Back in August I was asked to help a couple of New York friends (well, friends of a friend) in their first-ever fantasy draft. They had rookie questions, I had experienced answers. And when they asked about Eli Manning(notes), fantasy quarterback, I had a handful of reasons why they didn't want to go that route. I'm pretty sure I talked them out of some New York receivers, too (in my defense, they said Hixon, I said no).
Now we're two weeks into the season and my so-called friends think I'm an idiot (join the club, line forms at right). They watched Manning's explosion Sunday night in glorious HD along with the rest of us. And with all this in mind, it's time for a lesson about context.
It wasn't hard to construct the anti-Manning campaign before the season. The team's defense was too good – forget about shootouts here. The running game was too dominant – Manning wouldn't have to steer the offense. The receivers were too unproven – how could Manning do much as a fantasy pick if no one is doing anything dynamic downfield?
Now we're two weeks into the season and you have to wonder how accurate those summertime theories were (the NFL is, after all, the ultimate reshuffle league). Maybe the Giants defense isn't as good as we thought. Maybe the New York running game isn't quite what we expected. And most importantly, maybe Steve Smith really is capable of being an 85-catch guy and precise route specialist, and maybe Mario Manningham(notes) is going to be the potential star he looked like for so much of his Michigan career.
Manning's 2009 level of play might not be all that different from what we've seen in past years. But at the end of the day his fantasy value is going to be tied to so many things that aren't about his development and skill level. Context not only matters in the NFL, it's everything – and it's the same for fantasy. You can't evaluate any fantasy prospect without at least considering the snapshot of the team around him.
Add it all up and I'm liking Manning as a fantasy play whenever the Giants are underdogs – more potential throwing opportunities – and against any opponent I think New York will have trouble defending. You might not see a lot of Manning production when the Giants play the Bucs, Chiefs and Raiders the next three weeks, but be ready to come back to him from Week 6 on, when the schedule offers the Saints, Cardinals, Eagles and Chargers.
• So many things to like about Vincent Jackson(notes). He's certainly capable of beating defenders with his routes and his speed, but he doesn't necessarily have to be open to beat you, and he's got fantastic concentration and competitiveness when the ball's in the air. Last year it took a while for Philip Rivers(notes) to completely trust him. He's there now.
If I were the Chargers, I'd give Chris Chambers(notes) 10-15 snaps a game, tops. What can he do that Malcom Floyd(notes) and Legedu Naanee(notes) can't do?
• Stay off the ledge, Steve Slaton(notes) owners, the schedule is going to get easier. Not ridiculously easier, mind you; the Raiders and Bengals might be better on defense than we thought. But he's a strong play this week against Jacksonville, and good things should happen Week 5 at Arizona.
• The most amazing thing about the Darrelle Revis(notes) show Sunday is that he basically shut down Randy Moss(notes) without safety help. I can't even say that's impossible to do; most teams would never try it.
• Julian Edelman(notes) did a reasonable job stepping in for Wes Welker(notes), but that doesn't mean he's anywhere close to the real thing. Welker is far more dangerous after the catch, is better at setting up defenders, and has more experience with Tom Brady(notes) of course. This was the worst time for the Patriots to be without Welker, up against a blitz-happy team that forces you to make quick decisions and throw a lot of passes to your hot receiver. Welker is probably the smartest and most-dangerous slot receiver in the game; to compare a first-year player to him is a little ridiculous.
• The Vikings had trouble protecting Brett Favre(notes) in the first half at Detroit, so by the second half everything was quick drops, get the ball out. That's why Favre wasn't throwing any deep balls.
• The Tony Gonzalez(notes) factor can't be stressed enough in Atlanta. Obviously he helps the Falcons with his pass-catching, his non-stop motor and his leadership. But perhaps the biggest gain for the Falcons is what they get from Gonzalez the movable chess piece; you shift him all around the formation, you dictate matchups, you force the defense to be reactive. Matt Ryan(notes) was drafted as a Top 10 fantasy quarterback into the season but he's got a legitimate chance to be in the Top 5 when it's all said and done. (Does the Atlanta defense help Ryan's fantasy value, hurt it, or not affect it? I was debating that with some peeps during Sunday's action, give your opinion in the comments.)
• We finally saw a couple of big plays from Rashard Mendenhall(notes) but he's still a liability when it comes to ball security. If you can't hang on to the ball, you're never going to get 15-20 touches a game, or consistent work at the goal line.
• Kevin Kolb's(notes) debut didn't impress me as much as it did some others. Keep in mind a ridiculous share of his stat haul came in the fourth period (159 yards). He's still a reasonable play against the Chiefs this week, if needed, because Andy Reid is one of those coaches who passes to set up the pass, but I won't have him ranked as a Top 10 option. And the Eagles told us a lot about how they feel about Kolb when they signed Michael Vick(notes) and Jeff Garcia(notes) over the last few months.
• I can't watch the Washington offense anymore. It makes me angry. I had the Redskins as my survivor pick in Week 2 and by the end of the afternoon I was rooting for the Rams.
• Jake Delhomme(notes) might be just good enough to not completely torpedo Steve Smith. But that's as far as I'm willing to go right now.
• The Jags might lead the league in hyphenated skill players but otherwise this team is a total train wreck. The area doesn't really care about the team, either, significantly cutting into their home-field advantage. I won't be surprised if Jack Del Rio is let go during the season, and I bet Jacksonville doesn't have a team by the middle of the next decade.
• Come on, open up your heart, let Cedric Benson(notes) in. He's got a heck of a setup in Cincinnati, where the Bengals run him into the ground (50 carries) and the team's defense is actually decent. Let's stop holding his draft slot against him; he's emerging into a capable starting runner in the NFL, and barring injury he'll have fantasy juice all season. Drop the hate.
• Any running back in the NFL is going to be an injury risk to some extent, but some guys invite more risk than others. Mike Bell's(notes) running style has always invited far too much contact – he's too upright at the point of contact and he likes to get airborne at the goal line – and with that in mind, it's no surprise he's already gotten hurt in 2009.
• I'm quickly starting to regret all the praise I heaped on Green Bay a few weeks ago. This offensive line is a mess right now, and I've seen far too many breakdowns in the secondary through two weeks.