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The Case for Peyton Manning -- Five Reasons to Draft Him #1 Overall
Paul Sandy
July 13, 2005

So you’ve drawn the first overall draft pick in your fantasy league. You did a little dance. Made a little noise. Now it’s time to do a little research.

The choice you make with that glorious #1 selection will set the tone for the entire draft. Nay, the entire season. But the reality is that tone has gotten a bit monotonous in recent years. Running backs have become the focal point of fantasy football. Marshall Faulk. Edgerrin James. Priest Holmes. LaDainian Tomlinson. Conventional wisdom says these are the types of players you take with the #1 overall selection. You might have already decided to call the name of a running back with that fateful first pick.

But maybe, just maybe, times have changed. Maybe the league has changed. Maybe you’ve changed. And maybe running backs aren’t the end all be all. Maybe the other positions have closed the gap. Maybe you can build your team around another type of player. And maybe you’ll be the one break the mold. Maybe you’ll think outside the box. Maybe you’ll throw away the box. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll take a quarterback. Maybe Manning.

Here are five reasons why Peyton Manning may indeed be the perfect player to take with the first overall draft pick:

1. The man can almost single-handedly lead your team to the playoffs.

If there’s a litmus test for the first overall fantasy pick, this is it. When you’re drafting #1, you need a player who can score points. A boatload of points. Points from yardage. Points from touchdowns. So many points that you always have a shot to win, even when the rest of your team stinks. Emmitt Smith used to have this ability. So did Marshall Faulk.

But who has it today?

In my mind, only two players in the NFL currently possess this level of dominance week in and week out: LaDainian Tomlinson and, of course, Peyton Manning. In virtually every fantasy football league, regardless of scoring system, these should be the top two contenders for the #1 overall pick.

Tomlinson is hands down the most gifted running back in the NFL. He is a rare triple threat—with the ability to rack up big points via rushing yardage, receiving yardage, and touchdowns. Despite sitting out the second half of a handful of games due to injuries in 2004, he still managed a league-high 17 rushing scores and 1,700 all-purpose yards. He is listed at the top of many fantasy preseason rankings. A worthy honor? Perhaps, but the case for Manning is undeniable.

The Colts quarterback tossed an NFL record 49 touchdowns last season. To illustrate the magnitude of this statistic, consider that Manning had more passing touchdowns in 2004 than the Houston Texans have had during the entire existence of the franchise (39). No, Mr. Carr, you’ll get no apologies.

2005 Passing Statistics: Weeks 1-16
Player QB Rat. Comp. Att. Yds. Int. TDs
Peyton Manning 121.1 335 495 4551 10 49

Exactly how Manning’s lofty stats translate into fantasy points varies from league to league, scoring system to scoring system. However, any way you cut it, the outrageous yardage and touchdowns are enough to light up any fantasy scoreboard. On the way to earning the MVP award, Manning threw three or more touchdowns in nine games. He averaged 300+ yards in the first 16 weeks, twice throwing for more than 425 yards.

These are huge numbers. Pair them with even a mediocre backfield and wide receiving corps and you’ll still have an excellent chance at winning on any given week. Hit the bull’s eye on any running backs or receivers later in the draft and you can consider your ticket to the postseason officially punched.

At this point, the savvy fantasy owner is thinking, “I know Manning scores a ton of points, but quarterbacks are a dime a dozen. Besides, running backs are the bread and butter of every fantasy squad. I need to get a stud RB with my first pick.” This brings me to my second argument in the case for Manning.

2. Excellent running backs can be found later in your draft.

The current crop of running backs is as deep as it has ever been. Why? It’s simple math, really. The NFL has recently had an influx of top quality ball carriers. At the same time, the existing running backs are performing at a high level deeper into their careers.

In 2004, we witnessed the emergence of several young ball carriers recently out of college. Guys like Julius Jones, Kevin Jones, Willis McGahee, Chris Brown, Domanick Davis, Steven Jackson, and Rudi Johnson emerged as dependable fantasy starters. Equally important, last season Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber, Warrick Dunn, Emmitt Smith, and Jerome Bettis proved that the bell doesn’t necessarily toll on a running back’s career after age 29. Meanwhile, most of the premier RBs—trusted studs like Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson, Corey Dillon, and Ahman Green—continued to post solid stats. And let’s not fail to consider the addition of promising rookie running backs that will enter the league this year. Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, and Cedric Benson to name a few.

The volume of quality RBs makes it difficult to rank the position top to bottom. It also leads to some widely-ranging opinions. You could make the case that Jamal Lewis should be ranked among the top five RBs. I could just as easily formulate a pretty convincing argument that he shouldn’t be in the top 10.

