The New York Giants have signed Brandon Marshall to a two-year, $12 million dollar contract. Taking a look at Marshall’s career numbers it’s easy to see why on paper Eli Manning and the Giants’ passing offense received upgrades.
Per NFL research, Marshall has produced the most catches (921) and receiving yards (11,752) over the last decade. This hardly comes as a surprise when considering Marshall has posted six 100-catch seasons and eight 1,000-yard seasons in his illustrious career.
If we knew it was a lock Marshall was going to keep up that elite production in 2017, it would be extremely easy for owners in 2QB/superflex leagues to fall in love with Manning this offseason. However, we know it’s not that simple. Marshall’s production severely declined last year and he will play next season at the age of 33. So let’s leave no stone unturned when analyzing Marshall heading into 2017.
Could Father Time Claim Brandon Marshall As Its Next Victim?
A few years ago, Adam Harstad published one of the best fantasy football articles I’ve ever read. I can’t stress enough that all information and graphs in this section of the article come from Harstad. I’m just using it to provide some context. In the article linked above, he explained why he believed “mortality tables” would be more accurate than “age curves” when projecting future production for older players. In general, he believed one of the major issues with age curves was they only showed gradual declines from one age to the next. Instead, a mortality table shows that instead of general declines there are actually two types of outcomes: surviving to the next year with little issues (Defined using Estimated Value over Baseline or EVoB) or “falling off of a fantasy cliff.” After crunching the numbers, the results he received seemed to back up his hypothesis quite well. He pulled from his database the top-50 wide receivers in career fantasy value over a 30-year span from 1985-2014, looking only at retired players.
The graph below shows the EVoB by age for all wide receivers who were not “catastrophic busts” (defined as any player who saw their EVoB decline by at least 75% year-over-year). Essentially, Harstad explains this is the average fantasy value of “survivors”. The data shows wide receivers don’t necessarily show gradual decline. Instead, they continue to produce until they unexpectedly “fall off of a cliff”, with those chances increasing every year.
In another amazing follow-up article, Harstad dove even deeper into the wide receiver position and mortality tables. The graph below shows how quality (since only players of the same age are compared, there is reason to believe receivers that haven’t flamed out of the league yet in their 30s are good players) wide receivers age in the NFL. DR% stands for “Death Rate”, and measures the odds a receiver at that age will “fall off that fantasy cliff”. EYR stands for “Expected Years Remaining”, and represents a weighted average of remaining career lengths based on Harstad’s observed data.
Now before we apply this data to Brandon Marshall specifically, let Harstad put a bow on all of this phenomenal work with his own words:
I like to say of my “mortality tables” mindset that it turns players into a series of coin flips. It’s as if the player flips a coin before the season, and if it comes up heads, he continues on completely unaffected. If it comes up tails, he falls off a cliff, never to be heard from again. As a player ages, the coin becomes more and more weighted towards tails, but each flip is fundamentally an independent event. As with a coin flip, the best we can hope to do is accurately estimate the rate of each outcome. It is beyond our capabilities to know with anything resembling certainty which will result.
The worry here with Marshall is he did achieve “catastrophic bust” status a year ago. Therefore, if he doesn’t perform in 2017, then last season will go down as the year he “fell off the cliff” and “died” in fantasy terms. Harstad’s data shows over a quarter of age-32 wide receivers (Marshall’s playing age last season) in his sample did fall victim to Father Time. Thus, there is added risk in investing in Marshall and the New York Giants passing offense this offseason. However, as always, every situation in fantasy football must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Due to the horrendous circumstances Marshall found himself in last season, I’m not convinced he’s done. So let’s get a little more positive now…
Glass Half Full for Brandon Marshall
Per Pro-Football-Reference, there have been 55 wideouts who have posted 1,000+ receiving yards at 33+ years of age. Most recently, Larry Fitzgerald accomplished this feat just last season. From 2012-2014, Draft Day Consultants, Inc. Owner Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin each did it twice and Reggie Wayne joined the club once as well. In terms of overall NFL production, Marshall profiles favorably to these late career producers.
Furthermore, Marshall should benefit from improved quarterback play moving from the Jets’ dumpster fire to Manning. According to Pro Football Focus and Pat Thorman, Marshall’s targets last season were high in quantity but not so much in quality:
Brandon Marshall saw catchable passes on 72% of targets in 2015 versus 55% in 2016, despite a slightly higher aDOT last year (13.8 vs 13.4).
— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) January 2, 2017
Per The RotoViz Screener, we can see by many measures the situation with the Giants was a better one for pass catchers last season:
Whereas the Jets only attempted the 24th-most passes in the league a year ago, Marshall is now joining the Giants, who attempted the eighth-most passes in 2016. This data also gives us reason to believe Marshall’s targets will be more valuable this season. That would be the Eli Manning effect. Yet, just like with Brandon Marshall, let’s leave no stone unturned when evaluating Manning heading into 2017.
Is Eli Manning Done?
Manning will play the entire 2017 regular season at 36 years of age. Like Marshall, Manning’s play also declined last season, according to The RotoViz Screener:
Thus, we need to look at Harstad’s work one last time to provide some context into whether 2016 was an outlier for Manning, like we’ve seen in the past or if it was the beginning of the end. Harstad’s article on the aging of Quarterbacks provides that context. The graph below from his article gets right to the data. DR% once again stands for “Death Rate” and EYR stands for “Expected Years Remaining”.
Just like Marshall, Manning also achieved “catastrophic bust” status a year ago. Last year will go down as the year he “fell off the cliff” and “died” in fantasy terms if he doesn’t pick things up. Harstad’s data shows 18.6% of age-35 quarterbacks (Eli’s playing age last season) in his sample did suffer this unfavorable outcome. This data comes in very handy because it is important for 2QB and superflex drafters to understand the risks that come with every draftable asset before any final decisions are made. Still, the numbers leave room for a bounce back not only for Manning but for Marshall as well. The best part about this for Eli owners is they won’t necessarily be betting on two completely separate turn-around seasons. There is potential for Manning and Marshall to help each other overcome their issues from a season ago together, especially in one crucial area of the field: the Red Zone.
More Touchdowns Please
The RotoViz Screener helps shine the light on some areas Marshall really struggled in last season. Remember though that the quarterback play with the Jets a year ago was atrocious. What I’m more interested in here is Marshall’s Touchdown Rate.
Despite his poor overall performance, Marshall still more than doubled Victor Cruz (who he is replacing) in touchdown rate last year. Even if Marshall’s elite seasons are behind him, his 6’4″, 230-lb frame should provide another solid weapon for Manning in the Red Zone. Per JJ Zachariason, Marshall’s usage in this area of the field the past two seasons backs this theory up.
Over the last two years, BMarsh and OBJ are 1st and 2nd in red zone targets, top-11 in targets within the 10, and top-10 within the 5.
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) March 8, 2017
Looking at data Chris Raybon tweeted, it’s easy to believe Manning will find a 6’4″ receiver very refreshing to throw to, especially in the Red Zone.
— Chris Raybon (@ChrisRaybon) March 8, 2017
As we all know, touchdowns are crucial in fantasy football and there is reason to believe Marshall will help Manning in that department in 2017.
Solid Supporting Cast
Marshall joins Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard to form an extremely solid trio of pass catchers. Beckham has had one of the greatest three-year stretches to begin a career for a wide receiver in NFL history. Just look at how his numbers compare to some of the greatest to ever do it while playing in the fewest number of games:
Receiving Numbers In First Three Years of Career
|Player||Games||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Touchdown Receptions|
Plus, Shepard is a quality slot receiver who posted 65 catches for 683 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie last year.
Increased Volume and Production Under McAdoo
Ben McAdoo has been in New York for three years now. In each of his first two seasons with the team, Manning set a new career high in passing attempts. Last season, Manning threw the ball 598 times. His career high over ten seasons prior to working with McAdoo was 589 pass attempts. With the Giants running game still stuck in the mud, there is little reason to believe this increased volume won’t continue next season.
Looking at Manning’s QB Card, we can see he has been able to turn that increased volume into two top-ten QB fantasy finishes in his three years working with McAdoo.
Manning is currently being drafted as the QB16, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, a six-spot discount from his price last offseason. In fact, this is the cheapest Manning has been since 2014. It’s important to understand the risks involved when investing in Manning and his receiving corps. Yet, recency bias and his age are already somewhat baked into his ADP. QB16 is a fair price to pay for a guy who has finished as a QB1 twice in the last three years. With Marshall essentially playing as a WR2 for the first time in his career, facing more single coverage and number two cornerbacks, and #NarrativeStreet more motivated on a good football team, there is reason to believe he can provide a boost to the passing game. If he does, there is certainly a chance Manning could outperform expectations in 2017. Regardless, he should make a fine QB2 in 2QB and superflex leagues for at least one more season.
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