With the beginning of the real season (finally) upon us, fantasy football draft season is just about over. The procrastinators among us, however, may still be in draft mode.
Rankings have been out for months now and we all have a pretty good idea of who should be taken where, but there's been an important question that has hung over me during both mock and real fantasy drafts.
For the most part, your draft position and personal preference will dictate which QB you're picking, but you may very well have to make a decision about which QB in any given tier you want to take. For me, the toughest decision has been Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. I'm rarely taking the super elite QBs (Rodgers and Brees) but I like to get a reliable, elite QB, and both Manning and Brady are often available. I just can't decide who I like more.
Peyton is consistently being ranked higher than Tom, with Manning coming in 19th overall in the most recent ESPN consensus rankings and Brady behind him at 25th. They are QB#3 and #4 respectively. Both great options, but you've got to choose one.
Popular opinion says Peyton has the better weapons and, thus, will be better. But I'm more interested in past performance and recent trends. They've both dealt with a lot of different receiving corps during their careers and it seems that, in general, quarterbacks do more to elevate their receivers than receivers do to elevate their quarterbacks. (Note: if you think that having Welker/losing Welker is enough by itself to pick Peyton, I have no problem with that. I just don't agree).
Since 2001, Manning has the slight edge in most statistical categories. Manning is averaging 9 more fantasy points (based on ESPN standard scoring) per season, or roughly .5 points per game. Manning averaged 225 more passing yards, 1.5 more TDs, 25 more completions and a 3% better completion percentage over that span.
Tom Brady took over the starting job in New England in 2001 but was mostly a game manager his first few years. Brady cracked the top-10 in ESPN standard scoring in '05 and both have been top-10 fantasy QBs each year (that they've played) since then. And since '05, Brady has had the statistical edge, averaging 20 more fantasy points per season and 1.3 more per game. Both have had record setting seasons of their own but the overall numbers favor Brady over the last eight seasons.
Since '05, both players have missed one season due to injury, Brady in '08 and Manning in '11. In the six seasons that both Manning and Brady were playing, Brady has finished as the better fantasy QB four times. Additionally, Brady had a significantly better fantasy season when Manning was injured than Manning had when Brady was injured. In other words, Since '05, Brady has been the better fantasy QB, at least in terms of average production, five out of seven times.
Perhaps more importantly, he's been better in each of the last two seasons that both gentleman have played in. In both 2010 and 2012, Brady was the better fantasy QB.
It is tough to compare their final rankings with pre-season predictions because Manning has been viewed as a late round QB in two different preseasons due to injuries (missed one of those seasons completely) and it's hard to find pre-season fantasy projections from before 2009.
But in '09, Brady was projected to be the better QB when, in reality, Manning beat him. And in 2010, Manning was projected to finish higher but Brady finished the year with more points. So if you're not a fan of my logical analysis, which says Brady is the better fantasy QB over the current stretches of their respective careers, you can just do the opposite of what ESPN's consensus rankings say--that seems to work in my tiny two-year sample.
All of that being said, each player has had only one season when he finished with at least 2 fantasy pointsper game more than the other, Manning in '06 and Brady in '07. So while Brady has the better cumulative numbers, they've been very close to each other almost every season.
he numbers point slightly in Brady's direction, but it is likely that they'll both finish in the top 5. Since '05,Brady's average finish among QBs is 4.5 while Manning's is 4.7. But Brady has finished as the #3 QB each of the last three years (his 10th place finish in 2009 really brought his average numbers down) so he has the edge in terms of recent trends.
Brady vs. Manning is a nice problem to have. In the end it comes down to preference. Maybe Manning is a better real life QB, but I just love Brady as a fantasy QB and a lot of that has to do with his system. He'll keep chucking the ball when his team is up 30 while Manning is happy to run the ball in any situation if it's the right audible.
Considering the consensus rankings and how drafts are going, the value that Brady presents as a slightly later pick or cheaper auction option is especially enticing. I love both and would be thrilled with either, but I'm taking Brady by a hair this year, despite the seven TDs Peyton threw last night.