And, to be clear, when I say “big”, I mean “big”…as in a ton of snaps, and more specifically, targets.
Consider how reliant Eli Manning has been on Smith over the last two seasons:
|Year||G||% of Targets||Targ||Rec||Yards||TD||YPR||TD%||Catch%|
Clearly, the emergence of Hakeem Nicks in 2010 took a bite out of Smith’s production, but he was still on pace for* 85+ receptions prior to his injury. His catch rate, YPR, and TD rate all dropped off, but it was only a slight decrease across the board – decreases that could’ve easily fixed themselves had he played all 16 games.
Consider that only eight NFL wide receivers saw more than 25% of their team’s targets in 2010. One of those eight happened to be Nicks, which tells us how important the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers are to the Giants offense.
Check out Eli Manning’s pass distribution data:
Here we see Manning’s distribution split into four categories: throws to players lined up in the backfield, throws to players lined up out wide (at the X or Z), throws to players lined up in the slot, and throws to players lined up as on the line as a tight end.
We see that Manning throws to backers and tight ends at a below average rate. In 2010, he threw to slot receivers at a rate below league average, as well. This added up to a ton more targets for the X and Z receivers – namely Hakeem Nicks and, when healthy, Steve Smith.
Additionally, I split up throws to wide receivers into two categories: wide and slot.
You’ll notice a 6% drop from 2009 to 2010 in the slot WR column. This is because Smith lined up in the slot on 57% of his snaps in 2009. In 2010, that figure dropped to 48%. Additionally, when Smith went down, Mario Manningham saw a serious upswing in targets and primarily lines up out wide.
This tells us that Manning will throw to his top two receivers, regardless of where they line up. His top two options in 2011 will be Nicks and, drumroll, the aforementioned Mario Manningham.
Referring back to our previous charts, we see that Manning will target the X and Z receivers just under 50% of the time. Manningham lined up out wide on 89% of his 2010 snaps, while Nicks was out there 96% of the time. It goes without saying that these two are going to dominate those 50% of the targets.
The next question is – how do we split up 250 targets? Well, consider that just under 25% of Manning’s passes were directed to Nicks in 2010. Nicks, however, missed three games, so he actually saw 30% of the targets when on the field. Even if we assume 16 games for each player, however, 30% is still a pretty lofty goal. We can be conservative and assume 28% for Nicks over 16 games.
That leaves a whopping 22% for Manningham, which works out to right at seven targets/game. Applying a 14.5 YPR (15.7 in 2010), 12% TD rate (high, but well below his 15% rate from 2010), and 65% catch rate (a drop from his 70% 2010 rate), we get a very impressive 73 reception, 1,054 yard, nine TD 16 game projection. This works out to the 12th-ranked Wide Receiver in PPR scoring, making both Nicks and Manningham top 12 fantasy receivers. Nicks is a player you’ll have to draft in the first round and a half, but Manningham can be a huge steal in round six.
Manningham is a player you do not want to miss out on this year. He’s the clear-cut No. 2 receiver in an offense that utilizes its top wideouts a ton. He has little competition for snaps in 2-WR sets across from Hakeem Nicks, guaranteeing him a full game’s worth of playing time. In addition, considering Nicks’ inability to stay healthy for 16 games (not a shocker when you consider his workload), Manningham could even see a few games as the No. 1. Should that be the case, he could actually end the season as the Giants’ top fantasy receiver. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Manning to Manningham has a better ring to it, anyways.