The New York Giants have not even fully celebrated winning the Super Bowl yet, but fantasy football owners are already setting up their 2012 draft lists.
So where does Eli Manning—now the best Manning in fantasy football, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, the face of the Giants franchise, the poster boy of the fourth-quarter comeback—get slotted on cheat sheets?
I have Manning down as the sixth-best fantasy quarterback heading into next season. Here are the five signal-callers I have rated ahead of him and the reasons why:
You think Manning will ever have a 45-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio like Rodgers had in 2011? Me neither. And Rodgers will throw for more touchdowns, run for more yards and rack up more Discount Double Checks, too.
Manning does not have the benefit of playing half his games inside the most pass-perfect dome in the world and in such a pass-happy offense like Brees does. Brees is coming off a year where he set the NFL record for passing yards in a season, and he also tossed a league-best 46 touchdowns.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Manning has more mobility than a slug, but he is a turtle compared to Newton’s greyhound. Newton scrambled for more than 700 yards during his rookie campaign. Manning has run for 365 yards over his entire eight-year career. And Newton’s passing numbers will only improve.
The difference between Brady and Manning is that Brady can throw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns no matter who is part of his receiving corps. Manning only started putting up monster fantasy stats when Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz came to town.
Stafford threw for an ungodly 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns this past season. Manning has never thrown for 5,000 yards or more than 31 touchdowns, let alone 41. Plus, Stafford is still a baby and has more upside than Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf’s kids.
Then you have the running backs that should be taken ahead of Manning. Philly’s LeSean McCoy, Houston’s Arian Foster, Baltimore’s Ray Rice, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson definitely deserve higher rankings on fantasy draft boards.
Cases can also be made for other runners such as Chicago’s Matt Forte, St. Louis’ Steven Jackson and San Diego’s Ryan Mathews, not to mention Detroit wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, depending on the rules of your league.
To muddy the field even more, I could make a valid argument that you should allow an overzealous Giants fan to select Manning a couple picks too early and then take San Diego’s Philip Rivers or Dallas’ Tony Romo and get similar stats out of your QB for a lesser draft choice.
Here are the fantasy pros and cons of Manning heading into the 2012 campaign:
Manning’s receivers: The duo of Cruz and Nicks is arguably the best receiving pair in the NFL. Manning can throw a five-yard slant to one of these guys and it can be turned into a 99-yard touchdown faster than you say “Jon Gruden is pumped up.” Cruz and Nicks’ yards after the catch help tack points onto Manning’s fantasy value.
Manning’s prime: Manning just turned 31 and is obviously playing the best ball of his career. He has stopped throwing as many ill-advised passes that turn into fantasy-minus interceptions, he is throwing the ball better downfield than ever before, and he has learned how to throw more accurately, especially in bad weather.
Manning had the best fantasy season of his career this year. With his fantasy worth at an all-time high and with his marked improvement, who is to say he cannot throw for 5,000 yards and 35 touchdowns for the first time in his life in 2012?
Durability: Manning is the Martin Brodeur of football. The guy has suited up every weekend for seven straight seasons. He has not suffered a major injury and is not the major risk other marquee quarterbacks are.
Winter weather: It is just common sense that it is easier to throw inside a dome or on a warm, sunny day than it is in cold, windy, wintry conditions. And although Manning is faring better during the months of November and December than he has in the past, Mother Nature will always cost him a couple hundred yards and some scores.
Lack of rushing yards: Manning moves as gingerly as Madonna did during her halftime show. He has no Michael Vick-like scrambling ability and is lucky if he runs for 10 yards in a single game.
Manning’s numbers: As great as Manning is, can you believe he has thrown 30 touchdown passes only one time in his career, and he has never thrown for 35? And before 2011 he had never had a 4,100-yard season. So it is hard to put him ahead of the fantasy elite at quarterback when guys like Brees and Brady stick these numbers up annually.
Manning is between a late first-round and early second-round pick in most fantasy leagues. If you are in a 16-team league, he is a first-rounder. If you are in a 12-team league, he probably would last until the top part of the second round, although the scoring system and whether the league is year-to-year or a dynasty league will come into play as well.
One thing is for sure: This Super Bowl hero will not be a fantasy zero.