By: Andy Collier
The Giants won a Super Bowl 3 seasons ago – at a time when Eli Manning was considered a consistent fantasy QB, enjoying a few top-10 finishes, and providing fantasy football owners with solid mid-round value. But Eli has hit the skids the past 2 years, culminating last year in a humiliating 18-TD, 27-INT season.
What fantasy fortunes does 2014 hold for the Giants signal caller? Well, before we go there, let’s take a deeper dive into what has plagued him recently.
5 Factors That Have Plagued #10
#1. Shoddy Line
In their two latest Super Bowl runs, the Giants relied on a strong offensive line that opened running lanes and also gave time for Eli to make plays. 2013 was another story. To say the O-line was terrible is an understatement. They averaged only 83.2 rushing yards/game, good for 29th in the league (RBs will be addressed later). The line allowed Eli to be sacked a career-high 39 times, and it seemed like a young revolving door at OG. When the most consistent player on their O-Line was rookie OT Justin Pugh, you know they struggled. Getting rid of OTs David Diehl and Kevin Boothe as well as C David Baas is addition by subtraction. Luckily for the offense they addressed these glaring issues in the offseason signing OGs Geoff Schwartz and John Jerry, OT Charles Brown and drafting C Weston Richburg. OG Chris Snee will return to anchor the line. It’ll likely take training camp to get them all on the same page but they’re going to be better than the 2013 version. If the line can limit the sacks to half of last year’s total, it would be a success. It will also give more upside to Manning’s efficiency.
#2. Terrible Running Game
Where do we even begin? How about the fact that Week 1 RB David Wilson fumbled twice, and RB Da’Rel Scott didn’t turn around on a pass intended for him, ultimately costing the Giants the opener? How about the fact that the Giants had 6 starting RBs by Week 9 last year? If 2013 was a bad year for the O-Line, it was an atrocious year for the running game. As mentioned before, only 83 yards/game on the ground, but it wasn’t until RB Andre Brown came off his early season injury in Week 9 that they started getting more consistent. Well, Brown is gone, Wilson still hasn’t been cleared for contact yet, and RBs Brandon Jacobs and Scott were cut. To counter the bad news, the Giants re-signed RB Peyton HIllis, drafted RB Andre Williams, and signed free agent RB Rashad Jennings. Jennings is projected as the #1 starter and Williams and Wilson (if cleared) will lock up some time. If the Giants can get the running game in rhythm it will certainly force opposing defenses to stack the box and be susceptible to play-action pass. Eli has always needed a strong running game to be effective. If Jennings can be the man they paid him to be, it will make Manning’s stock rise.
#3. Poor Route Running
The Giants passing game in recent years has been predicated on timing. Since his 2nd year, the team has relied on Eli to make the proper read at the line of scrimmage and adjust on the fly. The glaring problem they had last year was timing. For whatever reason, the chemistry was off between Manning and all his receivers — except WR Victor Cruz. Cruz had a big year in spite of all the bad stuff surrounding the team, and he’ll look to build on that in 2014. The corps of receivers from last year looked immensely talented on paper, but underperformed on the field. WR Hakeem Nicks is one of the most gifted athletes in the NFL, yet he hasn’t found the end zone since November of 2012. He was also a malcontent, continually telling the media that he was far better than his stats indicated. Either way, he wasn’t a solid route runner and was one-dimensional. He can catch jump balls with the best of them, but even then he was off-sync with Eli. The Giants got very little production out of the TE slot, too. TE Brandon Myers was brought in from Oakland after a career year and was nothing more than a slow-moving target that couldn’t get open. WR Rueben Randle was highly touted going into the year, but as the season progressed, he was actually benched in favor of WRs Louis Murphy and Jerrel Jernigan. The team is still not sold on Randle, a major reason they used the 12th overall pick this year to grab WR Odell Beckham. Beckham has explosive speed and is a better route runner than Randle. They also signed TE Adrien Robinson and are happy so far with his progress, but it is to be determined how he’ll pan out. If the receivers can get their act together and give some solid technique to their craft, they will be more effective, which makes Eli more effective.
#4. Kevin Gilbride
Former OC Kevin Gilbride is an old-school coach who developed a boring and unimaginative offense, traditionally a run-first scheme. The passing game was mostly timing routes and the occasional bomb up the seam. Well, when the line sucks, the 3rd string running back is behind Manning, and the receivers can’t run good routes, how on earth did the Giants get any yards!? They ranked 28th in total offense, points per game and rushing, 24th in time of possession and 20th in receiving. If that was a resume of a younger coordinator who didn’t have two Super Bowl rings, he would’ve been fired mid-year. The worst part about the scheme? It doesn’t suit Manning’s strengths. Eli has the ability to read defenses as well as any QB in the league, but his WRs just aren’t capable of consistently running timing routes. He can throw receivers open for big plays, but that simply isn’t a part of the old offense. Gilbride’s refusal to adapt to the changing landscape of his team and the league, proves that he wasn’t suitable for the job and should’ve moved on. In comes new OC Ben McAdoo from Green Bay, bringing a new style that should liven up the ranks in Big Blue Country. Expect more 3 WR sets and stretching the field as Eli aggressively attacks defenses. The TE should also get better, which hasn’t produced steadily since TE Jeremy Shockey left in 2007.
#5. Eli’s “Hero Complex”
A lot went wrong for the Giants offense last year. Most of them were outside Manning’s control; however, he rarely helped himself in situations where he needed to make a smart decision. Eli developed a “hero complex.” He too often tried to make a play or create something when the smart decision was to eat the ball. To wit, he threw a career-high 27 INTs while throwing a career-low 18 TDs (excluding his rookie year where he only played 9 games). His completion percentage was the lowest since 2007 and his yards were the lowest since ’08. He flat out had a terrible year, the worst in his career. The above factors surely contributed to the ineptitude, but he also has to take a bunch of the blame for his recent play.
There is reason to hope that Eli will climb up fantasy football rankings this year Statistically it can’t get much worse, but with some new pieces to the puzzle it should fit his talents well. If all works out, Eli Manning could be in the running for Offensive Comeback Player of the Year, but that doesn’t mean he still provides reliable fantasy value. Looking at his career stats, every time he’s had a sub-par year statistically he’s backed it up with an above-average year. In two-QB formats he would be a good guy to stash on your bench as a backup, but until we see what he can do with the new line, OC and running game it’s a good idea to stay away.