Friday, August 12, 2011

Michael Vick, Fantasy Football Super-Bust

A.K.A Two thousand words on why I won't be drafting Michael Vick this year.

After last years performance, fantasy analysts everywhere have made Vick the top rated fantasy quarterback this year.  His ADP is at 6.2*, which is sky high for a quarterback in my opinion. ESPN's Matthew Berry has even been touting him as the number 1 overall player in fantasy this year.

While I love TMR, him and everyone else who have been drafting Vick in the first round are out of their minds.  I'm wouldn't draft Vick until at least the third round and it's not just because I love the Marshall Faulk Strategy.  It's because Philip Rivers is going in the third round, and there is no way I'm taking Vick over Rivers.  And obviously, with Vick going in the first round of every draft, there is no way he'll be on any of my teams this year.

Now I understand the Pro-Vick arguments.  I get that Vick was the best quarterback in fantasy last year even though he only played in twelve games and only finished eleven games.  I get that the difference in fantasy points on average between him and number two quarterback Aaron Rodgers was bigger than the difference between any other two players.  I even get that he was on more teams that won the league in ESPN leagues than any other player.  The thing is, all of the pro-Vick arguments are absolutely chock full of holes.

First, lets take a look at Vick's performances last year.  His first game was the first game of the year, but Kevin Kolb started that game.  The Packers were not prepared to deal with containing Vick's speed, and he picked up 10 of his 21 points that game by getting 100 yards on the ground.  The next two weeks he took advantage of bad defenses, dropping 22 and 32 against Detroit and Jacksonville respectively.  Then get got hurt agaisnt Washington and basically missed four weeks.  He came back against Indy, another bad defense, and put up 25.  Then came his legendary Monday Night 49 pointer against Washington.

His first six games looked good because teams hadn't figured out how to defend him yet, and he had a bunch of bad defenses to take advantage of.  There was no Rex Ryan, or Bill Belichick or Wade Phillips type defensive mind in the bunch.  There was no one there to scheme up a way to stop Michael Vick.

His worst start of the season came the next week, when the Eagles ran up against one of those minds in the New York Giants' Perry Fewell.  In their first matchup, the Giants held Vick to just 19 points, including no passing touchdowns by being unafraid to blitz him.  He needed 34 yards and a TD on the ground to prop up half of that fantasy score.  The next week the ran up against Lovie Smith and the Bears, who played their corners deep and took away the big play, providing another wrinkle for defenses to use to stop Vick.  While he got to 23 points on the day, 154 passing yards and a touchdown of that came in garbage time in the fourth, when Chicago was content to let Vick kill time moving slowly down the field because of their 18 point lead.  They were also the first team to intercept Vick all year, as he surprisingly only threw 6 total picks last season.

He then toasted Houston for 28, but that was another horrible defense.  Then he drew the Cowboys, who held him to 21.  7 of that 21 came on a 91 yard catch and run by DeSean Jackson, and his other passing Touchdown came on a bit of a trick play to lineman eligible Todd Herremans.  The following week was the game against the Giants where he got to 38 with that furious fourth quarter comeback, but until the end of the third quarter, he looked horrible.  The Giants were blitzing him constantly and he was responding to it very poorly.  Then in his last game of the year, he scored 20 points against the Vikings defense, but once again, 12 of it came on 60 rushing yards and a score, he scored just 8 throwing the ball that day.

I know I seemed to be nitpicking there, but I highlighted the important points that are going to change this year.  While it's obviously nearly impossible to predict strength of schedule in terms of defenses before a season starts, it's clear he won't have the same cake-walk schedule he had last year.  While some easy teams still remain (the NFC East plays the NFC West this year, so that's four easy games), the overall quality of teams he will face has gone up.  The first three games will all be against tough blitzing defenses (the Rams are easily the best NFC west defense he'll face).  Then there's an easy three game stretch heading into the bye week, but after that there are only two "easy" games over the last 10 weeks. He'll play the Cowboys twice (with new great defensive mind in charge Rob Ryan), the Bears once, the Giants once, and have to play all three strong AFC East teams over that stretch as well, so we'll actually get to see what Belichick and Rex Ryan have up their sleeves for Vick.  There will be at least one single digit game in that stretch and will score less than last years low of 19 plenty of times this year.

Now that it's obvious that even if Vick was who he was last year, the quality of defenses he will be facing has gone up, its time to do what many Vick supporters like to do, and play with some of last years numbers.  Vick supporters like to take Vicks 11 full game numbers and extrapolate that out to a full season.

He scored 298 points in his 11 games (fully) played, and if you extrapolate his real life numbers out to 16 games played, it would translate to 449 fantasy points.  While that number sounds good, its just plain crazy talk.  It implies that Vick is going to score 13 touchdowns on the ground, which is never going to happen.  It also fails to take into account the fact that defenses got better against him as the year went on.  Most importantly, it's taking numbers that include ridiculous outliers like the 49 point Monday Night game and the "Miracle at the Meadowlands", while not including any low end numbers.  Vick getting injured is a serious concern, and even if he doesn't, he is a quarterback who laid some awful single digit ducks back when he played for the Falcons.  He basically had a 10 game hot streak last year, don't confuse that with an ability to do that every week throughout the year.

The fact that the numbers were a fluke becomes even more apparent when you look inside the numbers.  He scored 9 touchdowns on the ground last season, which doesn't sound out of reach when you think about Vicks skill set, but it marked a career high.  In his four other "full seasons" (with Vick, if you get 15 games that's a full season)  he had seasons of eight and six touchdowns but also had seasons of just two and three touchdowns and if you combine the other two shortened seasons he had into one season, that would be another season with just two touchdowns.  Also, in NFL history, no quarterback (including Vick himself) who has rushed for eight or more touchdowns in a season has ever come back to rush for even five the next season (via espn).  The rushing numbers are going to come down.

Also, if you watched Vick last season,it was fairly obvious he was getting lucky with some of  his passes.  He has plenty of passes that were bad throws that he was lucky to not get intercepted.  ESPN's K.C. Joyner (ESPN Insider Only) kept track of that watching the tape last year and found that Vick threw 25 "near-interceptions" to go with his six interceptions.  According to Joyner, about 45% of all interception chances are converted. If you take the 31 total chances (25 near plus his 6 actual) last year and convert that to league average of 45%, Vick should have thrown 14 picks last year, not 6.  That wouldn't just take off the 16 points (8 more picks) from his fantasy total, but it would also hurt his yards and touchdowns, as that's 8 drives that would have ended earlier.  When his luck regresses to average this year, or worse if he gets unlucky, his interception totals are going going to balloon up this year.

With the defensive talent he'll be facing going up, the rushing touchdowns going down, and the turnover numbers going up it's already obvious that Vick won't be the same player next year.  However, I haven't even gotten to the biggest reason I won't be drafting him in the first round.  He is a giant, massive, colossal injury risk, and that is the absolute last thing you want out of a first round pick.

Vick is listed at 6'0 tall and 215 pounds, but he doesn't even look that big out there on the football field.  To make matters worse, he isn't a small player playing receiver who avoids taking big hits, he plays quarterback, the position that takes by far the most blind side hits of any in football.  If he just stayed back in the pocket, I'd be worried about him getting hurt with absolute freaks like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul coming blind side on him.  He doesn't just stand in the pocket though, instead Vick runs around the field with no regard for his safety.  I'm not going to lie that it makes for exciting television, but he takes far to many monster hits.  To make matters worse, he turned 31 this year, that's not just one year past the expiration date for the running backs Vick plays like, but it also means he's now accumulated nearly six full seasons of wear and tear on him, and won't be coming off a season where he barely played.  I would bet anything that Vick doesn't start all 16 games for the Eagles this year, and I'd bet a fair amount on him missing at least four or five games at some point this season.

A player who is that much of an injury risk should never be a first round pick.  If your first round pick gets hurt, that usually ruins your fantasy year.  It's taken four years of running over grown men in the NFL for me to trust Adrian Peterson after his injuries in college.  There is no way you should ever take a player in the first round who has a Michael Vick level of risk of getting hurt.

His presence on so many Championship teams last year also in no way represents what he will do for you this year.  He was on 21.9% of teams that were in the finals because most of those teams that owned him either drafted him late in their draft or picked him up late in the season.  None of the consensus top quarterbacks from last year (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, or Aaron Rodgers) show up in the list of top 30 owned players by championship teams.  Why? Because their owners paid first or second round prices for quarterbacks, and their teams suffered elsewhere.  Taking any quarterback, not just Vick, in the first round is a bad idea.

All of that information should lead you to the obvious conclusion... Vick should not be a first round pick and definitely should not be the first player off the board.  And if you aren't taking him in the first round, some other moron in your league will, so you'll never own Michael Vick.  Instead you'll get to watch one of your competitors crash and burn with Vick as the centerpiece to their team, while you enjoy employing the Faulk Strategy on the way to a championship.

*All ADPs are taken from's live draft results.  All fantasy point scored are according to ESPN standard scoring.

-Fred "Big Derf" Tobin

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