Last year was an interesting season for Eli Manning. He finished as the No. 10 Fantasy quarterback in standard leagues, but he still had somewhat of a disappointing year.
The positives for Manning were his second-consecutive year with 4,000-plus passing yards and a career-high 31 touchdowns. The negatives were a career-high 25 interceptions and five fumbles. He also missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Now it's time for Manning to build on the positives and have a complete season. His performance could be a difference-maker for Fantasy owners.
Manning falls in the category of quarterbacks that will come off the draft board after all the guaranteed starting options. I have him ranked No. 12, and if you are the last owner to draft a quarterback you have to decide between Manning, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford.
Manning is more consistent than Flacco and Cutler and safer than Stafford even if the Lions starter has more upside. Manning has the potential for another 4,000-plus yard season with his receiving corps of Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and most likely Steve Smith, who is a free agent this offseason. He also has 58 touchdowns the past two years, so 30 touchdowns is a possibility.
If Manning can cut down on the turnovers then he could remain a Top 10 Fantasy option. And that would be great value for someone drafted in Round 7 or later.
Sleeper ... Mario Manningham, WR
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Manningham had a career year in his third year in the NFL in 2010, and he's hoping to build off that performance this season in what should be a contract year. Manningham has the chance for a good season with Smith dealing with a knee injury and potentially not coming back to the team. Last season, Manningham had 60 catches for 944 yards and nine touchdowns, and he has 14 touchdowns in his past two years. He closed the season on a high note with 16 catches for 346 yards and four touchdowns in his final three games, and he's capable of big stats as a go-to target for Manning. Manningham will likely open the season starting opposite Nicks, and with that being the case we consider him a No. 3 Fantasy receiver with upside to play like a No. 2 option. He's worth drafting with a mid-round pick in all leagues, and hopefully he can hold off Smith for targets if he returns.
Late-round flier ... Brandon Jacobs, RB
Ahmad Bradshaw is a free agent this offseason, but he's expected to return to the Giants and remain the starter. He should be drafted as early as Round 2. But Jacobs is expected to again share carries with Bradshaw, and coach Tom Coughlin has said he wants to get Jacobs more involved. Jacobs finished 2010 with quality stats of 147 carries for 823 yards (5.6 average) and nine touchdowns, and he had seven games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league. Bradshaw clearly has more upside than Jacobs at this point in his career, but Jacobs is still a quality Fantasy reserve. He has the potential to duplicate his stats from 2010 this season, and with that being the case we recommend drafting him as a No. 3 running back with a mid-round pick even though has been going late on Draft Day. He's not expected to play like he did in 2008 when he had 1,089 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, but he should still produce enough to be considered a potential flex option or someone to use as a bye-week or injury replacement.
Injury-risk candidate … Steve Smith, WR
Smith has two things working against him this offseason: a knee injury and a lack of a contract. He's expected to return to the Giants this year, but when he will get back on the field is another story. Smith suffered torn cartilage in his knee in December and underwent microfracture surgery. He hopes to be ready by training camp, but that's overly optimistic. We expect to see Smith early in the year, barring a setback, and he will likely be the No. 3 receiver for the Giants behind Nicks and Manningham and work in the slot. He could eventually replace Manningham as a starter if he plays well, but Smith should only be drafted with a mid-round pick as a risk/reward receiver. He's someone to stash on your roster and wait for his return. When healthy, as we saw in 2009, Smith has 100-catch, 1,200-yard potential with a half-dozen touchdowns, and we hope he can get back to that level soon.
The Giants benefit from nine home games this season with a Week 16 matchup "at" the Jets. That should be a fun contest for New Yorkers, but Fantasy owners won't love the lack of offense when those two defenses meet, especially in a potential Fantasy championship. The Giants, even with playing in the NFC East, have a relatively easy schedule with home games against St. Louis, Seattle and Buffalo. But they have a tough two-week stretch with a road game at New England in Week 9 followed by a cross-country trip to San Francisco in Week 10. Still, the overall schedule should favor Bradshaw, Jacobs and the passing game.
Training camp topics
Smith's health will be a big topic to see if he can return on time. His presence on the field will impact two players for Fantasy owners when you factor in Manningham. We already have established Nicks as the best Fantasy receiver for the Giants, and he's worth drafting as early as Round 2 in all leagues.
Fantasy owners should also monitor if Coughlin will stick to his word about getting Jacobs more touches. If Jacobs can get into the 180-carry range and maintain his 5.6-yard average then he could be looking at 1,000-plus rushing yards and double digits in touchdowns. That's tremendous value with a late-round pick.
The Giants own the rights to Barber and Burress, but they are expected to join new teams once the lockout is over. Barber has minimal Fantasy value and should not be drafted in the majority of leagues, but Burress could be worth drafting with a late-round selection if he signs with the right team.
Steve Smith (knee; questionable for the start of training camp) … Hakeem Nicks (toe; probable for the start of training camp) ... Ahmad Bradshaw (ankle; probable for the start of training camp) ... Kevin Boss (hip; probable for the start of training camp) ... Osi Umenyiora (hip; probable for the start of training camp)
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