QB Eli Manning
Do you get the feeling that Eli is the Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy quarterbacks? Rodney couldn’t get any respect and neither can Eli. After his breakout campaign in 2005 when he finished as the fourth-ranked fantasy quarterback (albeit in a soft year for production at the position), he fell to 11th, 13th, and 15th over the next three years. However, over the last two seasons, Manning has made it into the top ten, finishing seventh this past season and 10th in 2009. Yet despite his two consecutive 4,000-yard seasons and 58 touchdowns over that period, look for Eli to be rated as a bottom-tier starter in 12-team leagues heading into 2011. “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” might best sum up the respect Eli gets in fantasy circles. Clearly Manning’s production is due in part to his solid supporting cast, including one of the league’s best trios of wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, and Mario Manningham—along with a solid pass-catching running back in Ahmad Bradshaw and a serviceable tight end in Kevin Boss. Look for the Giants to bring back that same supporting cast on offense, although Smith is a question mark because of the microfracture surgery he needed to repair the knee injury he suffered midway through last season. Considering his propensity for giving the ball away (25 interceptions and five fumbles in 2010), move Manning down in leagues that penalize turnovers, but consider him a decent option just outside the big six at quarterback.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw
Last year Bradshaw won the training camp battle against incumbent starter Brandon Jacobs and proceeded to have a solid season for the Giants. The former seventh-round pick produced career highs in rushing yards (1,235), receiving yards (314), and touchdowns (8), finishing 13th overall at running back. The only black mark on his season was his six fumbles, which caused head coach Tom Coughlin to relegate him to backup status from Week 12 to 16. The Giants have become more of a passing team over the last two seasons, and that virtually ensures that Bradshaw will remain the starter due to Jacobs’ inability to catch the ball. Bradshaw enters 2011 as a mid-tier RB2 with upside and with a mild amount of risk due to his fumbling issues.
RB Brandon Jacobs
Jacobs enters 2011 coming off a pair of subpar fantasy seasons. He was injured and largely ineffective in 2009 and then lost his starting position to Ahmad Bradshaw last season. Jacobs was a rising fantasy star after posting consecutive 1000-yard seasons in 2007 and 2008 as well as putting up 15 touchdowns in 2008. However, Bradshaw appears to be firmly entrenched as the starter, so the prospect of Jacobs emerging as a fantasy stud appears to be over. While his fantasy stock has taken a hit, he remains a solid RB3 and a great flex option in leagues that employ the position. Despite losing his starting position, he still managed to average 8.9 points per game—a drop of only 0.3 from 2009—with 882 total yards and nine touchdowns. In addition, he has only missed one game over the last two seasons, putting to rest the injury concerns that plagued him earlier in his career. He also raised his yards per carry from 3.7 in 2009 to 5.6 last season. Add it all up and he might provide value on draft day.
WR Hakeem Nicks
After a solid rookie campaign, Nicks entered 2010 on the verge of overtaking Steve Smith as Manning’s go-to receiver. Sure enough, he blasted out of the gates with a four-reception, 75-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Panthers in Week 1. From there, Nicks went on to establish himself as the team’s top receiving threat, having an outstanding sophomore season with 79 receptions for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns, despite missing two games with injuries. Entering 2011, Nicks has the potential to become one of the top five receivers in the league due to his impressive combination of size, speed, and route-running ability, although he is still prone to the occasional drop. With Steve Smith likely to suffer a dip in production courtesy of offseason microfracture surgery, look for Nicks to see a big increase from the 128 targets he had in 2010. Because of that, he is a solid bet to finish in the top ten at wide receiver, and a top-five ranking would come as no surprise.
WR Steve Smith
Smith burst onto the scene in 2009, finishing the year with 107 receptions (the most in team history) for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. With the Giants moving to more of a pass-based offense, more of the same was expected last season. However, Smith caught the injury bug, suffering a torn pectoral muscle that caused him to miss four games, only to return and suffer a season-ending knee injury in Week 14. Even when he was in the lineup, his production was down, with his point-per-game average slipping from 10.3 to 7.9. With Mario Manningham developing into a big play receiver and Smith’s recovery from microfracture surgery uncertain—and a stint on the PUP to open the season not out of the question—he ranks as a backup wide receiver at best in 2011. And don’t forget that he’s a better option in PPR leagues than in standard scoring formats.
WR Mario Manningham
After washing out during his rookie season in 2008, Manningham finished as the 28th-ranked fantasy wide receiver in 2009 and then improved upon that in 2010, finishing 15th. He became better in every area last season, finishing with 60 receptions for 944 yards and a healthy nine touchdowns, which were all career highs. What is even more impressive is that he managed that with only 92 targets while catching 65.2 percent of those targets—a very high percentage considering he finished the year averaging 15.7 yards per reception. With Steve Smith coming off a knee injury and Manningham having shown major improvement over the past two years, he is a breakout candidate in 2011. Look for Manningham to open the season in the starting lineup and relegate Smith to a backup role. There isn’t anything to suggest he can’t finish as a WR2 again in 2011, especially since he should see the ball more. He will likely be a bargain on draft day.
TE Kevin Boss
Entering his fifth season in the league, it appears that the mold has been set for Boss’s offensive production. Basically, it’s touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns. He doesn’t catch a lot of balls (42 is his career-high), he doesn’t get a lot of yards (a career-high of 567), and he’s wildly inconsistent with 19 games of five fantasy points or fewer in his 30 games over the last two seasons. However, he has 16 touchdowns over the past three seasons and has scored at least five every year. Entering 2011, there may be more opportunities for Boss to produce with Steve Smith recovering from a knee injury. He will need to hold off third-year player Travis Beckum for the starting nod, but that appears likely. Boss is clearly a TE2 with little upside and ranks as a mid-tier backup.