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A Tale of Two Quarterbacks
How Steve McNair and Peyton Manning became the top two fantasy quarterbacks this year
By Joe Levit
October 30, 2003
 

After eight weekends of frenetic fantasy action there is no doubt that Steve McNair and Peyton Manning are the top fantasy football quarterbacks of 2003. If you had asked anyone before the season to name the two stallions who would lead the herd and occupy these revered slots at this time, the odds are large that no one would have picked these two, even as a quinella. With Culpepper, McNabb and Vick holding all the hype, some people might have named Manning, but hardly anybody would have chosen McNair.

The fickle nature of fantasy football makes it interesting to figure out how these two players reached this pinnacle this season, and to compare the divergent paths they have taken to become a success in the NFL and for many fantasy owners.

Family Legacy

Steve McNair - Steve's older brother Fred has quarterbacked the Florida Bobcats in the Arena League. His brother's apparent prowess gives us an idea about Steve's overall athletic ability, but Steve has forged his way through the NFL without a roadmap.

Peyton Manning - Peyton has been groomed for the pros since day one. His father Archie, of course, manned the QB helm for the Saints from 1971-1982. Peyton has been able to cull what knowledge he can about professional football from a family member who not only played extensively in the NFL, but also at the same position. Peyton's younger brother Eli is becoming a well-known name in his own right, and should be a high pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.

Schooling

Steve McNair - McNair rewrote the record books at Division I-AA Alcorn State. He set every Braves game, season and career passing and total offense record. He is the only player in NCAA history to top 16,000 total yards of offense. Among that total is the yards he gained while scoring 33 rushing touchdowns. You can see that Steve was used to keeping the ball at the goal line even in college.

Peyton Manning - Manning was a four-year starter at Division I and SEC powerhouse Tennessee. Peyton set NCAA records for fewest season and career interception percentage. With 15 touchdowns to only five interceptions this year for the Colts, you can see he hasn't lost his touch. He ranked third in passing yards and fourth all-time with 89 touchdowns. And, he is the only Volunteer to have his jersey number retired.

Draft Selection

Steve McNair

1 Cincinnati Carter, Ki-Jana RB Penn State
2 Jacksonville Boselli, Tony T Southern California
3 Houston McNair, Steve QB Alcorn State
4 Washington Westbrook, Michael WR Colorado
5 Carolina Collins, Kerry QB Penn State

Steve was the first quarterback taken in a relatively weak class. Kerry Collins is the only other QB of note from the class if you ignore journeymen Kordell Stewart and Rob Johnson. Who knows how Ki-Jana Carter would have done if he hadn't blown out his knee right away. The fact that Carter still scores touchdowns on NFL teams today when he gets the carries is a testament to his talent. Tony Boselli was the only other man drafted ahead of Steve overall, and he had a standout career until recent shoulder problems sidelined him.

Peyton Manning

1 Indianapolis Manning, Peyton QB Tennessee
2 San Diego Leaf, Ryan QB Washington State
3 Arizona Wadsworth, Andre DE Florida State
4 Oakland Woodson, Charles CB Michigan
5 Chicago Enis, Curtis RB Penn State

Peyton was part of the intrigue surrounding the #1 pick of the draft. There were many teams and fans that felt Ryan Leaf was the better player. Leaf never did turn over a new side of himself in the NFL though, and proved for the Colts rather quickly that they made a smart decision selecting Peyton. Of the top five players in this draft, two more - Wadsworth and Enis - have also turned out as complete busts.

Surrounding Talent

Steve McNair - Steve has had the benefit of working for a large part of his career with a talented running back. In his prime, Eddie George demanded eight men in the box to slow down his running game. Still, Steve hasn't had riches at the wideout position, unless you consider Derrick Mason a star receiver. Kevin Dyson got hurt right when he was on the cusp of being a contender. Frank Wycheck has been a nice check-off option. This year has been better for McNair, as rookie

Tyrone Calico has teamed with Justin McCareins and Drew Bennett to provide a few decent places for McNair to place the pigskin.

Peyton Manning - When you have played with two superstar backs, count yourself a lucky NFL signal caller. Manning handed off to Marshall Faulk in his rookie season, and then inherited Edgerrin James for a couple of wonderful seasons. Add to that a superstar receiver in Harrison to grow with, and Manning has had it pretty good, and that doesn't even include Marcus Pollard, who was a good target for a few years at tight end. This year Manning has even more to work with. Reggie Wayne has become a viable second receiving option, and rookie TE Dallas Clark is going to develop into a big receiving threat.

Support System

Steve McNair - Steve has had the benefit of playing under a stable regime for the Titans. Head

coach Jeff Fisher has won more games than any other coach in the last four seasons, and has been retained longer than any head coach except Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher. McNair and Fisher have truly made their careers together, and Fisher chose to bring along McNair slowly, having him learn from some starters before playing himself.

Peyton Manning - Manning came in under Jim Mora, a soft-spoken coach who nevertheless won a number of games in his career. Last season the Colts brought in another generally soft-spoken coach: Tony Dungy. While Dungy brought new intensity and talent to the defense, he was smart enough to leave the offense intact, in fact adding to it this year via the draft. Peyton has had two very good coaches to work with, but not perhaps the tutor that McNair has enjoyed. He was inserted as the franchise savior from day one.

