Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
How should fantasy players approach Michael Vick and the Falcons this year?
The Vick story seems to change day by day, and the latest word comes from some outstanding reporting by ESPN's Len Pasquarelli and Chris Mortensen, detailing a proposed deal wherein Vick would agree to take a paid leave of absence from the Falcons pending the resolution of his indictment on charges related to a dogfighting operation. Clearly, the possibility exists that Vick will not play at all in 2007, and it's starting to look like a probability. Pressure on both the NFL and the Falcons will only increase in the aftermath of today's protest by PETA.
Right now, fantasy players need to prepare for two scenarios: one in which Vick plays this season under the dark cloud of these charges, and one in which he sits out the whole year.
If Vick Plays
In the initial quarterback rankings for the new ESPN Fantasy Football Draft Kit, Vick came in at No. 7. He was the subject of heated debate during the rankings meeting. The pro-Vick camp hung their collective hat on the fact that he rushed for over 1,000 yards last season while also throwing a career-high 20 touchdown passes. The Vick naysayers pointed to the fact that he's an inconsistent fantasy performer prone to disappearing acts, and this year he'll have to adjust to a new offensive scheme under new head coach Bobby Petrino. In addition, Vick's aggressive running style and home-field artificial surface leave lingering concerns about his durability, despite the fact that he's missed only two games in the past three seasons.
In reality, Vick's No. 7 ranking was very much a compromise between the side that wanted him in the top five and the one that wanted him outside the top 10. With the added element of legal proceedings that could cut into practice time and certainly will be a major distraction and source of sleep deprivation, Vick carries considerably more risk than ever before. Drafting him as a No. 1 quarterback is, frankly, not an option for any serious fantasy player. As a high-risk, high-reward backup he makes perfect sense, but that means he comes off the board somewhere between Nos. 13 and 15 among quarterbacks.
If Vick Doesn't Play
Let's now assume that Vick agrees to a paid leave of absence, is suspended or is otherwise taken away from on-field duties for the Falcons this season. Matt Schaub is now a Texan, in more ways than one, which means the Falcons are up a creek with only Joey Harrington to paddle. You'd be hard-pressed to find an NFL talent evaluator who thinks that 2006 seventh-round pick D.J. Shockley has a legitimate chance to be a starting quarterback this soon (if ever), and the only thing that needs to be said about Chris Redman is that he wasn't good enough to keep Kyle Boller off the field.
The Falcons could try to acquire another quarterback, but who's available? The Eagles could seemingly part with A.J. Feeley or Kelly Holcomb; Kerry Collins could be pried away from the Titans; Jake Plummer could be coaxed out of retirement and acquired from the Buccaneers. None of those options is very appealing. Daunte Culpepper? He seems too high-risk for Falcons owner Arthur Blank in light of his medical history.
No, in all likelihood, the Falcons are stuck with Harrington leading their team if Vick isn't available. That, to put it mildly, is bad news for the fantasy prospects of every member of the Falcons.
Since being selected third overall in the 2003 NFL draft, Harrington has left a trail of devastation on his surrounding talent. Of course, Harrington would surely take issue with the use of the word "talent" to describe the running backs, tight ends and wide receivers he's had to work with, but facts are facts:
• Harrington has started at least 11 games in all five seasons of his career, four in Detroit and last year in Miami.
• The average final-season yardage for the leading rusher of a Harrington-led team is 886.4 yards, and no running back managed a 1,200-yard season.
• The average final-season yardage for the leading wide receiver of a Harrington-led team is 659.0, and no receiver managed as many as 850 yards in a season.
• The average final-season touchdown total for the leading scorer of a Harrington-led team is 6.4, and no player scored more than eight touchdowns in a season.
• The average team-scoring ranking of a Harrington-led team is 26.8, with no team ranking higher than 24th.
Is Harrington to blame for all of this? Surely not. Matt Millen, William Clay Ford and Culpepper are among many others responsible. Still, we can at least agree that playing with Harrington isn't a good thing, right?
So what do we make of the rest of the Atlanta Falcons from a fantasy perspective?
Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood came in at Nos. 30 and 36, respectively, on our running back rankings. Obviously, if we could be sure of how carries would be divvied up, one or the other would rank significantly higher. Regardless, if Harrington is on the field instead of Vick, opposing linebackers and safeties won't have to respect the quarterback's ability to break containment and take off, so any number of running plays -- such as draws, misdirections and anything involving a fake bootleg -- will be less effective.
Joe Horn ranked No. 42 among wide receivers, with Michael Jenkins No. 54 and Roddy White No. 66. While Harrington isn't any worse a passer than Vick, his inability to lead an offense will result in fewer scoring opportunities for everyone. Horn has the best combination of talent and polish of any receiver Harrington (or Vick) has ever worked with, but he's also 35 years old and was plagued by injuries in 2006.
Alge Crumpler, ranked third among tight ends, is probably least affected by any quarterback change, but you at least have to carefully consider whether you want Crumpler when you could wait a round or two and get Chris Cooley or Kellen Winslow.
You're better off avoiding all Falcons in fantasy drafts this year. Dunn or Norwood could end up being decent values, but the specter of Vick being replaced by Harrington looms over every player on the team.
Nate Ravitz covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com