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This is the 18th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.
It's easy to dismiss Eli Manning as a second-tier fantasy option. For most of his six-year career, that's exactly what he has been.
But before you pass on him in your draft for a less-proven QB with supposedly more upside, consider carefully what Manning has done recently and what could be in store for him in 2010.
Known as a fairly conservative passer with a tendency to toss unnecessary interceptions, the Giants' signalcaller seemed to turn a corner last season. His decision making was better, his throws were crisper and his accuracy was much improved. And amazingly, he made all these positive adjustments while dealing with plantar fasciitis for most of the campaign.
In '09, Manning set career highs nearly across the board. He threw for his most yards (4,021) and touchdowns (27) while posting bests in yards per attempt (7.9), completion percentage (62.3) and passer rating (93.1). He also had three 300-yard games and nine multi-TD outings. It was easily the most productive and efficient season the Ole Miss product has had in the NFL.
There are a slew of reasons for Manning's sudden effectiveness. In addition to the natural progression a quarterback makes over time, he displayed more confidence and was given more freedom to air it out last year. He received quite a bit of help from his receiving corps, as well, a group that outplayed virtually all expectations and now looks like a very formidable unit.
It is the emergence of WRs Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks that help give Manning so much fantasy optimism heading into '10. Smith developed into a go-to target last season, as his separation ability and good hands made him the guy Manning would look to when he needed a critical play. Nicks, meanwhile, shined as a rookie, beating defenders deep and turning short catches into long gains. The pair was a major reason why Manning had 60 completions of 20-plus yards and 12 connections of 40 yards or more — besting older brother Peyton in both categories.
Not previously known as a true No. 1 fantasy QB, Manning showed he could be one in '09, finishing among the top 10 passers. This season, he falls in an interesting spot on our draft board, sitting at No. 9 and bridging the gap between the elite QBs and the younger options with major potential. Many owners will tend to overlook him at that spot for guys like Joe Flacco or Kevin Kolb, but doing so could be a mistake.
While players in the Flacco/Kolb makeup certainly have the ability to be big-time fantasy producers this season, they are also less proven than Manning and carry more risk. The former Pro Bowler hasn't missed a start over the last five seasons, is in an offense that will let him chuck it and is now into his prime at age 29. Add in his cast of stellar receivers, and Manning doesn't deserve to be passed over in the middle rounds.
So if you like to take the approach of building your fantasy team at other positions before addressing QB, Manning is the ideal choice. He might not produce like his brother, but he's a solid value who has proven himself over time and could be about to have his best year yet. It's time to consider Eli a weekly fantasy starter.
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