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Experts' Conservatism and the Anti Michael Vick Prejudice

I have been a Footballguys.com reader for the past three years. Unfortunately, I have never dominated my league in that time span. In fact, in those three years I have continually missed the playoffs, albeit by slim margins. Why continue? Well, despite my dearth of playoff appearances, I still believe that the most informative, well researched, and best overall fantasy football content exists on Footballguys.com. Therefore my goal is not to discredit their very knowledgeable staff, but merely to point out a possible tendency and relate it to Michael Vick's status in this year's draft.

This is the tendency to be too conservative.

So what has been the problem?

Well, were I playing in a rotisserie league, my teams would have been in fine shape. In those years of missing the playoffs, I had more overall points than at least one (sometimes two) of the teams who actually reached the playoffs (4 in 12). This tells me that the principles of VBD indeed work - I generally secured good value in the draft vis-à-vis my drafting counterparts and my overall score reflected that. Unfortunately the large majority of leagues (including my own) operate on a head to head basis. If you are a dedicated Footballguys reader who has had the recent misfortune of finishing with high total point scores but 8-6 records, then I encourage you to consider capitalizing on the anti Michael Vick prejudice that seems to have stricken the fantasy landscape this year.

Given that fantasy football uses a head to head approach, the most important goal is obviously to win games. Despite his absence for half of last year's season, I imagine that Priest Holmes owners were still able to ride his early dominating performances into an eventual playoff berth. The modus operandi of most expert articles emphasizes maximizing value while minimizing risk. However, it frequently seems as if they place an overdue accent on minimizing risk - leaving one to wonder when in the world it is acceptable to select certain players. In most cases standard Footballguys strategy would have owners waiting for high risk/high reward players well past their respective ADPs.

In order to win games, a fantasy football squad needs studs who can explode for major performances. Michael Vick represents precisely that type of player. Despite the anti Michael Vick prejudice, experts still cannot help but sing his praises:

"…he has the potential to score multiple TDs and put up huge rushing numbers against almost any opponent so you can't bench him." - Clayton Gray

"Vick has a ton of ability and at times can take over a game." - Cecil Lammey

"I actually like Michael Vick's chances for a solid fantasy year…" - Marc Levin

The preceding quotes were all contextualized in advice directed actually against drafting Michael Vick. Yet do we not want precisely the kind of player who can basically guarantee a win when he blows up? Well the problem has recently been his consistency - an obvious but necessary qualifier.

The conservative bias against Michael Vick and its usefulness for the 2005 draft

Given the recent criticism from the fantasy community, this appears to be a great year to keep your eyes on Michael Vick during your draft. It's almost as if sharks avoid him so they are not "that guy". According to David Dodds, part of fantasy success is to understand what the average guy thinks, but it's also useful to know what sharks think too - and Vick is the farthest thing from chum in their worlds.

When the aforementioned article on overvalued quarterbacks was published, Vick's ADP was a lofty QB4. I would not touch him there either. However, enough qualified opinions have caused that to plummet. In fact, Michael Vick criticism or skepticism seems like an obligatory trait for many experts. My following article will use the current ranking for Vick as provided by Antsports. Using a "12 Team, HP, Normal lineup TE required" as a set of parameters, Vick now appears to going on average as the 7th or 8th best QB off the board, somewhere in the 6th round - still a little generous but worth considering. Given the range of talent and drafting tendencies for this year, that slide could potentially be fortuitous for the owner willing to take the risk.

If you are an avid Footballguy, then you most likely have gone to war with the likes of Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, Rich Gannon, Brian Griese, Chad Pennington, or Tom Brady. Tom Brady is the poster child for the typical Footballguys QB: consistent but rarely amazing. In fact, if you followed last year's outline for "The Perfect Draft", Brady was the best, first available QB for the appropriate time to start drafting a QB (the 7th round). Therefore I will briefly use him for some comparisons based on a scoring system similar to FBG (1 pt per 20 passing yards, 4 pts per passing TD, 1 pt per 10 rushing yards, 6 pts per rushing TD, -2 for turnovers). I'm going to throw out weeks 15 and 16, since this article was inspired by my having missed the playoffs despite high overall point totals, and of course, those weeks usually represent those playoffs. Moreover, Vick did not perform in week 16 anyway, while making a spot appearance in week 17.

