May 31, 2012
The peak of draft season may be eons away, but, between now and then, several questions need answers. In this thrilling episode of The Docs, Andy Behrens and Brad Evans spill blood over an age-old fantasy dilemma: history versus upside. Read. Reflect. Then declare a winner in the comments section below.
Behrens Fires: I won't try to convince anyone that Peyton Manning doesn't present at least some level of risk in 2012. He's a guy with a new team, a new neck, a new playbook ... there's really a lot of new stuff here. But we also know that Manning's fantasy ceiling is as high as any quarterback's, and certainly much higher than any rookie.
Between 1999 and 2010, Manning never finished outside the top-six at his position in fantasy scoring, ranking in the top-three six times. He's eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in 11 different campaigns, and his lowest single-season touchdown total is 26. The Broncos will run an exceedingly Peyton-friendly offense in 2012, incorporating elements of the system he'd mastered in Indianapolis. To my eye, Denver's receiving corps appears loaded, led a pair of dynamic young 6-foot-3 wideouts (Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker) and two excellent pass-catching tight ends (Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen). Everyone no doubt remembers the tremendous half-season that Tamme enjoyed in 2010, with Manning as his quarterback. Let's also note that rookie third-round running back Ronnie Hillman has been described as a "PPR pimp" by no less an authority than Yahoo!'s Brad Evans. John Elway has merely referred to Hillman as "a lot like [Darren] Sproles."
So there are a few weapons at Manning's disposal. None of you should be concerned about the scheme he'll run or the quality of his teammates. If you're worried about his health, however, I get it. There's obviously an injury red flag here, and it's suppressing Peyton's price in mock drafts. I'll simply point out that the next piece of discouraging off-season news on Manning's recovery will be the first. He's been a full participant in OTAs, and his new teammates are full of sunshine. Here's Champ Bailey discussing the Broncos' offense, via the Denver Post:
"One thing about [our receivers], if they get open a little bit, they're open a lot to [Manning]. That's one thing that's a big difference this year."[...]
"What I saw today, he's going to give us some good work. Man, we might not see a quarterback like that all year, so that's something that's going to get us prepared for games. This was definitely one of the most intense first days of OTAs I've had in a while."
I won't waste words being critical of RGIII, because we all agree he's capable of being a dominant franchise quarterback. Griffin presents the rarest combination of rushing and passing talent. In a dynasty league, you should be all over him.
But for this season ... well, I would just urge fantasy owners not to skip ahead in Griffin's development curve, pricing him as if it's 2014. It's damn hard to be a successful quarterback in the NFL. In fact, only one quarterback in NFL/AFL history has ever passed for as many as 3000 yards and 24 touchdowns in his rookie season (and I think you can probably guess who it is).
Please don't start making any Cam Newton comparisons, because A) RGIII isn't going to be his team's primary goal line back, B) he doesn't have anyone like Steve Smith to target, and C) his team won't spend the entire year playing catch-up. I'll concede that Griffin will probably run the ball 100-plus times, but those rushing stats won't be enough to bridge the (significant) gap between his likely passing totals and Manning's.
Noise Responds: Immediately, most would declare Behrens the winner. To the superficial, it's a slam-dunk proven versus unproven case. If you play the history card solely, that perception is right. Manning is a living legend, a consistency king who has never finished outside the QB top-10 during his illustrious 14-year NFL career. Meanwhile, Robert Griffin III, despite his glowing accolades at the collegiate level, has never thrown a pass in the NFL. His track-record is nonexistent. To naysayers, any overzealous projection is completely outlandish.
But don't fear the unknown.
The NFL has entered uncharted waters. It's a pass-heavy league that's stylistically different than what it was even five years ago. Many "new" permutations installed by offensive coordinators were borrowed from the college game, easing the transition for inexperienced, but talented quarterbacks. The past doesn't apply. It's a unique era. Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are proof.
To be clear, Griffin is no Cam. Any such comparison is completely laughable (An unrefined Steve Young is more applicable). He's a polished pocket passer (72.4 CMP% in '11 with Baylor) who happens to run. He's smarter, more accurate and faster than Newton was when he entered the league last year. Most importantly in this post-lockout age, he'll be better prepared. Already wowing the Redskins staff with his understanding of the playbook and remarkable physical tools — normally cautious Lucifer Shanahan gushed about him earlier this month — he should produce fruitful numbers out of the gate. After all, the environment is ripe. Washington's WR corps (Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan), though somewhat sketchy, is very serviceable. Roy Helu is arguably one of the top-5 receiving backs currently in the game. And monster-in-the-making Fred Davis is on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowler.
Should "Super Socks" finish in range of 3,350 passing yards with 22 passing touchdowns, 600 rushing yards and five ground scores, a very real possibility barring injury, he will net just over 21.4 points per game. And that's a conservative estimate. Using last year as a measure stick, that projected mark would've placed him No. 10 among QBs, one spot ahead of Tony Romo. Compared to Manning (54.5 ADP, QB7), he's a stunning value going around pick No. 90 overall (QB12). Griffin's ground potential is worth its weight in gold.
Getting back to Manning, despite his glowing mini-camp reports he still hasn't absorbed contact. Everyone will hold their collective breath the first blindside pummeling he takes in exhibition or regular season play. Could he throw for 4,000 yards and 25-30 TDs? Sure. But because of the neck concerns, he is an enhanced risk for the first time in his career. It's entirely conceivable his neck will shatter into a million pieces at some point. And for the math majors in attendance, if Peyton did reach the 4K-30 TD mark, he would still only average 20.0 points per game in standard formats (1 pt/20 yards passing).
Each passer has several question marks, but, Griffin's rushing ability, cheaper price tag and favorable offensive situation arrow to a more lucrative return on investment.
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