Eli Manning is one of the most interesting quarterbacks to evaluate in the NFL.
There’s good Eli: Manning is a two-time Super Bowl winner and a two-time Super Bowl MVP. He’s engineered 30 game-winning drives. He’s ranked 11th all-time in fourth quarter regular season comebacks with 25. He’s also tied for second (yes second!) all-time in most fourth quarter playoff comebacks with four. (Joe Montana is first on that list with five, and then John Elway, Tom Brady, and Terry Bradshaw are all tied with Manning at four).
That’s, uh, impressive.
Then, there’s bad Eli: He threw 27 interceptions in 2013, which was the highest in the NFL. He’s led the league in interceptions a whopping three times in his career (2013, 2010, 2007). He hasn’t led the New York Giants to the playoffs since 2011.
That’s not so good.
So, where does that leave Manning in 2014? Is he on the decline?
At numberFire, we employ an advanced metric called Net Expected Points (NEP) to evaluate players. NEP tracks the total number of points a player either adds or subtracts from his team’s expected total through the course of the season. You can read more about it here.
For Manning, we’ll specifically look at Passing NEP, and how he’s performed as a passer over the course of his career to determine if he can be counted on this year.
In terms of Passing NEP, there were only two starting quarterbacks (minimum 300 drop backs) that were worse than Manning last season, and they were both rookies: E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith.
In Manning’s defense, the Giants’ offensive line was absolutely decimated last year, and their starting unit missed 38 total starts, according to BigViewBlue.com. The cohesion just wasn’t there, and it was clear that Manning was never comfortable in the pocket.
So was 2013 an anomaly or is Manning legitimately in decline? Let's take a look at the numbers:
Though Manning's seen a decline in Passing NEP over the last three seasons, It should also be noted that Manning’s numbers have been up and down his entire career. He’s never been a top seven quarterback. He’s finished as high as eigth in Passing NEP, and as low as 28th. The year the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007, he was the league leader in interceptions.
He followed up an impressive second season in 2005 with two mediocre ones in 2006 and 2007. Each time his production dips, he eventually pulls it back up. His career is just funny, man.
He looks incredibly average sometimes, and other times he plays lights out football.
At age 33, it’s fair to wonder how many “good” years Manning has left. Does he have another career revival up his sleeve? The truth is, we honestly just don’t know what he may bring to the table on a weekly basis, as the numbers illustrate.
One thing is for certain - fantasy football owners aren’t betting on Manning in 2014. In fact, they view him as nothing more than a possible backup.
In a standard 12-team league with a 15-round draft, Manning is being selected in the 13th round (on average), which makes him the 20th quarterback off the board (ADP numbers courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com). Funny enough, numberFire's fantasy football rankings also place him 20th among quarterbacks. You can read our full rankings here.
Heck, Johnny freakin' Manziel is being drafted ahead of him for goodness sake.
Let that sink in for a bit. The three-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl MVP is being drafted after someone who has never thrown a pass in the NFL. That’s how polarizing Manning is as a quarterback.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic.
Reasons For Optimism
After a miserable 0-6 start in 2013, the Giants showed great improvement by going 7-3 in their final 10 games.
The organization also put a clear emphasis on surrounding Manning with talent on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. They drafted speedy wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who some considered to be the most versatile player in the entire draft. He will have an immediate impact in the passing game playing opposite the electrifying Victor Cruz.
In the second round, they shored up their offensive line by drafting center Weston Richburg, who was widely considered the best center in this year’s class. Richburg should be a welcome addition to a shaky offensive line that could use some stability.
In the fourth round, they nabbed running back Andre Williams, a real bruiser that should help solidify a pedestrian Giants running game, and aid Manning with play-action. Not to mention their signing of Rashad Jennings over the off-season.
The Giants also brought back Manning’s old pal in wide receiver Mario Manningham, who produced the best numbers of his career while playing in New York.
On top of all that, the Giants are installing an “up-tempo, attacking style offense”, according to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who previously coached some guy named Aaron Rodgers to a Super Bowl victory with the Green Bay Packers.
This style of play will really cater to Manning’s strengths, as he’s always been a master of the two-minute drill and the hurry-up offense late in games.
With all of that said, it still remains a mystery as to which Manning will actually show up in 2014: good Eli or bad Eli? Manning’s Passing NEP suggests he's due for another bounce-back season after two straight down years. The Giants solid off-season additions on offense are certainly encouraging. Still, it will ultimately be up to Eli to prove that he can be a high-level passer at this stage in his career.