Are New York Giants players overrated in fantasy?
Overrated is probably not the right word for it. The correct description is probably the following phrase: In need of tight roster management.
If you look at the Giants during the Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning era, a stark trend becomes apparent. This is a team that bursts quickly out of the gate but cools as temperatures do, often falling flat on its face in December.
Manning once almost entirely absorbed the blame for this trend. During his first two full seasons as an NFL starter, in 2005-06, Manning averaged almost exactly 20 yards per game fewer in his final eight games of a season (209.0) than during his first eight (228.9). What was a 29-14 touchdown-interception split in the first eight slipped to 19 and 21 in the final eight. Then something happened: He defeated the up-until-then-perfect New England Patriots to win Super Bowl XLII.
That afforded Manning some leeway for his shortcomings, more so within the fan base than the fantasy community. It was leeway he deserved, because in the subsequent three seasons it became obvious that the annual December swoon was not solely a Manning problem; it was a team-wide trend:
Typically speaking, this is a team that plays like one of the NFL's best in September and October but is merely average in November and December. They have won 59 games the past six seasons combined for a .615 winning percentage. That's a substantial difference from a mere .500.
What's the reason? It's perhaps no simpler than their schedule. During those three seasons, the Giants faced nine teams that finished their seasons .500 or better in their first eight games and 19 teams that finished at .500-plus in the second half.
That's a problem when projecting the Giants in 2011, because a quick look at their schedule reveals a similarly treacherous second half:
Save for the San Francisco 49ers (Week 10) and Washington Redskins (Week 15), each of the Giants' final nine foes is a tough cookie. The natural reaction fantasy owners should have is that on Halloween -- Monday night of Week 8 -- they should skip the trick-or-treating and make sure they've sold high on all their Giants skill players, because after that point, it might be all tricks, zero treats.
There are five desirable skill-position players on the Giants' roster, and here are their average draft positions in ESPN live drafts: Hakeem Nicks (22.5, 22nd), Ahmad Bradshaw (35.5, 33rd), Mario Manningham (68.3, 69th), Manning (82.8, 79th) and Brandon Jacobs (98.9, 94th). With one notable exception, all of them might be overrated.
Let's take a look at how the swoon potentially threatens each:
(Statistics are broken down by quarter-seasons, games 1-4, 5-8, 9-12 and 13-16 from the 2008-10 seasons combined.)
There's little doubt that Nicks is one of the most talented wide receivers in football, having scored the fourth-most receiving touchdowns (11) and finishing 12th in receptions (79) and 13th in receiving yards (1,052) in 2010 despite missing three games, two due to compartment syndrome in his leg and one due to a broken toe. He's as much of a red-zone threat as anyone in football. His 15 end-zone targets were seventh-most in the NFL, and his nine touchdowns in those situations were second-most, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
For all the positives surrounding Nicks, his injuries were a negative, and the chart shows that his numbers directly suffered because of them. That he battled multiple leg/foot issues bears watching, and in no way can we assume that he's a lock to stay healthy for 16 games, especially accounting for the fact that, with Steve Smith approximately 100 miles away, Nicks will be asked to be the leading man in the receiving game.
Nicks could feast on some softer competition during those early weeks, just as he did when he managed his four best fantasy performances of 2010 during the season's first nine weeks against the Nos. 11 (Carolina Panthers), 32 (Houston Texans), 26 (Dallas Cowboys) and 27 (Seattle Seahawks) pass defenses -- Nos. 30, 2, 1 and 3 in terms of most fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers. But if you want to build the case that he's going to continue performing at an elite level later in the year simply because the Giants will trail often and resort to the air, you're mistaken. In 2010 he didn't have a single 100-yard game after Week 9 and caught fewer passes in his final five games (28) than his first five (33).
The upshot: Don't overdraft, consider selling high midseason.
Like Tiki Barber before him, Bradshaw's most frustrating weakness is a penchant for fumbling. His seven fumbles tied for second in the league among running backs, and his six lost fumbles tied for the lead at any position. Whether that's an issue that can be addressed remains to be seen -- Barber eventually corrected his -- but the decline in Bradshaw's performance late in the year is disconcerting.
Sure, his team trailing more frequently during the season's second half resulted in fewer carries, but Bradshaw's yards per carry noticeably dropped from quarter-season to quarter-season. He's 5-foot-11, 195 pounds and has a "bow-legged and heavy-cutting running style," one which he told ESPNNewYork.com likely was responsible for minor injuries that dogged him throughout the past two seasons.
