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The Case for Peyton Manning
Derek Aiken
August 17, 2006

The first rule of fantasy football is to draft running backs early and often. Nine out of ten players will draft a RB in the first round. To consider any other option, will bring cheers and ridicule from your fellow draftees. But don’t make the mistake of following the flock. There is simply too much at stake.

If you’ve ever played fantasy football before, you know that the first round is as heavily dominated by running backs, as any other round is dominated by a single position. You can pretty much bet that the first three picks of any draft will go (in no particular order) LJ, Tomlinson and Alexander. After that, you’re likely to see the next few picks go something like: Portis, Barber, Brown, Jackson and Rudi Johnson and Edgerrin.

I’m here today to tell you to think outside the box and, if you do, you have a great shot at fantasy glory in 2006.

The #1 overall pick of your draft should be Peyton Manning. If you’re at #4 and the Big Three went ahead of him, then its your lucky day. If you draft at #5 or later, and Manning is still on the board, try to contain your excitement while the guy ahead of you is picking.

If I’ve learned anything in my 10 years of playing this wonderful game, its that nothing will derail your once promising season faster than an injury to your first round pick. If you get a player you can count on in the first round, have an overall good draft, and play the game smartly, you have a great chance of winning it all.

Peyton Manning is the rarest of commodities in fantasy football. A player who never misses a game and consistently produces at an elite level. In 2003, Manning finished 2nd overall with 350 points. In 2004, He finished 1st with 497 points. In 2005, Manning finished 3rd overall with 331 points (despite sitting-out two games). The only other player to be in the Top 10, each of the last three seasons is Tomlinson (2003: 4th-341 points. 2004: 9th-301 points. 2005: 5th-317 points). Manning is the only quarterback to accomplish the feat, while only Brees, Hasselbeck, Brooks, Culpepper and Green have finished in the Top 10 in two of the last three seasons. The only back that was even close to being in the Top 10 for the last three seasons is Alexander (21st, 12th, 2nd). Manning not only finished in the Top 10 the last three seasons, but in the Top Three.

So, if Tomlinson and Manning are about equal, why not take the running back? While Tomlinson is one of the best backs in the game today, the fact is that he has received a lot of carries in his first few seasons. Last year, Tomlinson owners (myself included-Manning went #1) paid the price for his workload in the playoffs. Tomlinson didn’t even score a touchdown in the playoff weeks (13-16). If your first round pick isn’t scoring touchdowns in the playoffs, you’re probably not going to win.

Right about now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “But Peyton sat-out the last two games last year! How would he help my team then?” Well, he wouldn’t. But this year, rest assured, after last year’s playoff debacle against Pittsburgh, the Colts starters won’t be getting any extra rest anytime soon. The most you may see them rest is Week 17 and, by then, most fantasy seasons are over.

Another thing that you have to take into account is that the sky isn’t without clouds for every other first round back. Each has their own set of issues, that prevents them from being a cant-miss pick. Assuming you’re in a eight-team draft, the other first round picks have to be considered: LJ, Tomlinson, Alexander, Portis, Barber, Jackson and Ronnie Brown. Each has at least one major thing working against them in 2006.

Larry Johnson

Has never done it for a full season. In 2005, he burst onto the fantasy radar with an exceptional breakout season. While he played in all 16 games last year, the Chiefs like to use their franchise back a whole lot, and Holmes took the brunt of that punishment for the first half of the season. It has yet to be proven that Johnson can shoulder the full load for an entire season. Willie Roaf, Johnson’s best lineman, has also retired. When your left tackle goes away, that’s never good for a running back.

LaDanian Tomlinson

As I mentioned earlier, he wore down at the end of 2005. It killed my playoff run in one league, and got me the championship in another, but it still eats at me that my first round pick was AWOL when I needed him the most. While Drew Brees isn’t Carson Palmer, his departure is not a good thing for Tomlinson. The other big weapon in the offense is tight end Antonio Gates, and it would be virtually impossible for Rivers to get the ball to Gates as often and as effectively as Brees was able to get him the ball. This means a whole lot of 8-9 men in the box for Tomlinson.

Shaun Alexander

Alexander has never missed a game and has consistently performed at a high level. But, Steve Hutchinson, ½ of the NFL’s best left side of an offensive line, has bolted in free agency. While Walter Jones, probably the best left tackle in the league remains, there will likely be less daylight on that side of the line. Alexander also just got a huge contract in this off-season. Who knows if he will be playing with the same hunger as he did last year or not? And then there is the Madden cover. Laugh if it want, because it does sound ridiculous, but every season the player on that cover has a lot of bad luck.

