...Unfortunately for you the best backup I ever had was Todd Helton"
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The rumor mills are swirling out of control in regards to Peyton Manning and I’m compelled to post something and aid my loyal readers (both of you). Will he play Week 1? Will he miss one or two games, four or five games, perhaps even more? Does he need additional neck surgery, putting his season in jeopardy? Can his tears cure cancer and his smile end world hunger? The fact of the matter is that none of us know exactly when Manning will return because both Manning and the Colts are very secretive with injury information. It’s a pain in the ass for the fantasy community, but in reality it’s smart for the Colts to remained tight-lipped and keep the opposition in the dark. With little incentive for the Colts to keep us all informed on the specifics of Manning’s condition, what actionable information can we take from all the rumors? Well readers, that’s where I come in. Let’s try to shed some light on this cloudy situation.
Back in late July I wrote a piece on injury-risk QB’s [found here]. At the time I wasn’t particularly concerned about Manning, citing the likelihood that his neck procedure was routine and that he’s Peyton Manning – the man doesn’t miss games. Obviously it appears I was too optimistic. Manning has yet to fully participate in practices and missed the entire preseason. With less than a week to go before the start of the regular season, time is quickly running out. It’s becoming clear that Peyton's neck surgery was not as routine a procedure as we all thought, and the recovery has not gone as quickly as anticipated. I'm guessing Manning had some significant nerve impingement prior to surgery, significant in that he suffered from motor loss (reduced strength in the muscles supplied by the compressed nerve). Nerves from the neck supply the upper extremities, so Manning is likely still recovering strength throughout his arms. This could affect his ability to throw, grip, handle a snap, tuck the ball, outstretch his arms to brace a fall, etc. If it was just a matter of some mild residual pain or tingling sensations, I think Manning would be playing, but when dealing with motor loss you can't rush the issue. Any further injury could result in permanent damage, a risk neither Manning nor the Colts will take.
Trying to set a timeline for Manning’s return to the field is a fool’s errand, there’s just too much uncertainty. I am considered a fool in some circles so I’ll try anyway; you haven’t read this far into the article to see me play it safe. There are three time lines I think could happen depending on how optimistic you are and whether or not Manning goes under the knife again. I think it’s probably safe to assume Manning will not take the field in Week 1 regardless, there’s too much writing on the wall to think he’ll be out there that soon. Timeline number one, the best-case scenario, sees Peyton Manning return to the football field Week 2. I don’t buy it. Manning hasn’t been in a competitive contact situation in months, are they going to rush him out there? Are they paying Kerry Collins all that money to start one game? Timeline number two, the most realistic scenario, sees Manning return in another 4-6 weeks, giving him enough time to heal completely and get in game shape. This scenario is what I personally feel is he most likely (for now) and what I’ll go by when judging Manning and the rest of the Colts in terms of value this season. Timeline number three, the worst case scenario, sees Manning requiring further surgery on his neck. Most routine procedures require anywhere from one to three months recovery, and that’s in your average person who doesn’t play professional football. Should Manning require an additional procedure, I doubt he plays again this year.
So what does this mean for Manning in terms of fantasy value? I no longer consider Peyton a top 10 QB for this season. I would take Vick, Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Rivers, Romo, Ryan, Schaub, Roethlisberger and Stafford ahead of him, making Manning the 11th QB on my board. Should Manning return Week 2 I’d rank him right after Romo, but I anticipate at least a month or so of missed games and can’t rank him ahead of these other guys with that in mind. If Manning recovers fully and returns by Week 5 or 6, you could have a winning lottery ticket sitting on your bench. A popular strategy this season with Matthew Stafford could now be applied to Manning as well. Coupling Manning with a serviceable platoon option; a Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler, Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton type, could help keep your team afloat in the short term and pay big dividends long term.
Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon
The loss of Manning is also a significant blow to many of the Colts play makers. This is not a simple offense to learn and it was designed for Peyton Manning to run it. Kerry Collins is not Peyton Manning. Reggie Wayne and the rest of the Colts receivers (Collie, Garcon) need to be knocked down draft boards immediately. Wayne was already sliding down draft boards as his advancing age, declining productivity and the many mouths to feed in Indy were deterrents even with a healthy Manning. Reggie Wayne is not a physically gifted freak of nature like Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson who can make plays with substandard QB play. He’s a precise route runner whose incredible consistency and chemistry with his Hall of Fame QB have lead to a stellar career. I think Wayne’s value suffers the most with Manning out, so much so that I have him slotted outside my top 15 WR.
Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai
Two players’ values that only get small downgrades in my eyes are Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai. While Manning has a far superior skill set than Collins and loved to look Clark’s way, Clark should still see ample targets regardless of who’s behind center. As the safety valve option for Collins, I could see Clark being just as productive in terms of catches and yards as he’s always been, much like Jason Witten last year when Jon Kitna took the reigns from an injured Tony Romo. It would seem like Addai’s value would actually go up with this news as the Colts may be forced to run the ball more often, but with Collins running the show defenses will be gearing up to stop the ground game and force Old Man Kerry to beat them. The increased workload for Addai will likely be offset by the increased attention of defenses. As with the entire offense, both Clark and Addai will likely see a regression in TD production, but I expect the rest of the stats to be there.
As always should you have any additional questions feel free to continue the conversation in the comments section or shoot me an email. Good luck to everyone still drafting!