Spin Doctors: Eli Manning v. Josh Freeman v. Matthew Stafford

Brandon Funston
Roto Arcade

The Yahoo! fantasy experts are nearly unanimous on which QBs should comprise the top 10 for '11. But if you play in a deeper league and you employ the waiting-game strategy for filling your starting QB slot, you might find yourself with a tough decision between, say, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford or Josh Freeman — according to our rankings, those are the next quarterbacks to be considered. Soliciting the advice of Yahoo! fantasy experts Brandon Funston, Brad Evans and Andy Behrens about this draft-day conundrum will get you three different answers, which sounds like the perfect set-up for a rare three-headed Spin Doctors debate. Experts to the podium … let's do this thing:

Funston offers up the book of Eli: You'd have to consider yourself pretty lucky to be in a position to nab Eli Manning after the top 10 QBs are off the board. After all, he finished as the No. 10 fantasy quarterback in fantasy in '09 and jumped up to No. 7 in '10. Manning's move into the top 10 coincides with a sharp improvement in his completion percentage, which has resided in the 60-percentile range in each of the three seasons following the Giants' Super Bowl run — he never managed higher than a 57.7 mark in any of his first four seasons. Like his older brother, Eli never misses a game, having played a full 16-game schedule each of the past six seasons. He has excellent weapons to work with in Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, both top-15 fantasy receivers last season. TE Kevin Boss had the third-highest yards per reception average among TEs last season and did not allow a QB sack. If trusty wideout Steve Smith returns strong from offseason knee surgery, it's just more gravy.

Admittedly, Stafford and Freeman are exciting up-and-coming talents. But, so far, Stafford hasn't proven he can take a solid lick, as shoulder and knee injuries have caused him to miss an average of 10 games in his first two seasons. Freeman looks like a young Ben Roethlisberger, but last season he never threw for more than 280 yards and only once did he throw for more than two touchdowns. And of the three QBs being compared here, you can make a strong argument that Freeman has the least impressive supporting cast at the skill positions, with Mike Williams and health-risk Kellen Winslow his only proven weapons.

Manning is definitely the safe play of this group. And in the perilous game that is fantasy football, that should not be viewed as a negative. If you are making odds on which of these QBs has the best odds to deliver a top-10 return, it has to be Eli, because he's the only one who has actually done it (two years running, I might add).

Evans makes some noise for Freeman: The accomplishments of The Fro should not be overlooked. In a career stage when many young passers are still taking their lumps — exuding questionable decision-making while piling up turnovers — he excelled. Over a full 16-game slate, he completed 63.1 percent of his passes, averaging a respectable 215.8 passing yards with a 25:6 TD:INT split, throwing just one pick over the last eight weeks. The mobile QB also chipped in 22.8 rushing yards per game, third behind Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers. Over the past 12 years, only Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Vick made bigger statistical leaps for a slinger in his second year.

Freeman could be even better in 2011.

The weapons surrounding him, though generally young, are spectacular. Mike Williams emerged as a premier all-around target in his rookie campaign. Kellen Winslow remains one of the finer receiving TEs. And quick-healing receiver Arrelious Benn, who is already running and cutting after shredding his ACL in Week 16 last year, is poised to make major strides in his second season. If the Bucs, who likely won't retain Cadillac Williams, aggressively pursue an explosive change-of-pace back (e.g. Ahmad Bradshaw) to complement bruiser LeGarrette Blount, the sky's the limit for Freeman. And don't worry about the prolonged lockout impacting his play. Give the confident passer "a week" and he expects to have the troops ready for action.

Stafford and Eli, too, are dripping with upside. However, injury downside for the former enhances risk. Turnovers, the latter.

Because of Freeman's yet-to-peak receiving corps, general talent and, most importantly, rushing contributions, he is the clear-cut choice of the three.

Behrens goes to the mat for Stafford: Sure, I could open this thing by giving you my usual arguments about drafting high-ceiling players in the mid-rounds. Or I could simply let Stafford speak for himself. This via NFL.com:

NFL: Give fantasy owners a reason to make you their No. 1 quarterback in the draft.

Stafford: That's my number one question asked. … I'm going to play all 16 [games], I've got Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew. I'm throwing the ball to Jahvid Best and [Mikel] Leshoure out of the backfield. I feel there's going to be a lot of points put up.

And that, for me, is the issue at the heart of this discussion. I too think the 2011 Lions are going to pile up points, surpassing the numbers that the Giants and Bucs are likely to deliver. Detroit managed to put up 22.6 points and 250.1 passing yards per game last season with Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton attempting most of the throws. Stafford is as physically gifted as any young QB in the league and when he gives us a healthy season, you'll regret not owning more shares. His supporting cast is outstanding, his skills are elite, and his draft-day cost is friendly (Yahoo! ADP 93.1). You're getting a price break due to Stafford's injury history, even though he's healthy right now and arm strength isn't an issue. Plus, the Lions have added LeShoure and Titus Young to an already loaded offense.

I have nothing particularly negative to say about Eli or Josh. They're both spot-starters in fantasy, guys I'm willing to own as members of a platoon. Stafford is the one guy in this debate with every-week potential, so he gets the rankings edge.

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Photos courtesy Getty Images

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