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Spotlight: Peyton Manning

posted by Mike Brown on Jul 29th


Mike Brown's thoughts

Unless you've been living under a rock, you no doubt know most of the details of the Peyton Manning saga this offseason. One of the league's all-time legends joined the horses of a different color, moving from the Colts to the Broncos which began a chain reaction of events that led to two and possibly three teams going into 2012 with new passers under center.

For those who were in fact under a rock, a brief synopsis perhaps is in order. The first thirteen seasons of Manning's career went off without a hitch. He never missed a game, rarely even showing up on any injury reports, and put up numbers that made him arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation - perhaps even of all-time. Then last spring and summer, word got out about a "procedure" Manning had on his neck. Then another. And another. When it was all said and done, it was reported that Manning had had 518 neck surgeries over a span of six months. Ok, so it wasn't really THAT many surgeries. But still - it was enough to give plenty of people pause and wonder what was up.

As it turned out, the surgeries were very delicate and very serious - serious enough to cause Manning to miss not only one game, but all sixteen. Throughout the 2011 season, there were rumors to deal with: was Manning finished? Would he ever regain arm strength? Why isn't he being put on injured reserve? Is he coming back this season? Could the Colts trade him? In his absence, Indianapolis staggered to the worst record in football. As luck would have it (no pun intended), this year saw one of the best quarterback prospects of this or any generation come out of college in Andrew Luck. The fact that Luck was staring the Colts in the face created a situation that needed to be resolved. Indianapolis opted to part ways with Manning, who ultimately decided to joint he Broncos after the biggest dog and pony show in NFL free agent history.

Denver won the AFC West division title last season largely on the strength of a solid defense and the timely late game heroics of the offense. Quarterback Tim Tebow garnered much of the praise for leading numerous fourth quarter comebacks, and even helped pull off a playoff victory against the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers. However, players of Peyton Manning's caliber just don't come along very frequently. That, combined with the assumption that Denver's front office wasn't entirely sold on Tebow, made it a no-brainer for the Broncos brain trust to replace Tebow with Manning. The Colts unloaded Manning, which freed them up to draft Luck and start him immediately. The Broncos upgraded from Tebow to Manning. Tebow was dealt to the New York Jets, where he will compete with Mark Sanchez for the starting role.

In the midst of these whirlwind events, a lot of people have focused on the fact that Denver was already a playoff team with Tebow. Adding Manning should surely push them over the top from "solid playoff team" to "Super Bowl contender", right? Not so fast. As mentioned, Manning's neck has undergone a lot of trauma over the past twelve months, none of which actually came from people trying to hurt him. We don't know how he will respond once he's out on the field and taking hits. Furthermore, the Chiefs, Raiders, and Chargers will all have something to say about the AFC Divisional race this year. All three teams appear improved from the 2011 versions. And lastly, let's not forget that Manning is now 36 years old and would likely be in the decline phase of his career even without the injuries.

All that isn't meant to say he'll be a bust; just that we should analyze this situation for what it is: let's disregard that his name is Peyton Manning for a minute. Now he is a veteran quarterback who didn't play a snap last year due to injury, going to a new and mostly unfamiliar team to learn a new system at the age of 36.

Positives

  • The cupboard is far from bare in Denver. While the Broncos receivers didn't look like world-beaters with Tim Tebow under center, the fact is that both Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are very talented players and should help ease Manning into his new situation
  • While it may not result in prolific passing numbers, the Denver offense is likely to be more balanced than what Manning had in Indianapolis. The days of 680 pass attempts (as Manning did in his final season in Indy) are gone. That will mean fewer drop-backs, which means fewer opportunities for reinjury
  • Just about every report from minicamp and early training camp was a positive one surrounding Manning's return. His passes had good velocity with trademark Manning accuracy, and every story about the rapport he was building with his new teammates was glowing

Negatives

  • Very little is known about how Manning will respond to being hit. It could be the 100th hit of the season, it could be the first hit of the season. It could be none of them. But there will come a time when Manning gets hit and the neck is going to hurt; the obvious question mark is how well his body responds to that pain that will determine how successful this comeback will be
  • He's never been a "gunslinger" so to speak in the Brett Favre sense, as his results have mostly been the product of accuracy and efficiency. Still, most of the reports this offseason are that his arm strength is down a bit (albeit slightly)
  • In Manning's most recent healthy season of 2010, his numbers weren't particularly impressive. His 6.9 YPA was the lowest since his rookie season, and while he did throw 33 touchdowns (same as in 2009), it took him 109 MORE passes to get there in 2010

Final thoughts

Assuming Manning remains relatively healthy for 15-16 games, there's no reason why he shouldn't put up stats worthy of being a fantasy starter. The problem I have is that his name is Peyton Manning, and that will inflate his value on draft day - especially if he doesn't experience any setbacks between now and your draft.

