Each week, TSN.ca's NFL Editor Justin Boone and Fantasy Editor Scott Cullen will compare fantasy football rankings and provide justification for some of the more notable differences in their opinions.
Eli Manning vs. Peyton Manning
Boone (E.Manning #8, P.Manning #9): Eli was mocked for considering himself among the elite quarterbacks before last season, but a second Super Bowl MVP proved that he isn't far off. While the younger Manning may not be a top tier fantasy option at quarterback, he has firmly established himself as a constant performer. Eli threw for more than 300 yards eight times in 2011, en route to 4,933 passing yards on the year. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are a dangerous tandem that Manning used to perfection during their playoff run last season, something that should continue this year. The Giants lost their third receiver Mario Manningham to free agency, but he will be replaced by rookie Reuben Randle. Eli is comfortable in the Giants' offence and although his passing yards may dip slightly, he will remain just a step below the elite passers.
This debate wasn't close before Peyton missed last season with his neck surgery. Now with a new team, Peyton is trying to recapture his old form. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are skilled, but unproven receivers. Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen are productive, but unimpressive tight ends. Peyton will also be playing for a conservative coach in John Fox, who won't be looking to air it out on a weekly basis. It's possible that Peyton could take back the Manning brother crown, however coming back from surgery at 36 years old it will extremely difficult. Peyton may need to post a new career high in passing yards to edge out his brother and I simply don't see him doing that this season at Mile High.
Cullen (P.Manning #7, E.Manning #8): Of course I would feel better about Peyton if he wasn't coming off a missed season, but his last two healthy seasons brought at least 4500 yards passing, a total that Eli surpassed for the first time last season. I concur that the Giants have a terrific cast of receivers -- Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are as dangerous as any 1-2 punch in the league -- so I would expect another productive year for Eli.
At the same time, assuming that Peyton Manning is healthy, I don't imagine that John Fox's conservative nature is going to be a major factor. The Broncos aren't getting Peyton Manning to come in and manage games like many of the quarterbacks Fox has had under his employ and Peyton threw 679 passes in 2010. Furthermore, while none of his receivers are established as big-time producers, Peyton could very well make the likes of Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas 1,000-yard receivers simply by virtue of being his primary targets.
Playing for a team that isn't as likely to be holding leads as often as the Giants, Peyton could have an opportunity to throw the ball 600 times. At his career mark of 7.5 yards per attempt, that's a 4,500-yard season. Given his track record, I feel more confidence that he could hit that threshold again this season.
Michael Turner vs. Marshawn Lynch
Boone (Lynch #10, Turner #20): A slow start in 2011 turned into a powerful finish as Lynch rushed for 941 yards and nine touchdowns over the final nine games. Despite signing quarterback Matt Flynn and drafting rookie signal caller Russell Wilson, the Seahawks are once again expected to rely on their ground game. His stats speak for themselves, but there is a dark cloud over Lynch after an off-season DUI. Lynch pleaded not guilty to the charge and the legal process could take months to get resolved. In the meantime the NFL will likely not suspend Lynch without a guilty verdict, which could allow him to suit up for the entire 2012 season.
Turner has been a reliable fantasy running back ever since he arrived in Atlanta. Unfortunately, he enters this season on the wrong side of 30, a proven drop off age for many NFL rushers. Turner showed signs of losing a step late last season as he averaged 3.3 yards per rush through November and December. Turner exploded for 172 yards in Week 17 against a Buccaneers defence that had given up on their coach. In the playoffs, Turner managed just 41 yards on 15 carries. It's time to remove Turner's nickname "The Burner" and prepare for a Falcons' backfield that will feature more of a committee approach with Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling.
Cullen (Turner #12, Lynch #19): While Michael Turner may be on the wrong side of 30, he has a relative advantage in that he handled a reserve workload for his first four seasons in the league, playing behind LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. As a result, his 1417 career carries fall behind active runners including Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, Cedric Benson and Steven Jackson, guys that are still expected to handle the bulk of their carries for their respective teams (even if Benson's status in Green Bay isn't quite as certain as the others).
Over his last four seasons in Atlanta, Turner has topped 1,300 yards three times with double-digit touchdowns in all four seasons and rushed for 871 in 11 games in 2009, the one year he was held under 1,300. Marshawn Lynch rushed for a career-high 1204 yards with a dozen touchdowns last season, so even if he does manage to avoid suspension, he has work to do in order to catch Turner and I'm not yet ready to put Turner out to pasture.
Miles Austin vs. Jeremy Maclin
Boone (Maclin #19, Austin #21): A year ago Maclin was working his way back from an offseason illness that caused him to lose a significant amount of weight. The result was still 63 catches for 859 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games. Maclin enters this season poised for a breakout year in an offence that will be all systems go from Week 1. Michael Vick is getting a full training camp as the Eagles' starter for the first time since signing with the team and Maclin could emerge as his number one target. It's easy to see Maclin reaches his 2010 totals of 70 receptions, 964 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he has the potential to exceed those numbers and I'm betting that he does.
Austin may have great chemistry with quarterback Tony Romo, but it will be Dez Bryant that rises to the top of the Cowboys' receiving corps. Austin is already dealing with a hamstring injury that may force him to miss the preseason. It's his fourth hamstring ailment in the last year. Austin has top 15 potential, but the threat of injury lowers his floor and makes him a much riskier pick in fantasy drafts. If both players are on the board, I'm going with the upside in Maclin, who is in a more explosive offence and is four years younger.
Cullen (Austin #17, Maclin #24): I like Jeremy Maclin and after 859 yards in 13 games last season, he seems poised for his first 1,000-yard season in 2012, but I have concerns both about how many more balls Maclin will see when he still has DeSean Jackson on the other side and both are relying on the arm of Michael Vick, who threw for a career-high 3,303 yards in 13 games last season. Maybe Vick would put up 4,000 yards over a full season, but 2006 was the last time he played more than 13 games in a season.
It's not that Austin doesn't come with his own injury risks. He was limited to 10 games last season and, indeed, he is dealing with a hamstring injury in training camp. But, when he's healthy, Austin is the one that has earned Tony Romo's trust and Romo has thrown for more than 4,000 yards three times in his career. Despite the games he's missed, Austin is tied for fourth among wide receivers with 25 receiving touchdowns over the last three seasons and, at 28, it's too soon to write him off, especially when he's the primary target in a prolific passing game.