It was bound to happen. With quarterback Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos off to such a fast start this year, the question was bound to be asked.
And this morning on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike Show it was.
While interviewing ESPN football analyst Ron Jaworski, co-host Mike Golic asked why Manning has been so good this year. “The weapons are amazing,” Jaworski answered.
Ok, here it comes. You could feel it. It has been on the minds of just about everyone in Indianapolis for the last four weeks anyway, so someone might as well go ahead and ask it. Golic bit.
“Is it better than Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai?” Golic asked. “I mean he had some weapons [in Indianapolis]. Do you think this is a better group?”
“I think time will tell. On the surface right now, it looks better.” Jaworski answered. “But boy those guys you just mentioned were absolutely phenomenal. That was a lethal combination that Peyton had to work with back in Indianapolis. But as you look at it now, this group may supersede them.”
Jaworski is a former NFL quarterback and as anyone at ESPN will tell you, he looks at a ton of game tape. So I’m not about to discount his opinion. Nor am I going to let it slide without a little more scrutiny.
Saying “time will tell” may be the truest thing Jaws said. There’s no doubt that Denver’s offense is a talented one. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker are more than capable receivers.
But Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison are Hall-of-Fame caliber players. Welker certainly fits into that category for the Broncos current crop, but I’m not sure I would put the other in that class—certainly not yet.
While I’d give Manning’s current team a nod at the slot position, I’d take Wayne and Harrison over any receiver Denver has on its current roster. I think Manning’s Colts team also had an advantage at tight end.
Yes, Julius Thomas is young and full of potential. But if I can go back in time and have my choice between Julius Thomas and Dallas Clark as they are coming out of college, I take Clark. Now as Thomas, a Portland State grad with a limited football background, continues to develop, I could be proven wrong.
In terms of running backs, I think Addai, who played alongside Manning with the Colts and Knowshon Moreno, Denver’s running back this year, are close to a toss up. But Moreno isn’t nearly as good as Edgerrin James was in his prime with Indianapolis. It’s almost easy to forget that during the 2000 season James rushed for 1,709 yards. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards in each of the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
During that 2004 season, the Colts had three receivers—Wayne, Harrison and Brandon Stokley—with more than 1,000 receiving yards. That was the year Manning threw 49 touchdown passes, and he probably could have thrown 55 had he really wanted to. Having three receivers tally 3,400 yards and a rusher run for 1,548 yards in a single season is pretty amazing.
During the 2006 season—which culminated in a Super Bowl title—Wayne and Harrison each tallied more than 1,300 receiving yards. During that same year, Addai had nearly 1,100 rushing yards. Clark had his biggest year for the Colts (statistically speaking) in 2009 after Harrison retired. That year, Clark had 100 catches for 1,106 yards. Those are big numbers for a tight end.
It’s true that Denver currently has three receivers—Demaryius Thomas, Decker and Welker—on track to break the 1,000-yard mark. That’s impressive. Julius Thomas is on track to crack 900. Moreno is on track to rush for 952 yards.
I haven't even touched on the special relationship Manning had with all-pro center Jeff Saturday and other offensive linemen in Indy.
The one constant among all these big numbers is Manning. Anyone who even casually watches football knows that he makes everyone around him play better. The better Manning plays, no doubt, the better all his other teammates perform.
So just as intriguing as the questions being asked about his teammates—past and present—are those beginning to arise about Manning himself. Is Manning playing better than he ever did when he wore the horseshoe on the side of his helmet?
Is it possible that after so many years in the league, after four neck surgeries and all those miles on his wheels, No. 18 is still getting better? If you live anywhere other than Denver these days, that’s the scariest question of all.
Either way, in the four decades I’ve been watching football, for my money, Manning is the most entertaining football player I’ve ever seen play. Hands down.