I’d rather have Tyrod Taylor as my quarterback in 2017 than Eli Manning.
Before you bolt, let me explain.
Over the second half of the season, I’ve engaged in a repeated debate with my Twitter followers over the current skill level of Manning. I was stunned at the benefit of the doubt so many fans give him. Sure, he’s won two Super Bowls for you, but what has he done for you lately? How good is he actually right now?
In my opinion: not good.
When I say that, I mean relative to the other starting quarterbacks in the NFL, of course. Compared to them, Manning was straight up below average last year.
Don’t believe me? Let’s run down some of the numbers.
All of those statistics essentially attempt to — in their own way — capture the value a quarterback adds to his team in a given game or season.
Are you cynical of advanced stats? Fine. Well he was 22nd in passer rating, too.
Tyrod Taylor is still underrated after two solid years in Buffalo.
Below average. That simple.
You can still win with him, sure, but he needs help. Like a killer defense and a receiver like Odell Beckham Jr. That’s how the Giants got to the playoffs: by helping Manning, not because of him.
Enter Taylor. The quarterback whose roster spot on the Bills is somehow in question. The quarterback that is still underrated after two solid years in Buffalo.
Why is he overlooked? For two major reasons.
1. A large part of Taylor’s value comes from his legs. When fans look at basic passing stats, Taylor’s traditional numbers don’t look all that impressive. 3,023 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns last season. But he added 580 yards on 95 rushing attempts (that’s 6.1 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.
2. Part of Taylor’s value comes from what he doesn’t do: throw picks. He threw just six in 2016 and six in 2015, as well. Skeptics will point out that Taylor threw a lot fewer passes than Manning, but any way you look at it, Taylor was better in this department. He threw picks on 1.4% of his passes in 2016, compared to 2.7% for Manning.
Those two factors are likely part of the reason why some of the aforementioned advanced statistics loved Taylor relative to his perceptions this year.
The rundown: the Bills QB finished 19th in passing DVOA, ninth in points added and ninth in QBR in 2016. ANY/A and passer rating don’t factor in his rushing ability, but he still narrowly beat Manning in both categories, finishing 18th and 19th among QBs, respectively, with at least six starts. Taylor finished 19th in rushing DVOA — but with a slightly positive score, which indicates it was still a value add compared to average — while Manning didn’t have enough rushes to qualify.
The Giants made the playoffs because of a killer defense and Odell Beckham Jr. Not Eli Manning.
So Taylor was better than Manning last season.
But I would be remiss to consider just one season of data. Granted, we don’t have a ton more information on Taylor, but let’s still consider 2015 for both QBs, too. I hate to break it to Giants fans, but while Manning declined in 2016, he was no superstar the year before. He trailed Taylor in passing DVOA, points added, QBR, ANY/A and passer rating that year too.
Two years in a row — the only two Taylor has been a starting quarterback — he’s been better than Manning, and that’s enough for me to believe that he’ll be better in 2017.
And that’s without including one last factor — the one topic that seems to irk Manning when he’s asked about it — his age. Manning is 36, and while there have been age-defying QBs before, there’s no guarantee the Giants’ QB will be the next Tom Brady in that respect. Based on FootballPerspective.com’s average aging curve for quarterbacks, a QB in his age 36 season would be expected to drop .24 in ANY/A. For context, that would make Manning slip two spots in the rankings for that statistic in 2016. Of course, there’s no guarantee that he will drop off again, but why shouldn’t that be the average expectation?
Taylor, 27, is near the peak age for QBs and would be expected to lose .04 in ANY/A, per the same aging curve.
At this point, I’d anticipate the counter-argument of Manning’s poor offensive line. First, Manning’s line wasn’t that bad. They finished 16th in pass blocking efficiency, per Pro Football Focus. While it’s true that the line may have been aided by Manning’s quick release, it wasn’t a total disaster. A weakness, but not the end of the world. And if we’re going to talk about teammates, take a look at Taylor’s wide receivers for most of this year, especially since Sammy Watkins only played in eight games and was banged up. Spoiler alert: none of the rest of them are Odell Beckham.
None of this is to say that the Giants should or could do anything other than start Manning next season. For starters, they have no choice. They’re tethered to him because of his contract, so there’s no point thinking about anyone else. And despite being a below-average quarterback, Manning is still good enough to be a winning quarterback with the right pieces around him.
So this debate is simply a hypothetical. It’s in a vacuum. It’s not taking into account logistics, or the potential value of chemistry or continuity.
But to me the choice is clear: if we’re starting an NFL team from scratch to play the 2017 season only, I’d take Taylor over Manning every time.