With so much debate on the topic of running backs, don’t be surprised to see some topflight ball carriers still on the board in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds of your draft. In fact, it’s fairly likely many leagues will see the NFL’s top rusher last season, Curtis Martin, drop into the third round of their draft or beyond. When was the last time that happened? It probably never has.

The point here is that in 10, 12, and even 14-team leagues, you can draft Manning with that first overall pick and still end up with a formidable starting backfield. In addition to Martin, proven players like Fred Taylor and Bryan Westbrook, both of whom finished with 1,500 all-purpose yards in 2005, could be available to pick when it’s your turn again. As could young up-and-comers like Steven Jackson, DeShaun Foster, Tatum Bell, and rookie Ronnie Brown. All are capable of carrying a fantasy squad.

3. No other player is as consistently good.

To be deemed a success, first-round picks need to avoid let-downs. When your top draft pick has a poor performance, your team can have a tough time winning. Games with zero touchdowns and below average yardage are a bitter pill to swallow. In recent years, Manning has been better than any player in the NFL at avoiding these types of disappointing performances.

Last season, he posted multiple touchdown efforts in the first 13 games of the season—an NFL record. All told, he only had two games without multiple touchdowns and one of those came in Week 17, a game that he rested up for the playoffs and only attempted two passes. When it comes to yardage, Manning is equally consistent. He only had two games in which he posted fewer than 200 yards—again, one of those came in Week 17.

Perhaps most impressive is his ratio of touchdown passes to games played. Manning has started 112 career games and tossed 216 touchdown passes—an average of 1.9286 per game. Folks, that’s the highest of any QB in NFL history with 150+ touchdowns. Any fantasy owner would love to get two touchdowns per game out of his or her QB. Of course, Manning’s owners did even better last season when he averaged 3.2666 touchdowns per game.

How does Tomlinson compare? Not quite so good. The Chargers workhorse had five games with fewer than 100 all-purpose yards. While he scored a touchdown in all but one game, Tomlinson only logged multiple touchdowns in four games last season. In fairness, he was nicked up and missed sizeable portions of many games. But, of course, that didn’t make it any easier for his owners to stomach. And that brings me to my fourth argument.

4. Manning doesn’t get hurt.

A simple observation: Players need to be on the field to score points. There’s no disputing that Manning has an uncanny knack for staying healthy and staying on the field. If it weren’t for Brett Favre, the football world would be looking at Manning’s durability in a collective awe. With 112 consecutive starts, Manning owns the longest career-opening streak of any QB in NFL history. In Week 5 this season, he’ll climb into second place for consecutive starts among quarterbacks, surpassing Ron Jaworski (116).

While you likely wouldn’t place Manning among the most elusive quarterbacks in the NFL, you can’t argue with his ability to avoid contact. He was sacked only 13 times last season, second only to Favre among QBs who started every game. It’s no wonder that Manning has missed just 139 snaps in his entire career—and only one of those snaps was due to injury. Let that sink in for a minute…

… Now consider how the league’s best running backs stack up. In recent years, Tomlinson and Holmes have experienced an assorted list of bumps and bruises. Holmes has been unable to finish the season each of the last two years. Tomlinson frustrated owners last year by sitting out extended chunks of games. The fact is, it’s a rare occasion when Manning takes a hit. As a result his joints are rarely put under the awkward contortions of his running back counterparts. That makes him perhaps the safest pick in the draft.

5. He’s in his prime. And continues to get better.

At 29 years of age, Manning is in the prime of his career. Some would argue that he will never duplicate last season’s record-setting, MVP effort. I disagree. The Indianapolis offense is a machine. With three Pro-Bowl caliber receivers, a top 10 running back, and an athletic tight end, Manning has all the tools to continue his incredible run.

What’s more, Manning is a student of the game. This isn’t a guy who spends his off-season fishing or working on his golf game. He hosts a quarterback camp where he does nothing but work on becoming a better passer. He studies defensive schemes, works on fundamentals, stays in shape. In a decade or so, don’t be surprised if Manning’s work ethic begins to draw comparisons to that exhibited by Jerry Rice for so many years.

If you’re lucky enough to draw the first overall draft pick this season, you are in an enviable position. For the first time in a long time, you have a choice to make. It’s no longer a foregone conclusion that your top selection overall has to be a running back. Peyton Manning has asserted himself as a contender for the coveted first selection. The case has been presented. The facts are before you. And now, you’re on the clock.