About those injuries: What you see are the 16 games that Bradshaw played in 2010 and 15 in 2009. What you don't see are the injuries he has played through, including cracked bones in his feet and bone spurs in his ankles, injuries that led to three separate surgeries after the 2009 season. In 2010, ankle problems landed him on the injury report twice, and he eventually succumbed to another surgery on his ankle in February.
Perhaps Bradshaw can grit it out and provide his owners another 16 games, even if he's playing at less than 100 percent. But considering his history of injuries and late-season swoons, it's unwise to pick him as a high-level No. 2 running back.
The upshot: Midseason sell-high.
His numbers are the most skewed toward late-season success of this quintet, but there's a good reason for it. Manningham never truly got a "starter's" chance in New York until Week 10 of 2010, when Smith succumbed to a pectoral injury followed by season-ending knee surgery a few weeks later. When you look at Manningham's upward late-season trend, especially in 2010, consider that his opportunity was substantially larger during those few games.
That said, Manningham's 56 fantasy points during the final four weeks of 2010 were the second-most of the five Giants profiled in any of the past three seasons and should not be understated. They matched Eli Manning's final four games of 2009 and fell one point shy of Manning's 2010, and quarterback is a position typically known for high point totals. In the final three games, Manningham managed at least 100 yards receiving against the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins, who ranked 18th, 29th and ninth in most fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers. In short, he was a standout during a challenging portion of the schedule, as everyone around him was struggling.
Manningham has committed memorable gaffes -- season-killing fumbles in the Week 16 loss to the Panthers in 2009 and Week 15 loss to the Eagles in 2010 -- but that should hardly overshadow what is an impressive set of skills. He's as much the big-play threat as Nicks, ranking sixth in the NFL with 19 catches of 20-plus yards and 11th with four catches of 40-plus. He's speedy, actually besting Nicks in yards after the catch (347-308) and YAC per reception (5.8-3.9). Plus he has good hands, with his 96.8 catch percentage (2 drops, 60 catches) ranking 17th in the NFL, per ESPN Stats & Information.
Manningham might not be any less likely to have the better fantasy season among Giants receivers than Nicks, especially with word that he might be the slot receiver, the position at which Smith thrived two years ago. But there's a key difference between the two: Manningham is being drafted, on average, four rounds and 47 spots later than Nicks. That's a potential steal.
Not to say that it keeps Manningham free of a potential swoon. It's merely that his perceived value is lower than his actual value, and that means that, barring the two shifting into alignment mid-year, you'd be making a smart investment for the long haul.
The upshot: Buy low, keep high.
Manning's second-half issues are detailed above, both in the opening and this chart, but to boil it down to half seasons over the course of his career, he has averaged 222.2 yards per game with 92 touchdowns to 55 interceptions in the first eight games but 208.8 passing yards per game with 64-58 numbers in the final eight. Remember that he has more career starts during the second half, having captured his job in Week 11 of 2004, meaning that he had seven additional games to pad his second-half numbers. That Manning has 28 more first- than second-half touchdowns during his career is nothing short of remarkable.
It is, however, hardly a positive. Manning has wilted facing softer schedules than he will in 2011, and his arsenal of weapons has been whittled down over the years, underscored by the captivating battle for No. 3 wide receiver between Victor Cruz and Domenik Hixon. Manning might make this work initially, but he was unraveled last season by poor performances by his receivers; tipped passes contributed to his league-leading interception total (25).
The upshot: Obvious midseason sell-high.
His physical style puts him at tremendous risk of being a second-half stiff, assuming the Giants don't carefully manage his workload. Fortunately, that's what they did in 2010, dropping his number of touches per game from 16.1 two years ago to 9.6 last season. Jacobs rewarded them with a more productive campaign from a per-carry angle. He set a yards-per-carry career high at 5.6.
The problem is that if his 2010 workload represents the appropriate amount for him -- and it likely does -- then any potential benefit he'd get by an increase in carries due to a Bradshaw injury would be negated by his wearing down over the course of the year. It means that fantasy owners who select Jacobs have to accept more modest contributions; he finished 22nd in points at his position. If they're hoping for more, they'll have to live with the possibility that he's going to wear down late in the year, becoming a clear sell-high candidate.
The upshot: Low upside, sell-high.
That makes four out of five in the "worry" category, meaning those who lean heavily on the Giants during the draft should prepare to be active on the trade market. It doesn't mean they're overrated. It just means you shouldn't be left holding the bag once the calendar page turns to November.