Statistics

Steve McNair

PASSING
Year Team G GS Att Comp Pct Yards YPA Lg TD Int Tkld 20+ 40+ Rate
1995 Houston Oilers 4 2 80 41 51.3 569 7.11 53 3 1 6/63 8 2 81.7
1996 Houston Oilers 9 4 143 88 61.5 1197 8.37 83 6 4 9/45 15 5 90.6
1997 Tennessee Oilers 16 16 415 216 52.0 2665 6.42 55 14 13 31/190 36 5 70.4
1998 Tennessee Oilers 16 16 492 289 58.7 3228 6.56 47 15 10 33/176 41 3 80.1
1999 Tennessee Titans 11 11 331 187 56.5 2179 6.58 65 12 8 16/74 26 6 78.6
2000 Tennessee Titans 16 15 396 248 62.6 2847 7.19 56 15 13 24/141 31 5 83.2
2001 Tennessee Titans 15 15 431 264 61.3 3350 7.77 71 21 12 37/251 51 10 90.2
2002 Tennessee Titans 16 16 492 301 61.2 3387 6.88 55 22 15 21/121 35 6 84.0
2003 Tennessee Titans 8 8 232 151 65.1 1978 8.53 50 13 3 13/73 30 8 105.1
TOTAL   111 103 3012 1785 59.3 21400 7.10 83 121 79 190/1134 273 50 83.5
RUSHING
Year Team G GS Att Yards Avg Lg TD 20+ FD
1995 Houston Oilers 4 2 11 38 3.5 13 0 0 2
1996 Houston Oilers 9 4 31 169 5.5 24 2 1 18
1997 Tennessee Oilers 16 16 101 674 6.7 47 8 9 50
1998 Tennessee Oilers 16 16 77 559 7.3 71 4 4 38
1999 Tennessee Titans 11 11 72 337 4.7 38 8 1 34
2000 Tennessee Titans 16 15 72 403 5.6 25 0 4 23
2001 Tennessee Titans 15 15 75 414 5.5 24 5 3 31
2002 Tennessee Titans 16 16 82 440 5.4 26 3 4 29
2003 Tennessee Titans 8 8 21 81 3.9 23 3 1 5
TOTAL   111 103 542 3115 5.7 71 33 27 230

McNair was developed the old fashioned way. He toted a clipboard for most of his first two years in the league, and then he got steadily better, excepting some serious injuries in 1999. This year he is on pace to have what will easily be his best passing year ever. Of note is that his rushing yards, but not rushing touchdowns, are way down this year as he continues to transition into a better passer. His passing has also increased as Eddie George's rushing skills continue to diminish.

Peyton Manning

PASSING
Year Team G GS Att Comp Pct Yards YPA Lg TD Int Tkld 20+ 40+ Rate
1998 Indianapolis Colts 16 16 575 326 56.7 3739 6.50 78 26 28 22/109 42 8 71.2
1999 Indianapolis Colts 16 16 533 331 62.1 4135 7.76 80 26 15 14/116 56 11 90.7
2000 Indianapolis Colts 16 16 571 357 62.5 4413 7.73 78 33 15 20/131 51 8 94.7
2001 Indianapolis Colts 16 16 547 343 62.7 4131 7.55 86 26 23 29/232 55 11 84.1
2002 Indianapolis Colts 16 16 591 392 66.3 4200 7.11 69 27 19 23/145 51 11 88.8
2003 Indianapolis Colts 7 7 233 161 69.1 1862 7.99 79 15 5 4/30 18 4 105.5
TOTAL   87 87 3050 1910 62.6 22480 7.37 86 153 105 112/763 273 53 87.4

Peyton has been a model of fantasy consistency during his time in the NFL. He has passed for between 4,000 and 4,500 yards the last four years in a row, and is on pace to do so again this season. He has passed for exactly 26 touchdowns a remarkable three times in his short career, 27 touchdowns in 2002 and 33 in 2000. He will be pushing the 30-TD mark again this year..

Health

Steve McNair - McNair is healthy for the first time, probably, in his whole career. He developed a reputation as a tough player because he did decide to play through an awful lot of pain, but he also was heir to those many maladies. Nearly every offseason before 2003 he was recovering from some surgery.

Peyton Manning - One of the most impressive statistics on Manning's sparkling resume is games played. He has not missed a single game in his NFL career. Though he might not ever catch Brett Favre for the consecutive games played title, he is still a fantasy player you can count on game in and out.

The many differences between the careers of these great NFL quarterbacks shows that fantasy owners can find talent many ways. Some players produce, or are allowed to produce, from the get-go, and others develop their talents incrementally over a career. By following the careers of players in the NFL, or before they are even in the pros, you can gain the knowledge necessary to select champions on your draft day.

Joe Levit, based in Boston, writes for www.cnnsi.com and www.thehuddle.com. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a devoted Detroit Lions fan. He can be contacted at lavishjetpoet@aol.com.