Manning? Not stratospheric, but heavenly head of QB class


The Kickoff

August 10, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

Itend to avoid rankings. There are so many other places for fantasy lovers to find long lists of players that I feel I'm adding to the cacophony when I toss off my own.

That said, most of the e-mails I get this time of year ask me if X guy is better than Y guy. There's no sense in denying that such thoughts sit at the core of football draft preparations. So in the name of efficiency, I'm going to devote the next three columns to rankings at the key offensive positions. We'll start with quarterbacks, the most important players on the field in real football games. The signal callers take back seats to running backs in most fantasy drafts, at least in part because there isn't much statistical difference between the No. 3 guy and the No. 15.

I think many drafters will be particularly gun-shy with quarterbacks this year after Daunte Culpepper and Peyton Manning failed to justify top-three selections in 2005. I can see an argument for drafting Manning in the top five, but I prefer to snag a midrange guy in the fourth or fifth round. I've found that in general, you don't lose much with that approach. Anyway, here they are.

1. Peyton Manning: You were expecting someone else? Manning is the obvious gold standard and remains in the prime of his career. He has plenty of great targets, the absolute faith of his coaches and a solid line to protect him. I wouldn't use my first-round pick on him, but that's no indictment. I just don't think he'll reach the stratospheric levels of 2004. Expect 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns.

2. Tom Brady: I believe in safe choices at this position, and they don't come much safer than Brady. Like Manning, he's a durable player who has earned total trust from those around him. With Corey Dillon on the decline, the Patriots will probably huck the ball around like they did down the stretch last year. I expect close to 4,000 yards and at least 25 touchdowns with little downside.

3. Matt Hasselbeck: He never feels like a sexy pick, does he? He doesn't have a John Elway arm or Michael Vick wheels. He doesn't hop around like a crazed stork calling audibles at the line of scrimmage or appear on GQ covers. But he's an efficient, ever-improving player starting behind a good offensive line. If you get him in the fifth round, be thrilled. I expect 3,700 yards and 25 touchdowns.

4. Donovan McNabb: Sure, he's without the receiver who helped elevate him to elite status in 2004. But Andy Reid showed last season that he's quite willing to throw 35 to 40 times a game, and that should allow McNabb to post big yardage numbers, even if he's not as deadly as he was two years ago. He's obviously not the runner he was but can still give you a few more points with his legs than the guys above him. I expect close to 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns.

5. Carson Palmer: I know he's a big risk, especially now that he might not be ready for the opener. He would have challenged Manning for the top spot on the list if totally healthy, and he's still a great arm surrounded by terrific playmakers. I probably won't be the one taking a flyer on him in the first three rounds. But I can't blame those who are so enamored. I expect 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns with the possibility of a lot more.

6. Marc Bulger: It all becomes quite a muddle here with a run of guys who probably won't make your season but shouldn't break it, either. Bulger is an accurate passer with a nice touch on the deep ball. Too bad he plays for a bad team. I expect 3,600 yards and 22 touchdowns.

7. Jake Delhomme: He's kind of like Hasselbeck lite, a solid player who never quite feels like an elite quarterback. He's well-protected by his line, and Carolina should be very good once again. I expect 3,400 yards and 23 touchdowns.

8. Eli Manning: I'm not sold on the Eli experience. I didn't like his decision-making or accuracy down the stretch last year. But he has some excellent targets in Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey, and he'll get to throw the ball a lot. I expect 3,700 yards and 22 touchdowns with some downside potential.

9. Drew Bledsoe: Can Terrell Owens lift Bledsoe the way he seemed to lift Donovan McNabb? I'm not sure, but even if he can't, the Bledsoe of 2005 wasn't exactly shameful. He's not the most fun pick, and he has problems avoiding hits. But I expect 3,500 yards and 24 touchdowns - not bad.

10. Michael Vick: Every year, we hear that Vick is finally ready to pilot a real pro passing offense. And every year, he shows the same inaccuracy and skittishness in the pocket. That said, his running makes him a fantasy plus. I expect 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns passing and about 600 yards rushing.

Other fine fantasy quarterbacks include Trent Green, Jake Plummer, Daunte Culpepper and Ben Roethlisberger. I'd avoid Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Alex Smith and all of the rookies.

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