Now, before you all go and gather your pitchforks, hear me out... I know that many fantasy owners have been burned by Eli in the past, and it's impossible to ignore the fact that just two seasons ago, Manning threw for just a mere 18 TDs and a pathetic 27 INTs and finished as the 21st QB overall. A lot of people like to hate on Manning because of these numbers but if you watch the film, a large chunk of those interceptions were on passes that bounced off of his receivers' hands. Additionally, Manning was stuck behind an abysmal offensive line and in the system of mediocre offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride. Manning turned those numbers around in 2014, throwing for over 4400 yards, 30 TDs and a respectable 14 INTs, finishing as the #10 QB in standard scoring. What's even more impressive than his turnaround was his ability to post these numbers in the first year of a completely different offensive system that was orchestrated by ex-Packers QB coach Ben McAdoo. Going into 2015, Manning has more potential than ever to be a top Fantasy QB. Why, you ask? Let's take a look.
X's and O's: Gaining familiarity with the McAdoo offense
When Ben McAdoo became the Giants offensive coordinator last year, fans were ecstatic that they were finally free from the Kevin "Shotgun Draw on 3rd and 20" Gilbride system. Hopes were high that Eli would immediately become a stud. However, as any quarterback can tell you, learning a new offensive system always involves a learning curve. Always. For Manning, it took the entire preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season until he finally began to adjust to the new system, throwing for 300 yards and 4 TDs in Week 4, finishing with 32.1 points as the #1 QB that week. About half way through the season, Manning looked like he finally had acclimated to McAdoo's offense. A lot of people wonder why it took him so long. I mean he was just learning a new playbook, right? Wrong. From changing his drop back, to his reads and his release, Manning completely changed the way he played the quarterback position. With an entire season and another off-season of experience under his belt, Eli's knowledge and execution of the Giants' new offensive system will only improve.
Bodyguards: An improved offensive line
When free agency rolled around a couple of weeks ago, many analysts and Giants fans had figured that due to their offensive line troubles, the G-Men would target at least one of the top offensive linemen available in Mike Iupati, Orlando Franklin or Bryan Beluga. Nope. Instead, the Giants picked up former Bengal, Marshall Newhouse (an average offensive lineman at best). Additionally, the Giants went outside the box to improve ther line situation by turning to our neighbors to the north. This off-season, the Giants picked up the Canadian Football League's best offensive lineman in Brett Jones. Jones, 23, was voted the CFL's top rookie in 2013 and will add some much needed depth to the Giants offensive line. Aside from free agency, we cannot forget about this year's NFL draft. Many NFL analysts believe the Giants will take an offensive lineman (Brandon Scherff or Andrus Peat) with the ninth pick of the draft. Regardless of whether they decide to take a lineman in the first round or not, it is an absolute certainty that the Giants will look to bolster their pass protection at some point in the draft, and it will most likely be earlier rather than later. Finally, with Geoff Schwartz returning from injured reserve (along with 19 other Giants), Eli Manning will undoubtedly have more time in the pocket next year.
Weapons Galore: A bolstered receiving corps
Last year Manning had one of the most productive seasons of his career, completing 63.1% of his passes (highest completion percentage of his career) for 4410 yards, 30 TDs and only 15 INTs. What makes these stats even more impressive is that Eli was able to accomplish these numbers in a new offensive system, missing his favorite receiver in Victor Cruz since week 6. Before being injured, Cruz was on pace for another 1000+ yard season. Fortunately, the loss set the stage for rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to have a record breaking rookie season, solidifying him as one of the most elite receivers in the NFL. Eli will look forward to having Cruz, his favorite receiver, back in 2015 and if all goes according to plan, he will return 100% healthy. However, things rarely go according to plan after such a major injury (torn patellar tendon). The top concern entering 2015 is that Cruz won't be able to regain his elite speed and route running ability. However, a sigh of relief may be in store for the Giants entering the draft. Recently, more and more buzz has been revolving around the idea that if Amari Cooper falls to the Giants in the draft, he may become the newest member of Big Blue. Now, while many people argue that the Giants don't need to take a receiver in the first round, GM Jerry Reese is notoriously known for picking the best available player on the board, regardless of team need. Either way, expect the Giants to have a better wide receiver corps in 2015.
Additionally, the Giants gave Eli another weapon through free agency in the form of pass-catching specialist running back, Shane Vereen. In 2014, Manning completed 379 passes on 601 attempts (63.1%). Of his 379 completions, only 62 (16.5%) were caught by running backs. Enter Shane Vereen. In 2014, Vereen hauled in 52 passes from former teammate Tom Brady for 447 yards and 3 TDs. The year before, he caught 47 passes for 427 yards and 3 TDs. Without a doubt, Vereen has solidified himself as one of the most reliable pass catching backs in the NFL. In fact, last year only a handful of RBs had more receptions than Vereen, most of them being workhorse backs (Matt Forte, Le'veon Bell, Demarco Murray, and Fred Jackson). Expect Vereen's numbers to increase even further in 2015 under McAdoo's quick pass system, becoming Manning's number one check down option. Additionally with TE Larry Donnell proving that he is an unrefined but talented pass catcher and WR Rueben Randle finally showing flashes of greatness at the end of the season, it is easy to say that the Giants will have one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the NFL.
Conclusion: What to expect from Manning in 2015
Coming off one of the best seasons of his career (1st in completion percentage, 2nd in yards, 2nd in TDs, and 2nd in INTs), in a brand new system, missing his favorite receiver, Manning's fantasy potential has never been higher than it is entering 2015. A bolstered offensive line, the return of all-pro wideout Victor Cruz, and the addition of Shane Vereen means that the Giants look to be a pass first team next year under McAdoo's quick pass offense. Add all of those with the fact that Manning will finally have a full season of experience in McAdoo's system and you're left with a top 5 QB. What makes Eli even more enticing for 2015 is the fact that his name is Eli "27 Interceptions" Manning. This means that Manning will outlast most other QB1s in the draft, further increasing his value.
2015 Projection: #4 QB Overall Standard Scoring