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Fantasy Football 2011: Imagining a Season without Peyton Manning

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The confirmation that Peyton Manning will indeed miss no less than half the season can be quite devastating for fantasy owners.  Most leagues have an owner that drafted Manning to be the starter.  I know that I did in one of my leagues, though I got myself a good backup just in case. 

With word out that we may have to prepare for a season without one of the greatest QB's in league history, we need to try and figure out how that news will effect Colts players and how another Indianapolis QB could fare this season. 

To find a comparable situation we only have to go back three years.  Coming off of a 50-TD season, Tom Brady was being drafted as the number one QB in fantasy and a first round pick.  He threw 11 passes in the first game and then was done for the year.  Widespread panic was more than just an emo band (Jam band?  Good old fashioned American rock? Widespread Panic at the Disco?) at that point, it was reality.  Not only was there concern that owners had wasted a first round pick and pinned their season hopes on Brady, but some of the leagues best skill position players were effected too. 

The Colts have their share of important skill players, so how badly did their season just get dinged?  Let's look at the potential outcomes...

Kerry Collins

Good for Kerry Collins who is now entering his 19th season as a mediocre NFL QB.  "When you just want to get by, Collins is your guy."

Collins has a career high of 22 TD and a career completion percentage of 55%, but is this the best offense he's ever had around him?  Last season he threw 14 TD and 8 INT in 9 games for the Titans.  A comparable situation last year was when Jon Kitna was thrust into the starting role in Dallas at the age of 38.  Kitna threw 16 TD to 12 INT in 9 starts and completed a career high 65% of his passes. 

In many ways, Kitna is a better QB than Collins and he had already spent a year in Dallas whereas Kerry Collins is just getting used to Indy.  How well could Collins do for the Colts? 

If Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez are healthy, then Collins has been put into an excellent situation and he could be an interesting spot start in fantasy given the right situation.  Over the last 4 games of 2010 with Tennessee, Collins threw 9 TDs against 3 INTs, 1,016 yards, and a QB rating of 95.5.  It wouldn't hurt to add Collins if you own Manning as insurance, but should you start him week 1? 

It's worth noting that no team gave up more passing yards in 2010 than the Houston Texans, the Colts week 1 opponent.  They also gave up the 2nd most passing TD's. 

Starting Collins would be a bold move, but may not be a terrible one.  The Colts draw the soft-defense Browns in week 2, but then face Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City. 

Curtis Painter

Should Collins suck, then Painter will get his opportunity.  At first I thought that Painter was a long-time backup in Indy, but then I realized that Painter is not Jim Sorgi.  He was Manning's backup for 6 seasons and never saw Peyton Manning break a fingernail.  Had he still been in Indy, he might have very well gotten his shot but instead its Painter that is a back-hair away starting for the Colts.

Painter was a 6th round pick out of Purdue in 2009 who has 28 career pass attempts, none last season.  He hasn't been much of a preseason star either like Matt Cassel was in New England.

When Cassel was forced into a starting role for the Patriots he was in his fourth season with the team and had always played well in preseason.  Painters journey would be longer and tougher and unless the Colts fall behind in the division, there is no real reason to "see what they've got" with Painter.  The division is wide open now, and Collins experience wins out over Painters youth. 

I would worry more about Painter, who might have a stronger arm than Collins and gain more yards, but would also make more mistakes.  When at Purdue, Painter actually broke some of Drew Brees' records at the school, but he didn't have a great TD:INT ratio, which is what helped make him less of an NFL prospect than Brees, or former Boilermaker Kyle Orton.

Reggie Wayne

The last time that Wayne and Manning didn't start a game together was 2002.  Wayne has averaged 99 catches per season over the last four years, but don't expect that to continue.  If you already downgraded Wayne because of age, you can downgrade him even further.  There will be fewer beautiful deep passes, fewer accurate throws right into his basket.  Wayne can do a lot of wonderful things with a ball in the air but he has never had to deal with any QB other than one of the greatest of all-time.  In 2005 he caught 83 passes for 1,055 yards and 5 TDs.  That sounds like a reasonable 2011 season for Reggie. 

Compare that to Randy Moss 2007 season with Brady to 2008 season with Cassel:

98 catches, 1,493 yards, 23 TDs

69 catches, 1,008 yards, 11 TDs

Austin Collie

Saying I pinned a lot of my fantasy hopes on Collie would be an understatement.  He showed in limited action last season that he could be a WR1 in fantasy if healthy.  He's recently said that he will be good to go against the Texans on Sunday, which is great news.  Losing Manning is not great news.  I think Collie is a better all-around WR than Wes Welker, but let's look at what happened to Welker just for fun:

2007 - 112 catches, 1,175 yards, 8 TDs

2008 - 111 catches, 1,165 yards, 3 TDs

The loss in QB quality didn't hurt Welkers game in anything but touchdowns.  In PPR leagues that still made Welker one of the strongest WR2's in the league.  If you don't count Collies near non-appearance gainst Philadelphia last season, he had 58 catches in a half-seasons worth of work.  If he played all 16 games, I believe Collie could still grab 100 catches.  At least, I hope so, since I drafted him almost universally.

The roles of Anthony Gonzalez and Blair White this season as to what they would have done with Manning is a bit of an unknown, but at least the presence of Manning leaves open the door for a breakout season.  That seems less likely now.

Dallas Clark

I'm not sure how much Clark will be effected negatively, if at all.  Tight ends always seem to be the first safety valve when getting used to an offense. 

Joseph Addai, Delone Carter and Donald Brown

The same goes for running backs.  Manning doesn't have to "dump off" a lot, but Collins does and Painter almost certainly would. 

The Patriots rushed the ball 62 more times in 2008 than they did in 2007.   If one running back gets the majority of the work this season, that could be pretty huge.  They only ran the ball 393 times last season.  Expect that number to go up.

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