Tiki Barber

Fantasy owners consistently undervalue this undersized, but overachieving running back. Barber finished 10th in overall points in 2005 and 13th in overall points in 2004. He is especially valuable in point-per-catch leagues. However, Tiki’s success has always seemed to come in spite of his average-at-best offensive line. Now Tiki is 31 and on the declining side of his career. Tiki has already spoken openly about considering retirement and the Giants have talked openly about spreading the ball around more. The NFC East also boasts a revamped and impressive-looking Eagles defense and two of the best run defenses in Washington and Dallas.

Clinton Portis

If you read my “10 Bold Predictions” article, you know that I’m very high on Portis for the 2006 season but, that was before the shoulder injury he suffered on 8/13. It was one heck of a tackle though! On 8/14, Portis visited Dr. James Andrews (which is like the kiss of death for an athlete) but he actually got good news and may be ready for the season opener. With a bad shoulder, and it will be sore, how effectively and hard will Portis be able to run? There’s a distinct possibility that the shoulder could hamper him for the entire season. It won’t be fully-healed in four weeks and likely won’t get any better with all of the punishment that he will take. Even if the shoulder is ok, I only said that I thought Portis could win the rushing title. I never said anything about him being the best fantasy back. The truth is that Portis has never been much of a goal line threat and will likely lose a lot of those opportunities to Ladell Betts, Mike Sellers and Chris Cooley.

Steven Jackson

Fantasy owners have often drooled over this guys’ potential and, with Marshall Faulk gone, he will finally shoulder the full load. Jackson will also have the benefit of finally playing in a run-first offense and running behind double tight end sets. All that being said, Jackson is far from a sure thing. He has a history of little, cumbersome injuries and often disappears for entire games. As big as his potential is, Jackson isn’t guaranteed to produce and lacks the pedigree and resume to be a no-brainer, first round pick.

Ronnie Brown

This is another guy that I’m really high on, but do you really feel comfortable with an unproven commodity carrying your franchise? Brown had a great rookie season, and should be even better with more Ricky Williams gone, but can’t be depended on to be an elite back. He could very well squeak into the Top 5, but could just as easily wind-up in the 12-15 range.

Peyton Manning

That brings us to Peyton Manning. No other player in the NFL has been as consistently elite and dominated his position over a period of time, than Manning has in the last 8 seasons. A large part of that comes from the fact that he is always on the field. Manning has played every single game of his 8 seasons in the league, 128 straight regular season games (that’s not even counting the playoffs).

In those eight seasons, Peyton has never thrown for under 3,739 yards and 26 TD‘s, and that was his rookie season. Manning has thrown for over 4,000 yards and 26 TD’s in 6 of his 8 NFL seasons.

In 2004, Manning had one of the greatest fantasy seasons ever, at any position with 4,557 yards, 49 TD’s, 10 INT’s and a 121.1 passer rating. As amazing as those number are, they are even more amazing if you consider, one often overlooked stat. Manning’s 497 passing attempts were the lowest of his career, at that point.

In 2005, Manning had even fewer passing attempts with 453 attempts, but still managed 3,747, 28 TD’s, 10 INT’s and a 104.1 passer rating. If you watched a Colts game last year, you couldn’t help but notice teams were focused on stopping Manning and that the Colts were more than willing to oblige, by ramming Edgerrin James down their throats.

This year, there is no Edgerrin James and owners should expect Manning to have a number of attempts similar to 2001 and 2002. In 2001, James tore his ACL in the sixth game of he season and the passes started flying. In 2002, James was hardly back to his pre-injury form. For the 2001 season, Manning had 547 attempts and exceeded that amount in the following season with 591 attempts. The combination of Addai and Rhoades will hardly be the strength of the offense this season and may even prove to be a liability.

What can’t be underestimated, is the fact that Manning’s entire receiving corps remains intact. While Marvin Harrisson may be another year older, he has no signs of slipping. The off-season re-signing of Reggie Wayne was huge. Brandon Stoakley should have a season much like his 2004 season. Dallas Clark has big-play ability (when healthy) at tight end. Up-and-coming tight ends Ben Utecht and Byran Fletcher provide additional, solid options in the passing game. When it comes to quarterbacks, familiarity with the offense and personnel is a necessary predicate to success.

All of the paragraphs listed above can really be summed-up into a couple of simple facts:
1. Peyton plays every game and durability is the recipe for success
2. No other player has finished Top Three in fantasy points for the last three seasons

With those facts in mind, Peyton Manning’s consistent excellence is a fantasy owner’s best chance of not only getting to the playoffs, but making a solid run once you’re there.

*Point history is based on performance scoring system:
All TD: 6 points; 20 yards passing: 1 point; 10 yards rushing: 1 point; 1 reception: 1 point