Why Patrick Mahomes & Eli Manning May Be Steals (Fantasy Football)

by Andrew Swanson | @FFtoday_Andy | Featured Writer
May 26, 2018

Eli Manning is ranked too low considering the quality of the weapons around him

The art of ranking players by fantasy football writers and analysts is a difficult task that can often be skewed by personal preferences and biases. It is also a challenge to rank players beyond the top 100, as it can often be a challenge to discern between who is more valuable across positions. For example, trying to decide whether the No. 50 ranked WR, the No. 40 ranked RB, or the No. 14 ranked QB is more valuable is not an easy job, and fantasy writers like myself often put less thought and effort in ranking players after the top 100.

The difficulty of ranking players beyond the top 100 often results in a significant deviation of values from one fantasy expert to the next. This is exemplified by the fact that once you get past the 100th pick on FantasyPros ECR, the standard deviation for each player jumps well into the area of 20, and often as high as 50. The experts who provide the rankings for the ECR are the best in the business, yet they too find it a chore to assign a value to players the deeper they get into the process.

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For this reason, fantasy owners often draft players much higher than what is commonly thought because of the uncertainty around the market value of a fantasy asset. But it can also provide an excellent opportunity for finding league-winning value late in drafts.

The quarterback position, because there is a surplus of viable starting options, is one in which the fantasy writers like myself struggle to rank beyond the top 12. Most experts have the same top 12 players on their ranking lists, albeit in different orders and with polarizing players like Deshaun Watson, Drew Brees, and Jimmy Garoppolo as the most difficult to rank. But after the top 12, and especially after the top 20, ranking quarterbacks is a crapshoot at best.

When ranking quarterbacks I look at a wide variety of aspects, including situation, ability, schedule, and age, to name a few. I also compare my ranking of each quarterback to the respective rankings of their skill position receiving options to make sure they are somewhat in line. Unlike running backs who can have significant fantasy value on their own, quarterbacks who do not score points on the ground have a direct correlation to the projected fantasy points of their skill position players. 

For example, if I project a player like Aaron Rodgers to have a top 12 WR in Davante Adams and a top 12 tight end in Jimmy Graham, then my stat projections for Rodgers must be in line with the stats I project for his receiving options. One side of the equation must balance the other. Otherwise, the quarterback variable or the skill position variable is incorrectly ranked by myself or the market.

An exercise that I like to do to help identify incorrectly valued quarterback/skill position relationships is to add up the ECR rankings of the No. 1, No. 2, and TE receiving options for the top 35 quarterbacks ranked on FantasyPros.com. The lower the number of the sum of skill position players the better, as the smaller number of ranked players equates to the quarterback being surrounded by skill position players the market deems valuable. I then rerank the top 35 based on their Positional Skill Score (sum of their skill position player ranking) to see if there are any outliers.

As one might expect, many of the top-ranked players like Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Carson Wentz, had Positional Skill Scores similar to their ECR ranking. The primary outlier for the elite quarterbacks is Russell Wilson, who ranked 28th out of 35 quarterbacks based on their surrounding cast of players. This tells me that the fantasy industry thinks Russell Wilson will continue to make points on his own, or the industry is far too low on Tyler Lockett, Doug Baldwin, or whoever emerges as the top tight end in Seattle.

The data also suggests that the market is way off on the rankings of Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City and Eli Manning in New York and that both players at their current respective ECR rankings of 18th and 26th are excellent values. On the other hand, the market could be correct in valuing Mahomes and Manning but is significantly incorrect in how the skill position players for the Chiefs and Giants are ranked.

As the No. 18 ranked quarterback, second-year player Patrick Mahomes is the only QB in the NFL to boast a top 10 running back, two-top 30 wide receivers, and an elite tight end. A simple bit of arithmetic will tell you that if Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce produce fantasy points at their current projected level, there is just no way that Patrick Mahomes will finish as the No. 18 ranked quarterback. 

If you as a fantasy owner believe that Hunt, Hill, Wakins, and Kelce are correctly valued and will produce fantasy points compared to where they are currently ranked, then the second-year QB from Texas Tech is a huge value and incorrectly ranked by the market. However, if you believe that Mahomes will not be close to a top 12 fantasy quarterback this year, then logic would tell you that some or all of the Chiefs will not live up to their draft equity.

With regards to Eli Manning, his current ranking of 26th overall, well behind other quarterbacks like Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, and Mitch Trubisky, is a head-scratcher that does not add up. Manning owns the third best Skill Position Score behind Mahomes and Cousins, with two players ranked in the top 10 overall in Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley, and a second WR and tight end ranked in the top 100. 

It’s safe to assume Manning plays a full 16-game season based on the fact that he has never missed a game due to injury. As such, it’s implausible for him not to produce with a top-five wide receiver in Beckham, a top-five tight end in Evan Engram, and a top-50 WR in Sterling Sheppard. Not to mention, Barkley is an exceptional pass-catching running back who will bolster Manning’s stats even further. 

I understand the hate of Manning, a boring player who is on the final legs of his career and has not finished as a viable fantasy option since 2015. But as it stands, one of the two sides of the equation is out of balance, and something has to give. Either you believe Manning is this year’s Alex Smith and a steal at his current ECR, or the market has incorrectly ranked Beckham, Engram, Sheppard, and Barkley. I personally think the Manning is the side of the equation that is decidedly wrong, and I plan on taking him as a possible steal of the draft in the final round of my league draft this summer.

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Andrew Swanson is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive or follow him @FFtoday_Andy.

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