There's usually that one guy in every league who is going to want to treat Manning like some sort of sleeper and take him a round or two too early just so he can look like a genius if/when Manning posts his first 300-yard game. "OH MAN I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU GUYS LEFT HIM FOR ME IN THE FIFTH ROUND!" Meanwhile, there's even more upside in a risky guy like Michael Vick or a ton of safe quarterback value to be had in the mid-later rounds this season (both of which are better options in my opinion). Manning is on a draft level that I simply wouldn't touch. Either reach for the stud quarterback early and secure yourself a guarantee of points, or sit tight and wait for value to emerge down the line in guys like Matt Ryan. But don't go out and spend a moderately high pick on a guy who might be broken.

And let's assume a best-case scenario. Let's assume Manning does play all sixteen games. What kind of numbers are we looking at? As mentioned above, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are solid - but they aren't as talented as Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. And yet even with those Indy guys and a passing philosophy that allowed him to throw on nearly every down, Manning struggled in his last go-round. Now two years older and a lot more brittle, I have a tough time seeing exactly how he's going to go out there and light it up with a worse supporting cast, more injuries, age, and the coaching philosophy all working against his attempts at ever putting up eye-popping numbers again.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Jason Wood (Footballguys.com Senior Writer) said:

Manning is coming off a missed season and arguably the most significant free agent tour in history. He ended up choosing the Broncos, which had ripple effects as it also meant the end of "Tebow Time." One has to presume that the Broncos wouldn't have committed to Manning if their doctors didn't feel strongly that Manning could be healthy, and if that's the case, it all comes down to comfort.

Normally I would question an aging veteran moving teams and wonder if there would be an adjustment period. But Manning isn't normal. Let's remember that Manning was highly productive as a rookie starter, and then evolved into the game's best for a decade. If he's healthy -- and I'm going to assume he is -- why shouldn't we expect a complete return to form? His offensive line projects to be as good as many of the lines patched together in Indy. His receiving corps, while lacking a Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne, is certainly equipped with guys that are at or better than the level of players such as Brandon Stokley (in his prime) and Pierre Garcon; so there's no reason to think he won't have weapons to throw to who will make plays.

My only concern, and it's one that most will discount, is the change of venue from a weather perspective. Manning has played the preponderance of his career indoors in or temperate weather, and now he'll contend with not only the cold outdoor confines of Denver but also the high altitude. Is that a reason to pass on him? No, not when we've seen the likes of Jake Plummer and Brian Griese be fantasy relevant, and someone like John Elway be a star. But, I do think you can comfortably expect Manning to throw a few more interceptions than we're used to, to go along with the other stats that comfortably put him into the QB1 category.

Raiderfan32904 said:

If you take Peyton Manning this year, you are a riverboat gambler and it may be a very rich reward. He could go at the end of the QB1 run of quarterbacks and paired with a low risk QB2 like Josh Freeman. I can definitely see the value if he slips that far in drafts. I expect the Peyton hype machine to be full throttle in the pre-season and into the regular season. The networks will be pushing the "Peyton returns" angle down our throats any chance they get.

The offensive line is adequate, nothing spectacular but good enough to allow Peyton to make his quick read and fire. The arm seems fine and all reports are he's looking a lot like the Peyton of old. He has some nice weapons in D. Thomas, E. Decker & B. Stokely and some new additions at TE in J. Tamme and J. Dreessen. The running game will be a complementary piece to the aerial attack and that is just as well as the running backs are marginal quality anyway.

It appears the 2012 Broncos are putting all their eggs in the Peyton Manning basket. It is the Achilles heel of this team and other teams will be gunning to put Peyton in the dirt for sure. The storyline that everyone is waiting on centers around the question: Can Peyton take the hard hits and will he bounce back up after a crushing sack that is inevitable. No player will be treated like he's walking on eggshells quite like preseason and early season Peyton. If he can take the punishment, he's going to have a decent year. But that assumes he can stay healthy.

I think at 36 and almost two years removed from competitive action, he's a very risky player both in fantasy and for the Denver Broncos organization.

TheDirtyWord said:

A lot of unknowns and conjecture here that time could at least help shed additional light on. But Manning and the Broncos offense as a whole has the potential to be the biggest swing factor in FF 2012. What had always been appealing about making Manning an early round choice though prior to 2011 was his consistency. For the most part, anyone who drafted Peyton Manning in the 21st century got their money's worth. But what's striking about looking at his career now is that his numbers look a little anemic now compared to some of the numbers now being put up by the Brees', Stafford's, Rodgers' and even Brady's of the NFL...they're not bad by any means, but they hardly seem exceptional when looked through the lens of 2012 expectations. In his last 3 seasons, his YPA was 7.2. That's Matt Ryan territory.

