We need to talk about Eli.
There will long be debate about Eli Manning’s place among the greatest quarterbacks of all time. But that’s not the Eli-related conversation I want to have right now. (For the record, I consider the youngest Manning brother to be the greatest average quarterback in NFL history.)
No, the conversation we need to have is about whether an infusion of pass-catching talent will elevate Manning’s performance after his shaky 2016 campaign. If not, then Manning is obviously to be avoided in fantasy drafts, and you’ll probably want to stay away from most of his pass catchers, too – with one notable bleach-blond exception.
Among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts last season, Manning ranked 23rd in passer rating. His average of 6.7 yards per attempt was his lowest since 2007. He threw 16 interceptions, tying him with Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler for the fourth-highest total in the league. He ranked 25th in QB fantasy points per game.
In Manning’s defense, his offensive line was a sieve. Always diligent about unloading the ball when he’s under duress, Manning ate only 21 sacks last year, but the pressure was unrelenting. The Giants haven’t made any significant upgrades to their O-line, and it appears they’ll be starting the tackle tandem of Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart. Not good.
In this year’s draft, the Giants took only one offensive lineman, and they didn’t take him until the sixth round. They spent their first round pick on Evan Engram, a pass-catching tight end. The Giants also signed Brandon Marshall as a free agent, adding him to a group of wide receivers that already included Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. This is a potentially stellar group of pass catchers, but it’s fair to wonder just how useful all of this pass-catching firepower will be if Manning is constantly under duress, or if he’s simply missing on his throws.
I’m concerned that the 36-year-old Manning won’t be able to get back on track this season despite the upgraded weaponry. Had the Giants done more to address their offensive line, I might be more enthusiastic. Manning has an ADP of QB16, which is at least a couple of spots too high. Don’t be taken in by the name brand.
While there are reasons to be concerned about the Giants’ passing game, there’s little reason to worry about Odell Beckham Jr., who’s virtually uncoverable. OBJ has produced more than 90 receptions, more than 1,300 receiving yards and 10 or more TDs in each of his three seasons. His per-game averages over his first three seasons: 10.7 targets, 6.7 receptions, 95.9 yards, 0.8 TDs. Antonio Brown is the consensus No. 1 fantasy receiver, and you can make a good case for either Beckham or Julio Jones to be No. 2. I’ve oscillated on this but currently have Jones higher. Still, I’d be delighted to land Beckham with the fifth overall pick or later, even though the ankle injury he sustained in the Giants’ second preseason game supposedly leaves his Week 1 availability in jeopardy. (I have no doubt he’ll play.)
Brandon Marshall has had a superb career, with six 100-catch seasons, eight 1,000-yard receiving seasons and four seasons of double-digit touchdowns. I’m all for paying homage to the man; I’m just not going to do it in fantasy drafts. From 2007 through last season, Marshall averaged 156.3 targets a season. He won’t see anything close to that sort of target volume with Beckham around. And while bad quarterbacking obviously had a lot to do with a nightmarish 2016 season in which Marshall put up his worst overall numbers since his rookie year and had a catch rate of 46.1%, it’s fair to wonder if the 33-year-old Marshall is on the wane. He was excellent as recently as 2015, but Marshall is at the point of his career at which the drop-off can be abrupt. His ADP of WR24 is pure silliness. Let one of your rivals pay for nostalgia.
Sterling Shepard had a decent rookie season in 2016, catching 65 of 105 targets for 683 yards and eight touchdowns. But that TD count was a fluke, and now Shepard’s target and reception totals are in danger of shrinkage. As it was, Beckham was going to dominate targets for the Giants. Marshall is going to stake a claim, too, which might not leave much to spare. Shep is the sort of possession receiver who needs volume in order to be a useful fantasy asset, and he simply isn’t a good bet to get a lot of volume while sharing the ball with two potential Hall of Famers.
Evan Engram had 65 receptions for 926 yards and eight touchdowns in his final season at Ole Miss, then ran a 4.42 at the Scouting Combine and had the best vertical jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle among the tight end class. Engram is basically a wide receiver playing tight end, and he’ll probably be a top-10 fantasy TE two or three years from now. But it’s hard to see fantasy upside for this year when Engram faces so much target competition.
Paul Perkins appears to be the Giants’ lead back, but he’s a hard guy to peg. A fifth-round pick in last year’s draft from UCLA, Perkins shared time in the backfield with the now-departed Rashad Jennings and did very little until the final three games of the season, when he carried 47 times for 226 yards (4.8 YPC). Perkins saved his best for last, carrying 21 times for 101 yards against Washington to help knock the Giants’ divisional rivals out of a wild-card spot. But Perkins failed to score on any of his 127 rookie touches, and his longest run went for 22 yards.
An ADP of RB33 reflects the widespread uncertainty about Perkins’ outlook. I’m perplexed myself, but that’s a tempting price for a back who’s likely to start the season in a lead role. The Giants won’t use Perkins on most passing downs and might not use him at the goal line, but he should be worth his current price if he at least handles most of the early-down work.
Rookie fourth-rounder Wayne Gallman, the lead runner for the Clemson squad that won the national championship last season, is probably Perkins’ top challenger for early-down and goal-line work. Gallman is a willing banger who ran for 30 touchdowns in his final two years in school, so a goal-line role is a distinct possibility. But Gallman averaged an uninspiring 4.9 yards per carry for one of the best offenses in the country, and his chances of supplanting Perkins in the early-down role probably aren’t that good.
Shane Vereen figures to handle the passing-down role for as long as his body holds up. He’s been a useful PPR asset with both the Patriots and Giants, but he played only five games last year due to a triceps tear and has missed 33 games in six seasons.
One potential wild card (sorry to use that phrase again, Washington fans) in the RB picture is Orleans Darkwa, who’s had brief stints as a committee contributor in each of the last two seasons and brings some fairly impressive athletic attributes to the table. Darkwa is probably a lock to at least make the roster due to his special-teams prowess.
|Eli Manning||WR16||WR17||Take a powder|
|Paul Perkins||RB30||RB33||Only if price is right|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||WR3||WR3||Enjoy the show|
|Brandon Marshall||WR24||WR44||Time to move on|
|Sterling Shepard||WR58||WR63||Not worth it|