Should You Trade Peyton Manning?

Peyton Manning is putting up insane fantasy numbers, but should you trade him away or trade for him?

"We are all witnesses." This was a reference to LeBron James back in 2007 by Nike, but I think it applies even better with Peyton Manning throughout his career and especially this season.

Nothing brings together a group of friends – or even strangers – like fantasy football. The month (or two or three with some of us at numberFire), before the draft is sometimes the most exciting part of the year. We’re looking at who will be good, who will be bad, and who the surprise players will be. The draft can make or break your team depending on your strategy, but on paper, the team you drafted always looks head and shoulders above everyone else’s.

You have your draft and then comes the first four weeks of the season. Personally, I try to wait for trades or any major shakeup in my fantasy teams until this point. I don’t want to get trigger happy. I want to let the abnormal weeks shake out and let players (good or bad) get back to the mean and have a better (though small) sample size. If you’re 5-0 or 4-1, you’re feeling pretty good. You can manage the first couple bye weeks, but between Weeks 6 and 12, you will want to make sound moves. And, if nothing else, make sure the depth on your team is there in case of injuries (which always happens) or in order to exploit certain matchups.

If you’re 3-2 or 2-3, you may be trying to make moves, but not in full panic...yet. If 1-4, or even worse, 0-5, you’re panicking or already have been. You see owners winning with Peyton Manning, who has been putting up almost unworldly numbers every week, and you want them. You want them bad.

But while Manning has been near unstoppable, he may just be an outlier more than anything.

Let’s take a look at some nifty numbers that are cranked out by the awesome numberFire crew. This first one is net expected points (NEP). Basically for every situation on the field there is a number of points that would be scored by an average team. If players contribute positively towards the NEP, they gain a positive NEP.

29 quarterbacks have dropped back to pass at least 115 times this season over the first five weeks. The following shows the average NEP this season of both the top-10 and bottom-10 quarterbacks in passing NEP and passing NEP per pass (dropback).

Top-10 Quarterbacks

Peyton Manning121.510.60
Drew Brees69.930.33
Philip Rivers58.710.30
Matt Ryan49.400.22
Aaron Rodgers40.170.25
Tony Romo38.190.19
Terrelle Pryor34.550.30
Matthew Stafford27.330.13
Andrew Luck25.030.15
Robert Griffin III21.560.12

Bottom-10 Quarterbacks

Ben Roethlisberger-3.12-0.02
Andy Dalton-4.55-0.02
Cam Newton-7.60-0.05
Sam Bradford-9.80-0.04
Brandon Weeden-10.94-0.09
Geno Smith-12.30-0.07
E.J. Manuel-14.95-0.09
Carson Palmer-17.95-0.09
Eli Manning-21.87-0.10
Matt Schaub-23.75-0.11

As you can see, Brees, Rivers and especially Manning are all starting to separate themselves from the pack in terms of passing efficiency. In other words, these guys would be extremely hard to replace right now for their respective teams.

It makes sense because of their teams' success offensively, but this shows how extreme their replacement value is compared to the league as a whole. Manning especially: he's elevated his game. If you look back over the last five or six years, Manning’s NEP is higher through five games than some top-10 quarterbacks over an entire season.

The column on the right, NEP/P, is the net expected point value per pass. Again, Manning is out of this world with the number, making a tremendous contribution every time he drops back; nearly twice as high as the next two closest quarterbacks. He’s known for making quick decisions, but to quantify it makes us stats nerds smile even more.

To further show Manning’s dominance, let’s put this in perspective to his career as a whole. Besides 2001 and 2002 (and of course 2011, when he missed the season due to neck surgeries), Peyton has finished each season in the top three in NEP and NEP/P.

Peyton Manning's Career NEP and NEP/P


2004 is when Peyton really started showing his masterful play, making it look so effortless. Tom Brady having an outstanding year in 2007 is the only reason Manning was 2nd; same with Drew Brees in 2008.

We are truly blessed with watching such great quarterback play from a talented group of guys, with 2009 maybe being one of the best years for a group that also included Rivers (there he is again) and Aaron Rodgers. Makes me wonder what Peyton would have done in 2011 if not injured.

Manning in Fantasy Football Terms

This passing net expected points data does correlate nicely to fantasy success, and Peyton has shown to be a monster in both fantasy and real football over the years. But do you have to have Peyton Manning on your fantasy team to win? Does it increase your chances of making the playoffs and winning your league?

Well, that’s like getting a Porche and wondering if it will go fast. But keep this very important tidbit in mind: quarterbacks are typically less-in-demand than running backs or receivers because you start just one, and they have less trade value than running backs or receivers. You don't need Peyton Manning in fantasy football. You just want him.

In fact, I would say you may even want to consider selling high on Peyton if you own him. Yes, you read that right: sell high. His value could be the highest, relative to other passers in the league, than it may be all season long. Get the most you can out of the biggest prize in fantasy football right now. I mean, no one was this good to project this type of start to the season; but it's how you finish, right? With the right combination, you could upgrade your RB2 spot if you have someone like DeAngelo Williams or your TE spot if you're stuck with someone like Jared Cook.

To show you why Peyton is a perfect sell-high candidate, let’s take a look at the quarterbacks projected to finish in the top 20 at their position through the end of the season. I've added in where the projected top 20 are currently sitting in standard scoring leagues.

Projected Top-20 Quarterbacks Rest of the Way

PlayerYdsTDsINTsPosFPCurrent PosCurrent FP
Aaron Rodgers3657.1125.749.681250.881084
Drew Brees3851.9224.89.932250.462114
Peyton Manning3504.1426.58.563236.851155
Matt Ryan3537.5722.88.514231.67696
Russel Wilson2624.8218.157.215223.501176
Andrew Luck2955.5318.288.36219.60790
Cam Newton2803.8616.2310.687215.812262
Tom Brady3596.6823.3913.48214.011466
Philip Rivers3262.7122.148.109212.884106
Robert Griffin III3051.0819.598.7710209.331367
Tony Romo3213.7922.319.6311207.833107
Jay Cutler2794.7817.018.2412189.081182
Alex Smith2760.4116.849.7613184.231280
Matthew Stafford3054.3820.0711.514179.25887
Terrelle Pryor2729.3915.799.0415179.231766
Colin Kaepernick2537.0414.419.1916174.722361
Ben Roethlisberger3207.3918.7614.1117173.392750
Michael Vick2429.614.569.1418168.15598
Geno Smith2681.4514.2814.619162.31269
Sam Bradford2659.0412.412.7420162.20986

As you can see, there's a potential for the rest of the field - like Rodgers - to catch up to Manning. But again, the Manning Machine may not stop. He may continue his drive and excellence, but don’t feel as he is the missing piece on your fantasy team. Keep plugging away and make smart moves. Keep up the depth on your roster and stream where you can. Play the matchups. Have fun. And then, who knows – maybe you’ll topple the guy with Peyton on his fantasy team in your league championship because you wanted depth, not the shiniest toy at the store.