Man, that is weird to write. And read. This is the same Peyton Manning who is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It's the same Manning who had the best fantasy season of any quarterback ... ever. If there were a fantasy football Mount Rushmore, his image would be right up there with the likes of Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson and Jerry Rice. So how in the world can I use the dreaded "B" word to describe him?
Well, let's start off with the news that Manning has agreed to a $4 million reduction in salary. So the question of whether he will be back on the gridiron next season has been answered. Now fantasy fans have to wonder which Manning will be out there -- the one who scored 20-plus fantasy points in 10 of his first 11 games of 2014, or the quarterback who ranked 27th at his position over the final four weeks of the regular season?
Let's see if history can help us find out.
First, let's take into account that Manning will turn 39 later this month. Since 1995, we have seen four quarterbacks (eight instances) who have had a minimum of 10 starts at age 39 or older. That list includes Brett Favre (three seasons), Warren Moon (three seasons), Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie. Of those eight instances, two field generals (Favre - 2009, Moon - 1995) averaged more than 16 fantasy points per game. Of the other six instances, no one averaged more than 14.5 fantasy points.
Now, let's get to what could be a more relevant topic of discussion: has Manning's arm strength diminished to the point where the Broncos could turn into a run-first team in 2015? That was certainly the case over the final four weeks of last season, as he averaged just 30 pass attempts and 19.2 completions per game. That's almost 10 fewer attempts (and seven fewer completions) than he averaged in his first 12 contests. Manning also averaged a dreadful 9.15 fantasy points from Week 14-17; Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun Hill were better.
Those are some frightful truths.
Of course, things have changed in the offseason for the Broncos. Former coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase are no longer at the helm, as the franchise went in a different direction with the hiring of new coach Gary Kubiak and coordinator Rick Dennison. This duo has spent the last five seasons together, first in Houston (2010-2013) and then in Baltimore (2014) where Kubiak was the offensive coordinator and Dennison was the quarterbacks coach.
During his four seasons as the Texans coordinator, the team ranked eighth in total offense (369.5 YPG) but was far more effective on the ground (sixth, 130.6 YPG) than through the air (13th, 239.0 YPG). Houston also recorded an NFL-best 29 100-yard rushing performances in that time, including 24 from fantasy superstar Arian Foster.
While Dennison's offenses did rank an impressive fourth in passing in 2010, his air attacks finished 18th, 11th and 15th over his last three seasons with the Texans. That's not bad, but it's also not what you would call "prolific." In that same four-year time frame, his rushing offenses ranked eighth or better three times. The one season he missed out on a top-10 finish was 2013, when Foster missed eight games due to injuries.
In their lone season together in Baltimore, Kubiak and Dennison turned journeyman Justin Forsett into a top-10 fantasy running back and guided the Ravens to the NFL's eighth-best ground attack. While Joe Flacco had one of his best seasons in the stat sheets, the team finished a respectable (but not eye-popping) 13th in the league in passing offense.
One thing all of this data shows is that the Broncos are fixing to run the football a bunch in 2015, which is good news for the value of C.J. Anderson. And while fantasy fans shouldn't expect Manning to become a "game manager" like he appeared to be at the end of last season, he's not likely to re-emerge into the same quarterback who filled the stat sheets week in and week out either. Instead, I can see him finishing with numbers similar to what Favre produced with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009 ... 4,202 passing yards, 33 touchdown passes, 284.6 fantasy points.
Those are nice totals and would put Manning right in the mix as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. However, fantasy owners can't draft him with the expectation that he'll rebound and finish among the top three players at his position. That's where the potential for us to use the "B" word comes into the discussion. Instead, Manning should be seen as more of a fourth- or fifth-round pick, much like he was in my first mock draft for 2015. At the age of 39 and with the expected emphasis on the ground game, Manning promises to be a good fantasy quarterback ... maybe even very good.
He just won't be great.