This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more 2014 Fantasy Football Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose.
Peyton Manning was an absolute beast in fantasy football in 2013. The Denver Broncos broke the NFL single-season record for points in a season, while Manning himself dropped two NFL single-season records of his own (passing yards and touchdowns) in the process.
As impressive as Manning’s 2013 season was, his 2012 season was equally as impressive, as he put up 37 touchdowns and over 4,600 passing yards after sitting out an entire season in 2011.
That’s two straight elite seasons and a trip to the Super Bowl from a 38-year old legend.
The only question remaining is, when does the fantastic ride come to an end?
The Denver Post guesses Manning will play for another three seasons, maybe more. However, we’re getting closer to Manning approaching one of those “riding off in the sunset” seasons. Should the Broncos win it all this year or the next, we’re inching closer to Manning just deciding that it’s better to go out on top than risk going down in flames.
That going down in flames option could always pop up sooner than expected, too. That has to be a very real thought in the back of Manning’s mind, even if he’s not willing to admit it. There are various reasons to think it’s possible for Manning to regress this season.
Let’s break down the top four and see if Manning is a bigger risk than we all think:
Manning is 38 years old. It’s not often that we talk about 38-year olds at any position coming off career years, and we’ve never seen someone that old in history put such seasons up in consecutive seasons.
In recent memory, Brett Favre was the oldest quarterback to put up crazy numbers at an advanced age. He did so in 2009, when he put up 33 touchdowns to just seven picks and got the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC title game at 41 years old. He returned for one more year in 2010 and was swallowed up in a sea of injuries and poor play.
Favre came back for one more season than he really wanted to or was prepared for. He also had to endure a rough season where a lot of his supporting cast was banged up or ineffective. But a star of his caliber coming off of an outstanding season wasn’t expected to see that huge of a drop off, yet it still happened.
The same sad story has been told over and over through the years, too. Looking back, we’ve seen career years by the likes of Rich Gannon, Steve Young and others, only to see them go down in flames one or two years after seemingly playing the best ball of their lifes.
The reality is that skill starts leaving players around their mid-30’s. Whether it’s the ability to accurately place balls, sense pressure or put enough strength behind the football, skills deteriorate eventually.
Is Manning that special player that still has a lot to give and can play at an elite level into his 40’s? If Favre did it, a still healthy Manning with an awesome supporting cast certainly has the chance. It’s just not a guarantee.
With age comes the increased risk of injury in the NFL. It has to be an even greater concern for a guy who missed the entire 2011 season with a neck issue. Manning’s neck has checked out and he’s ready to rock in 2014, but you have to imagine he’s still just one hit away from that becoming a problem again. Truly, at 38, he’s one hit away from anything on his body becoming a problem.
We can’t predict injuries and how or when they’ll happen, but the older Manning gets, the more susceptible he is to a season or career-ending injury. Naturally, if he sustained a big enough injury, it could negatively impact his 2014 play or even force him into retirement. It’s not a lock, but the likelihood only grows with each passing year.
Even if age and injury don’t come into play, we could still see a dramatic drop off in statistics and overall efficiency from Manning just by defenses figuring Denver out. We definitely saw this a few times in 2013 during the regular season and we absolutely saw it at the biggest stage when the Broncos looked inept in the first three quarters against the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Defenses will surely adjust and try to use Seattle’s shut down performance as a blueprint to stifle Manning and the Broncos. The reality is that Manning doesn’t have an elite long ball anymore, while Denver is largely a finesse offense. Getting up in their face and physical with them changes the way they play.
There’s more to it than that, but Manning has also traditionally struggled against elite 3-4 defenses. Add all of that together, and it’s entirely possible Manning has more issues in his third season in Denver than we’ve already seen.
This aspect isn’t likely to kill Manning’s fantasy stock completely, as Denver will surely make their own adjustments. However, banking on over 5,400 yards and 55 touchdowns again is unrealistic.
These first three points are major hypotheticals. Manning is older and one year closer to a major injury, but that doesn’t mean either will really impact him. Defenses will also adjust, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll adjust correctly.
Losing Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno is a very real hit. Not only are both of these guys super reliable and knew the offense up and down, but the guys replacing them aren’t quite as reliable. Montee Ball is a superior talent to Moreno and has more upside, but he’s not as good at catching the ball out of the backfield, has had past issues with ball security and isn’t as good as Moreno at pass protection. Decker is replaced by a grouping of Emmanuel Sanders and rookie receiver Cody Latimer, with Sanders having a history of inconsistency and injuries and Latimer simply being unproven.
There’s enough talent in Denver to help offset these losses and help make these transitions seem effortless, but it’s still enough change to cause some minor concern. What if these replacement options blow up in the Broncos’ face? It’s entirely possible.
Ultimately, Peyton Manning is still going to be the first fantasy quarterback taken in most drafts. He’s coming off the best season in league history and still has a loaded offense and a system that caters to his strengths. It’s likely he ends 2014 as the game’s best passer again, but it’s getting clearer that we’re getting closer to the end.