If we denote scores above 20 as swing efforts and those below 10 as causes for loss, then as expected, Vick shows up multiple times in both categories. This particular fact has already been mentioned by Chase Stuart. If we compare him to Brady, he helped fantasy teams win games five times (weeks 2, 6, 8, 11, 14) compared to three such performances from Brady (weeks 1, 3, 13). However in only two games did Brady turn in detrimental performances (weeks 4, 11), while Vick was the bane of fantasy teams in four appearances (weeks 3, 5, 7, 11). In some games he was truly awful. There were two other weeks (4 and 13) where he probably required support from the rest of your squad. By most accounts Vick truly did have a substandard year last year, and he represented miserable value for his ADP, which was somewhere in the 3rd or 4th round. Teams who waited and rostered Brady were definitely better off. Nonetheless Vick still most likely propelled fantasy teams to at least 5 wins, despite his problems, while Brady only likely provided the points to swing 3 wins. The major difference this year seems to be that Vick is only going about a round earlier than Brady in most drafts, making his potential much more tantalizing.

The Michael Vick Experience: Admission Fee

It was not too long ago (2002) that Michael Vick recorded a top 5 fantasy QB season. That earned him an ADP somewhere in the first round of the following year's fantasy draft (2003). A preseason injury ruined his prospects for that year, and in the next year (2004, i.e. last year), his ADP slipped, but he still failed to put up stats commensurate with that draft position.

He is now not only more than a full season removed from that injury, but he also benefits from the experience of having worked under Knapp and Mora Jr for an entire year. Add to that the acquisition of Roddy White, a slightly more seasoned Michael Jenkins, and Vick's own vows to perform at a high level, and his prospects seem more intriguing. Of course, they're always intriguing. The buzz and controversy surrounding him outweighs that of any other fantasy player, yet I find it hard to project worse numbers for his upcoming season. So, if there's any year to actually take a gamble on Vick, this might be it. Moreover and perhaps more importantly, one need not deviate too far from the cautious blueprint usually outlined by David Dodds in his perfect draft articles.

Now that Michael Vick comes a little bit cheaper, we can still execute the standard game plan of grabbing 2-3 stud RBs along with 1-2 solid WRs in the first four rounds. Fine. The case for grabbing Vick in the late 5th or somewhere in the 6th round can first be grounded in the fact that this year's WR crop seems particularly fuzzy. By the round we possibly are targeting Vick, the receivers available are of the Drew Bennett, Isaac Bruce, Jimmy Smith variety, but if there is a consistent lesson to be learned in drafts, it's that value can be had at WR late in guys such as Eddie Kennison, Keary Colbert, or Brandon Lloyd among others. Is it seriously that safe to assume that Nate Burleson will be the man in Minnesota or that Booker and Boston can be easily written off in Miami? No. This year's WR group has a lot of question marks surrounding its higher draftees in my opinion. In any case when it comes to WRs "Wait for value to emerge - it always does," maintains Mr. Dodds.

Additionally, the TE crop appears stronger than in recent years with addition of Antonio Gates to the elite, and the expansion of the highly effective class through Dallas Clark, Todd Heap, Jeremy Shockey, and Alge Crumpler. Even if you wait longer, decent options pop up in L. J. Smith, Randy McMichael, Jason Witten, and Eric Johnson. That seems like enough to me for a twelve team league.

The case only gets stronger when we scrutinize the caliber of RBs being selected near Vick; names like Kevan Barlow, Lee Suggs, and Travis Henry. If we pretend that Vick is an RB, which doesn't require us to stretch our imaginations too far, then his upside clearly makes him a better choice than any of those other possibilities. Actually, his rushing totals could even surpass those of the RBs being selected near him.

Finally, as always, value can still be had later in the draft for the QB position, should the Michael Vick experiment blow up in our collective faces. Just like any other year, players like Carson Palmer, Aaron Brooks, Jake Delhomme, Chad Pennington, and Brian Griese could be available with very attractive ADP price tags while still being fully capable of performing as a QB1. So what's different? Well instead of selecting a WR in round 5 or 6 who might possibly perform worse than a player selected 4-5 rounds after him given the murky WR talent pool this year, you are nabbing a tremendous athlete with the potential to finish top 5 at his position. You also have attractive trade bait. I doubt that the ticket for the Michael Vick experience will ever come any cheaper than it is for this year's draft, and if he falls to the late 5th or 6th round, I suggest you consider taking the ride. Let the rest of your conservative Footballguys strategy field you an otherwise solid team and allow Vick's dominating performances to guarantee you a few Ws.

Personal Notes
This piece was written without any personal affinity for Michael Vick. Firstly, I'm an Eagles fan who hopes the Falcons crash and burn. Secondly, I am a graduate student at the University of Virginia and therefore harbor no love for any Hokie, former or current.

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