The NFP’s “Pick your Poison” fantasy series resumes today with the spotlight on the quarterback position.
We’ve got a heavyweight matchup in store for you on this fine Wednesday, as the up-and-coming Aaron Rodgers takes on future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Some of you may have already made up your minds after reading the story’s title, but I assure you, this matchup is a lot closer than people think.
The case for Manning
One of the most accomplished fantasy football quarterbacks of all time, Manning enters his 12th season in the NFL with a very impressive résumé.
The Colts' signal caller has thrown for 4,000-plus yards in nine of his 11 professional seasons, has tossed 27 or more touchdowns seven consecutive years, and has attempted 515 or more passes nine times since turning pro.
In addition, Manning is exceptional at avoiding mistakes. He’s thrown more than 12 interceptions only one time in the past six years and boasts a 94.7 career passer rating.
Manning’s got a multitude of weapons at his disposal, including Pro Bowlers Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, not to mention up-and-coming wideout Anthony Gonzalez. The Indy backfield has two capable rushers in Joseph Addai and rookie dual threat Donald Brown.
The Colts are going to come out slinging again this season, meaning Manning should finish his 2009 campaign at the top of the charts one more time.
The case against Manning
It’s not easy trying to find flaws in one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least try.
The big question in Indianapolis is, how will the Colts fare now that head coach Tony Dungy has retired? Longtime assistant Jim Caldwell takes over the team, and with him come some new ideas and philosophies.
Keep in mind that Manning‘s favorite target, Marvin Harrison, is no longer with the team, and while Peyton is certainly used to playing without Marvelous Marvin because of injuries he battled over the past few years, this will be the first true season Reggie Wayne will go 16 games as the Colts’ No. 1 wideout.
In addition, Manning is currently being selected in the third round (at the latest) of almost every fantasy mock draft I’ve participated in. Sure, you can pull the trigger on Manning by the third and land one of the game's top fantasy quarterbacks, but could you find better value elsewhere? That question leads us to...
The case for Rodgers
The strategy in Green Bay paid off, as the Packers selected Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, sat him behind Brett Favre for three seasons, and then unleashed him on the NFL—with outstanding results.
Rodgers came onto the scene in a big way last season, finishing his first year as an NFL starter ranked No. 2 among fantasy quarterbacks in standard scoring formats. The former California Golden Bear threw for an impressive 4,038 yards (fourth in the NFL) and 28 touchdowns (also fourth).
Rodgers has an impressive lineup of talent surrounding him on offense this season with wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver as well as running back Ryan Grant.
What could be a big benefit to the fifth-year pro is the new defensive scheme the Packers are implementing this season.
Green Bay hired defensive coordinator Dom Capers this offseason and is making the switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. This type of change generally takes some time to implement, meaning the Packers could struggle trying to slow down their opponents, opening the door for Rodgers and the offense to keep their foot on the gas for four quarters.
In addition, NFP writer Michael Lombardi is always preaching that quarterbacks entering their second year as NFL starters almost always tend to take a big step forward. For a guy who threw for more than 4,000 yards in 2008, that could mean big things for fantasy owners in 2009.
Keep in mind, fantasy owners are targeting Rodgers somewhere between the end of the third round and the end of the fourth. With the numbers he’s capable of putting up in 2009, wouldn’t you rather wait an extra round (instead of drafting Manning) and find the same production for a better price?
The case against Rodgers
He has to get better at closing out games in the second half. Check out Rodgers’ production in the first half of games vs. the second half in 2008:
Touchdowns Interceptions Completion % QB Rating Sacks
First Half 16 5 66.5% 100.5 15
Second Half 12 8 60.7% 87.0 19
I know I don’t need to explain this to Packer Nation. They watched it firsthand last season.
The key to keep in mind when considering Rodgers over Manning in this debate is whether you are prepared to spend a relatively high draft pick on one year of success in the NFL.
Fantasy owners pay a premium for a quarterback like Peyton Manning because he has proven over the course of his career that he is reliable and consistent. 4,000-plus yards and 27-plus touchdowns are pretty much a lock.
But with Rodgers, owners are now being asked to invest a fourth round (or sometimes higher) draft pick on a quarterback who has only produced one noteworthy NFL season.
Is it worth it?
The potential deal breaker
Manning has the luxury of playing 11 games indoors this season. Yes, Lucas Oil Stadium, as well as some other NFL stadiums (Arizona, Houston), has a retractable roof, but it will only be open if the weather is nice.
Unfortunately, Aaron Rodgers won’t be so lucky. The Packers play 11 games outdoors. To make matters worse, Green Bay will play four of its final five games possibly in inclement weather (two in Green Bay, at Chicago, at Baltimore).
The fantasy playoff schedule
The Colts’ final four games: Denver, at Jacksonville, New York (Jets), at Buffalo
The Packers’ final four games: at Chicago, at Pittsburgh, Seattle, at Arizona
The Tipper’s take
I don’t care what the schedule says; I’m taking Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay quarterback averaged 260.6 yards passing with six touchdowns and three interceptions in three late-season outdoor games last year.
No disrespect intended toward Manning, but I like the fact I could possibly land a better QB option one round later by drafting Rodgers rather than pulling the trigger on Manning in the third or before.
Let’s hear it, NFP Nation. Who ya got?
Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh