • Manning has turned into a 60% passer, with back to back 4,000 yard seasons with an average of 28 TDs
  • Manning has never finished worse than QB13, and has been a top 10 fantasy QB in each of the last two seasons -- but NEVER gets drafted that highly
  • The Giants return not one, but two top 20 fantasy receivers -- Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham

Negatives

  • Manning has been a turnover machine, throwing more interceptions than any active QB over his career
  • Steve Smith and Kevin Boss -- two of Manning's favorite targets -- have left for greener pastures
  • The Giants are reshuffling their offensive line, after years of continuity

Final thoughts

Eli Manning has always been the guy fantasy owners don't want to draft, but never end up regretting their decision when the season's over. Once a game manager, he's earned a much larger role and has become a top 10 fantasy QB in back-to-back seasons, as a result. With two stellar wide receivers, a strong ground game, and an offensive line that might be better with the new personnel, he could easily put up another Top 10 season -- yet his ADP is, predictably, far lower. The only caveat is that I fully expect Manning to be among the league leaders in turnovers again, as he will feel compelled to force throws sometimes. As long as your league doesn't penalize more than -1 per interception, he once again represents rock solid value as one of the THE top fantasy backups -- who can be had several rounds later than his skill set warrants.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

rzrback77 said:

Eli Manning is another of the first overall NFL pick QBs. He is not one of the upper tier drafted QBs, but his numbers year to year are very consistent.

He has not missed a single start in his last six seasons so he is a guy that you can count on being there for your team. He has solid WRs, including Nicks, Manningham, Steve Smith, Bradshaw, and rookie Jerrel Jernigan drafted in the 3rd round.

He is not usually drafted high, but he has finished as QB 5, 11, 14, 13, 10, and 10 over those same six seasons. For the past two years, he has completed over 62% of his attempts and has averaged 7.66 ypa and 29 TDs per year. Eli Manning is a very safe QB that you can wait on and take rather late. Especially in smaller leagues and those that do not feature high QB scoring, he is a great selection.

Zdravko said:

Eli is my #1 value play at QB. Outside the elite 6-7 QBs, he is the safest bet for 4000 yards. As Jason says, the floor is solid and very high. As for the ceiling...how surprised would you be if Eli finished top-5?

One thing that bothers me is if Steve Smith misses time / doesn't recover / doesn't return, and Eli has to throw mostly to Nicks and Manningham. It's redonkeylous how careless those two are when it comes to preventing INTs.

5-ish Finkle said:

Manning's a "boring" QB1, but he's about as bankable as anyone of late and is an excellent bet to finish no worse than 10th in QB scoring in most formats....but you can often times get him as the 12th+ QB off the board.

The Giant offense is built to throw(or at least built to be "balanced and not afraid to throw at any point in time of any game if they feel like it") and with the # of quality targets he has, including Bradshaw out of the backfield, Eli's almost a mortal lock for near 4,000 yards and at least 25 TDs. INTs will vary year to year, but they will likely be high-ish. If you can live with a year where he chucks nearly as many picks as TDs, which is always possible with Eli, there are few "safer" bets if you're waiting on a QB.

He's durable, he's been in that offense for a while now, he's not that old, and he has quality receiving targets at WR and RB. If the Giants could ever find a passable pass-receiving TE he'd probably even be able to cut down on the interceptions some, since he'd have another quality outlet target.

FF Ninja said:

I suppose not many people want to write about Eli because the best thing about him is his durability. He's being drafted as QB12, which is just about right given his top 10 finishes the last two years have more to do with his 16 games played than his ppg numbers. If you find yourself as the last guy to take a QB in a 12-team league, he is the perfect guy to pair with an upside QB (like Cutler, imo). If the other guy craps out on you, you've still got a guy good for at least 3800/25 to plug in on a weekly basis.

It is possible that the Giants shift to the ground game somewhat in 2011 (Eli was 8th in attempts last year), but I'd be shocked to see Eli pass the ball less than 500 times. Given the emergence of Nicks and Manningham and the possibility of Steven Smith returning, I'd say things are looking good for Manning to come pretty close to his 4000 yds and 27+ TD pace he's been on the last two years. If Bradshaw departs then Manning could see a bump in his attempts rather than a slight dip.


Eli Manning projections

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Jason Wood31552537302419651
Message board consensus33252139982916451