Is a healthy Peyton Manning in 2012 capable of being a top tier QB? I mean let's say instead of missing the 2011 season, Peyton Manning had another 575 attempt season where he threw for 4300/30? Would that get him 2nd-3rd round consideration?

There are wild-cards galore with Manning and a slew of 'ifs'.

- If he's 100% healthy...
- If he can click with his new team and new offensive structure...
- If he can deal with playing home games in less than ideal weather conditions come November/December...
- If he can turn Thomas/Decker/Tamme into a reasonable fascimile of Harrison/Wayne/Clark...

...and the thing that I worry about is that with all of these if's and wild-cards, you have to ask yourself the questions "What's the upside? What's the downside?".

There is no doubt Denver is a much better team with Peyton Manning. But he can be incredibly good for the Broncos without necessarily being incredibly good in fantasy. Right now Manning is going QB7 (middle of the 5th round; 5.06). The following 4 QB's being drafted over the next 2 rounds are Eli, Romo, Rivers, Ryan. Ryan is going 7.09. Ryan's 'if's' seem much more managable and in fact, his 'if's', seem to be of the more positive variety (if he can click better with Julio Jones). So what am I getting in terms of value with Manning in the 5th round? Where is my upside?

If I had to bet, Manning will be a serviceable starting QB in FF this year. But QB7 and QB11 are different continents in terms of draft strategy and IMO, given the uncertainty of his situation, there appear to be better bets on the board that won't cost you as much.

David Yudkin (Footballguys.com Staff Writer) said:

- In 10 years as a head coach, the teams he's coached have averaged 474 passing attempts and 476 rushing attempts per year. He's had 3 teams with 500+ passing attempts and 4 teams with 500+ rushing attempts. On the surface, it appears that his teams run and pass equally. I will certainly concede that at no point did he ever have a QB in the class of Manning, but at least this is a loose baseline to start from.

- I think a lot of people are ignoring the fact that Manning has had multiple surgeries and missed an entire season of football. Maybe he will bounce right back and not miss a beat, but I would expect his numbers to drop off some given the layoff, his health, his age, playing on a new team, playing on grass and outdoors, etc. Who knows if the patched together Manning could endure 37-38 passing attempts every week?

- I would not be shocked if Manning did not play all 16 games, so that obviously would reduce his number of attempts. I don't know a realistic projection in terms of how many offensive plays the Broncos will run, but if their total is 950 (as would be the baseline), IMO 600+ passing attemtps to 350 rushing attempts seems a bit askew.

- If Manning is the old Manning, he may not need 600 attempts to hae a great season. However, his 2010 season was great fantasy wise, but that was based on volume not quality. His YPA, passer rating, TD% numbers, etc. were lower than they had been in years.

- Using 2010 as a guide, let's say Manning performs at the same rates in terms of completions, TD%, INT%, YPA, etc. but scale down his attempts to say 550 (which is a more realistic number to use in my book). That would leave Manning at 3807/26/13 on the season. 550 attempts would be the most attempts for a Fox coached team (and Manning ).

One would think Denver would refrain from running Manning if at all possible, as I am pretty sure they would rather have him fall down than take a hit and it would seem odd if he ran any sneaks. Basically, I would not expect much in terms of fantasy production from rushing. Off the top, I would guess that would rank him as a low end QB1 depending upon how crazy the QB scoring is this year. Of course, if he aired it out all game, performed at a high level, and played in 16 games he would rank higher.

5-ish Finkle said:

I'm guessing that missing last season doesn't have as much to do with those predicting the possibility of <16 games started as why he missed it does. That "injury that is 100% healed" that he had is no joke, and to deem him "cured" is whistling past the graveyard, at least a bit, in my mind.

Expecting '12 Manning to be '10 Manning isn't something I'm interested in. Not at this point, anyway. 13 seasons without missing a game is great, no question. Now, how many of those seasons was he coming back from multiple neck fusion procedures?

Yeah, we're all reading the relatively glowing camp reports about how Manning looks so far from Cecil, et al....but, unless I'm mistaken, he has yet to be hit since his most recent procedure, right?

I don't think a healthy Manning should necessarily be bet against, but until I see him survive some legitimate contact I don't think anyone who is predicting the possibility that he starts less than 16 games should be considered unreasonable either.

I honestly don't know where I'd be comfortable drafting him, or definitively what I'd project him for(haven't got the the Broncos yet). He's certainly not on my 'don't draft' list, but I am also not presently lathered up over the idea of having him as my QB1 over guys like Romo, Rivers or...dare I say it....Eli.


Peyton Manning projections

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