Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl winning QB, coming off the second-best season of his career, throwing to one of the three best WRs in the league. Yet if you call him your QB1 a lot of people will still look at you funny. Despite what some might say, it would be unwise to underestimate Eli Manning, but can he be a top 5 fantasy QB this season? The short answer: Absolutely.
If you still need convincing that Manning can be the first option at QB for your fantasy team, look no further than his performance during the 2015 season. It was a year of major improvement for Eli as he continued to acclimate to head coach Ben McAdoo’s west coast style offense. McAdoo joined the Giants as offensive coordinator for the 2014 season, and it signaled the first time that Manning would be playing in a new offensive system since he entered the NFL in 2004.
After two underwhelming seasons for the QB, including a now infamous 2013 campaign in which he threw 27 interceptions, McAdoo was a change of pace for the Giants and Manning has flourished under him. Manning excelled in numerous stat categories, finishing top ten in completions, yards, yards per game, and touchdowns. Most notably Eli threw the most TDs of his entire career, 35, which was enough to tie for second most in the league last season. All of this combined was good enough to give Manning a QB rating of 93.6 — also the highest he has ever achieved. These stats translated well into fantasy. In leagues with default QB scoring, Manning averaged 23 PPG.
While all of these stats are impressive, it does not necessarily guarantee an as good or better finish for Eli this season, especially considering that he has just passed the wrong side of 35. With an offensive situation that stays the same most would assume that he would regress or, at best, stay where he is. However, the fact of the matter is that Eli’s situation did not stay the same, it got a lot better, thanks in part to the addition of second-round draft pick Sterling Shepard.
Aside from star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Shepard will likely be the biggest factor in Manning’s shot at a top 5 fantasy finish. Shepard, an Oklahoma alum, had 86 receptions for 1,288 yards and tacked on 11 touchdowns during his senior season. While Sterling is by no means guaranteed to be a great player in the NFL, he is absolutely a player that defenses will not be able to ignore. This will be immensely beneficial for Beckham, and therefore Eli, as the WR has never had a true threat to line up opposite from him. With opposing defenses having to focus at least somewhat on another receiver, space should open up for Beckham, allowing more passing opportunities for Manning.
While all of this sounds promising there are still a few uncertain factors that could have an effect on Manning’s 2016 season. The first is wide receiver, Victor Cruz. Giants fans are no doubt excited to see Cruz retake the field after an almost two-year absence, but even they have to admit that success is not guaranteed for the 29-year-old receiver. Adding to their concerns is the fact that Cruz recently injured his groin during practice. While he says that the injury is not a serious one it is definitely something to keep an eye on. However, the health of Cruz isn’t something you should worry too much about considering that Eli has succeeded in McAdoo’s offense without him the past season and a half. At worst the Giants’ receiving corps will lose a slight amount of depth.
A second uncertain factor is Ben McAdoo himself. After a disappointing 6-10 finish to the 2015 season, the Giants chose to let former head coach Tom Coughlin go. It was a tough departure and we have not seen all the effects of it yet. In most situations replacing a head coach in the off season is detrimental for a team, but luckily for Manning the Giants chose to promote his offensive coordinator to the head position. This does not guarantee greater offensive success, however, Coughlin was a staple of the Giants team and losing him hurts in ways yet unseen.
Even considering the negative factors facing the Giants this season, I would not be worried at all with Manning as my QB1. If everything goes well I can definitely see Eli cracking the top 5 for fantasy QBs, but it is in no way a guarantee. However, Eli without a doubt has the talent and now the receiving arsenal to do so, and even without a top 5 finish I don’t think you’ll regret taking him in the draft, especially considering you can probably get him in the ninth or tenth round. Even in the worst case scenario, he can still be a viable starter as long as he is connecting with Beckham. My prediction is that Eli improves upon both his TD and yard tallies, with 36 and 4600 respectively, and will end up averaging about 24 PPG for fantasy owners.