For our crew, after Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, there's a strong debate regarding which QB should come next in 2015 fantasy drafts. Brad Evans leans toward 'Forehead Frankenstein,' Peyton Manning (34.5 Yahoo ADP, QB4), who's looking to recover from a slow finish last fall in Denver. Meanwhile, Brandon Funston loves him some Ben Roethlisberger (51.7, QB7), who's looking to match last year's top-five production. Read their cases below and declare a winner in the comments section.
Evans comes out firing: At the end of 2014, doomsayers believed Peyton was cooked. His limp to the finish line, largely due to a nagging quad injury, greatly hindered his overall performance. The wounded ducks he threw were practically innumerable. Because Manning is a passer who needs every muscle to execute fully, he was unable to generate enough mustard to deliver crisp, accurate passes. As a result, his near bottom-dwelling output from Weeks 13-17 (QB29) left a bitter taste and prompted 'needs to retire' outcries. In a short-term memory society, it was no surprise how quickly most forgot he was the second-best QB in Fantasyland netting 24.4 points per game Weeks 1-12. It was the injury, not Father Time, that derailed his season.
Though last year's finish was unnerving, Peyton isn't exactly ready for bridge games and knitting sessions. Admittedly, the Broncos offensive line sans LT Ryan Clady is a work in progress. The patchwork unit must mesh rapidly to properly protect its sloth-footed quarterback. Its execution in training camp is paramount, but give Gary Kubiak time and its sure to work like a well-oiled machine. According to Pro Football Focus, the coach's O-lines in Houston and Baltimore ranked inside the run-blocking top-10 six times in the past nine seasons. And let's take a chill pill about Kubiak's ultra-conservative ways. Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels, David Carr, T.J. Yates, and Case Keenum, all passers the former Texans shot-caller coached, aren't exactly the caliber of No. 18. Undoubtedly, Peyton will hand the ball off more, but recall Schaub was a top-10 fantasy producer from 2007-2009. With a stockpiled arsenal around him (Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Owen Daniels, Virgil Green and C.J. Anderson), something in range of 4,500 passing yards with 35 TDs are certainly attainable.
Roethlisberger is a fine consolation prize, but his shiny outward 2014 numbers were skewed considerably. Just over 24 percent of his production came from two otherworldly performances, back-to-back 6-TD explosions against the Colts and Ravens. In his other 14 contests, he contributed below-average production eight times. He's the Berger King of inconsistency. Due to Pittsburgh's expected defensive inadequacies and with Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant as targets, he should total another strong QB1 effort, but it's difficult to rely upon him for profitable weekly outputs, especially when defenses key the pass with Le'Veon Bell sidelined the regular season's first three games. Also, Pittsburgh owns the toughest fantasy schedule for QBs entering the year. A final tally closer to 2013 (4261-28) seems appropriate.
It's undeniable, Denver's elder statesman deserves your vote.
Funston throws a counterpunch: Anybody who owned Peyton last season already knows that the Broncos veteran signal-caller was gawd-awful during a time (Weeks 13-17) when his fantasy owners needed him most. And let's be clear, with a fantasy points per game average during that span that ranked 29th among all QBs that had at least three starts, "gawd-awful" is a fair assessment of his play. Excuse-makers will likely point to the quad injury he suffered during that time (in Week 15) as a way to pretend that his late-season slide was a fluke. But, you know, at 39 years old, there's no such thing as a fluke injury, and the next one likely is just around the corner - especially when you consider Denver is replacing three offensive line starters from '14, including blind-side protector LT Clady.
Manning is also getting a new head coach this season in Kubiak, a renowned ground-game guru. Of course, Kubiak is saying all the right things about the offense being tailored to suit Manning, but that probably doesn't mean more of the same aerial assaults we've seen from the Broncos the past couple seasons. Leaning more on that ground game and fireplug backfield dynamo Anderson makes a lot of sense when it comes to Manning's preservation. And receiver Sanders seems to have tipped the Broncos' hand in late May, saying the offense is very much different.
"You talk about going from a no-huddle offense to an offense that’s huddling up, to an offense that is predicated off running a football and then throwing it," said Sanders. "It’s different ... My goal is really to try to get a 1,000 yards to just help this team win ball games." As a reminder, Sanders had 1,404 receiving yards last season, so by his estimation, his upside in this '15 offense is 400 yards less than in last year's.
I still have Peyton in my top 10 quarterbacks (well, he's 10th), because he is a freaking legend and you can't discount him too much, even if he's playing in a wheel chair. But given age, offensive change, losses on the offensive line as well as red zone security blanket Julius Thomas and third-down security blanket Wes Welker, it's beyond risky to just mindlessly slot Manning in your top 5 like it's just another typical year at the office.
In a pass-happy Todd Haley offense, Roethlisberger threw the fourth-most passes in the league last season, and finished as a top 5 fantasy QB. And when rookie red zone tower of power WR Bryant finally stepped on the field in Week 7, only Aaron Rodgers was better than Big Ben in the span of the season's final 10 weeks. Loaded up with what he calls the best supporting cast of his career (Bryant, Bell, Brown), Roethlisberger is an easy choice over Old Man Peyton, and even better is the fact that you can wait a couple rounds later than where Manning is typically drafted to snag him.
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