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Eli Deserves More Respect

I can’t figure it out. Maybe it’s the goofy haircut or the glazed look in his eyes. Maybe it’s the Charlie Brown demeanor that says, “What… is it time to play football now?”. Whatever it is, for a guy that’s coming off a string of impressive post season performances, Eli Manning just doesn’t generate much enthusiasm. Especially not in the fantasy world.

In his last 5 starts (4 of them playoff games), Eli had 10 TD’s and 2 INT’s. He had multiple touchdowns in all but one of those games. And he did this against some tough defenses. Yet here we are, heading into the 2008 season, and he is still not seen as a viable fantasy starter.

Of course, no one actually has to say this. It’s implied. When prognosticators rank Eli well outside of the top 10 at his position, the implication is there. When his projected 2008 numbers are virtually identical to his 2007 statistics, the implication is there.

I suppose it’s possible that once Plaxico Burress inks his new deal, Eli’s name will creep up the charts a bit (it’s been reported recently by John Clayton of EPSN that Plax’s deal is “going to happen by mid-August at the latest”). It would make sense. When Burress is on his game, he is a dominant receiving presence. He and Eli have become one of the NFL’s most potent tandems, connecting for 22 TD’s in the past 2 years. In fact, without further examining the dynamic between these two players, it’s impossible to evaluate Eli’s fantasy value.

So, here’s a quick recap of last seasons Eli-Plax show:

  • Weeks 1-2:

    Eli and Plax connect for 4 TD’s.

  • Weeks 3-5:

    Eli and Plax connect for 3 TD’s, but it becomes apparent that Plax has an ankle injury. He doesn’t need surgery, but he’s told that he’ll have to play with the pain for the remainder of the season.

  • Weeks 6-7:

    Eli and Plax connect for 1 TD. Burress is clearly bothered by his ankle. His play is affected by it.

  • Weeks 8-17:

    Eli and Plax connect for 4 TD’s. Playing in pain has taken its toll on Plax. Much of the time he is unable to practice, and during gameday he limps on and off the field. He doesn’t miss any time, but he can’t always complete his routes or run at full speed.

As you might expect, Eli’s overall touchdown production slumped as his favorite receiver was ailing. While Manning had multiple TD passes in 4 of his first 7 regular season games, he threw for more than 1 TD only once in his last 9. However, as the regular season came to a close, Eli did somehow manage to pick things up again. Maybe he finally got used to playing with only half a Burress.

Here’s the real question: does anyone actually think that Plax wouldn’t have had more touchdowns if it weren’t for that nagging injury? By midseason Burress had a hard time walking, let alone running and jumping. Don’t you think that, on a healthy ankle, he would have hauled in a few more? I’m not trying to build a case for Plaxico. I’m pointing out that if Burress had scored a few more times, we’d now be looking at Eli in a different light.

If Manning had gotten that extra production from his #1 receiver, his TD total would have been bumped up to 26 or 27. In the fantasy world, Eli would then be seen as a QB who had taken the next step. He’d be a guy that many would label as a 2008 breakout candidate. But, dealing in hypotheticals won’t get us anywhere. So let me return to the facts:

  • Eli has a tremendous red zone target and

    he knows how to use him. Manning throws the football up and away, where only Burress – almost 6 ½ feet tall with long arms and jumping ability – has a chance to get it.

  • The Giants have a very good ground game that defenses have to respect. Opposing teams can’t key on the Eli-Plaxico connection.
  • Eli can make every throw that an elite NFL quarterback is required to make. Physically, there is nothing holding him back.

I know that these 3 points don’t erase the less desirable traits that, in the past, Eli has put on full display. But in fantasy football, we are supposed to

predict production. We’re not supposed to look at last years stats and casually slot them in as this years projections. Especially when the player in question is a quarterback that has been a full time starter for only 3 years.

Surely, when a young QB makes the kind of playoff run that Eli did, it has to be reflected in his fantasy value. If only slightly. You have to assume that such a player made

some strides. There is just no reason to think otherwise. The sampling is too small; there hasn’t been enough time to justifiably adopt the ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ attitude. Basically, you have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

So let’s say that Eli has improved his game just a little. Well, in 2007 – while his only major receiving threat was on one leg – the


developed Eli put up 23 TD’s. So that TD number is going to come up. How far up depends on Plax’s health and the true measure of Eli’s progression. But if Burress plays 16 games and he’s healthy for all of them, that number

will rise. And Eli’s interception total will come down. He had 20 INT’s last year, so he’ll be south of that mark in 2008. So what we’re looking at for the upcoming season is probably 25+ TD’s and 16-19 INT’s. That is, if we assume a small degree of progression.

Of course, it’s possible that Eli has made no real progress. He could revert back to his inconsistent play. His late season run could have been an anomaly. Maybe in the playoffs, when he went into 3 hostile stadiums and led his team to victory, he didn’t really grow as a quarterback. And I guess, maybe, a healthy version of Plaxico Burress may not have been able to produce any more TD’s in 2007; either directly or indirectly (by drawing more coverage). These things are

possible. But you have to ask yourself if they’re

likely. Because right now, with the 2008 projections that are attached to Eli’s name, all of these things are implied.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Eli should be considered a top 5 quarterback. What I’m saying is this:

Eli is going to be a tremendous draft value this year. He is someone that you actively want to target. You shouldn’t reach for him, just watch how the quaterbacks come off the board – and then make your move. Every draft is different, but you can probably expect to pick him up in the 9th or 10th round. And even if you grab Eli as your second quarterback, he’d be either a fantastic backup or a tradable commodity.

In any case, you can consider Eli Manning to be a low level starter with mid level potential. You can’t expect him to be a high-end producer, but Eli is a viable # 1 fantasy quarterback.

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