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Can Collins keep Colts options relevant?

Well, this latest news on Peyton Manning is pretty disheartening. I mean, if we can't count on this guy, who can we count on? Over the past week or two, it became clear that selecting Manning in the first three or four rounds of a fantasy draft would be a bit risky, knowing he not only could miss a game or two (or three), but his always stellar performance could be affected when he returned.

Now, however, it's tough to make a case to draft the guy at all. Sad, indeed.

I could point out all the relevant statistics for the suffering Indianapolis Colts quarterback. He's been the best -- not every year, but for the duration -- for more than a decade. Even last season, at 34 years old, he was fantasy's No. 4 quarterback, setting a personal mark with 4,700 passing yards, and his 33 touchdown passes tied for second-most in his career. Perhaps his statistics were buoyed more by volume -- he set career highs in completions and attempts -- but still, if there were signs of decline, they were slight. And he had never missed a game.

I'm not a doctor and I can't pretend to predict the future accurately, but Manning's latest neck surgery could sideline him for the entire season. The news continues to change as I write this, but optimism is fleeting. On Wednesday, I still felt confident this fantasy Superman would come back to us in early October, replace Kerry Collins, save Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and pals and be worth the fourth- or fifth-round investment fantasy owners had been spending on him. Late last week my initial end-of-season rankings were published, and Manning was easily a top-10 quarterback. Now the news has changed. He's out of my top 10. Out of the top 20, too. Time to move on and hope for the best in 2012.

My advice if you have already drafted Manning is to keep him owned on your bench, until the Colts officially place Manning on season-ending injured reserve. It could happen today, tomorrow, in mid-October or not at all. We don't know. But even if Manning can play only the December schedule, there is value in that, especially if you selected him and your backup doesn't excite you much. Keep him around until we know it's over.

If you haven't drafted yet, ignore Manning unless it's far later in your draft and you've secured at least one starter-worthy option. I'm serious. Take Michael Vick in Round 2, a backup such as Kevin Kolb in the 12th round and, if you feel good about your running backs and wide receivers depth-wise, take a shot on Manning in the 15th round. It can't hurt. But other than that, move on.

I tried to make the comparison on television the other day that Collins could be this year's version of Matt Cassel, referring to when Tom Brady blew up his knee in the 2008 opener, but I don't really believe that. Nobody knew who Cassel was. The guy hadn't played regularly since high school. And then he played really well for the Patriots and fantasy owners, and what shouldn't be forgotten is Cassel kept the other weapons statistically relevant. Can Collins do this?

I think that can happen to some degree, and I realize I'm going against conventional wisdom. Collins is no star, but consider the talent around him. A season ago and at age 38, Collins didn't win much for the Tennessee Titans, but in the final four games of the season, he did produce nine touchdown passes, tied with Manning and a few others for the most in the league. Collins wasn't as bad as you might think, and while his weapons were different -- there's no Chris Johnson in Indy -- the cupboard isn't exactly bare. Wayne and Dallas Clark and even a healthy Joseph Addai are good players.

I ranked Collins 17th at quarterback for this week, banking on the old corollary that the veteran Colts will pick up their quarterback and play better. Nothing changes there. Plus, while the opposing Houston Texans did upgrade defensively, no team permitted more passing touchdowns a year ago. Collins isn't the worst option this week. But over the course of a full season, he wouldn't be in my top 20 at the position. Plus, the Colts might try to develop a younger option, especially if they're not a .500 team by November. Personally, I think the Colts can still make the playoffs even without Manning. Collins was 2-11 as the Titans' starter the past two seasons but 12-3 in 2008. He's the same guy.

Wayne was already out of my top 10 wide receivers, but now he goes from 11th to the 16-18 range. I'd take Dallas Cowboys Dez Bryant and Miles Austin first, Tampa Bay Buccaneers stud Mike Williams and I'd certainly think hard about Marques Colston, DeSean Jackson, Mario Manningham (stud!) and Santonio Holmes. But Wayne remains a fantasy starter. I think Pierre Garcon was a bit overrated in the first place, and while Collins can get the ball deep, I feel better about his short game and finding Collie. Still, neither Garcon nor Collie will likely be in my top 30 next week. Clark moves from third to fifth at tight end, again, not a huge drop. If you've got him, keep him and start him. And Addai was always a flex option, at best. The Titans ran just fine with Collins at the helm, but with an elite running back. The change in quarterbacks doesn't help Addai, but I'm inclined to leave him in the 32-35 range. Frankly, I can't wait to see what rookie Delone Carter does this week!

If this is truly it for the great Peyton Manning for 2011, we thank him for all the good times and look to 2012. But I think some good times are still ahead for the Colts this season.