Instant Replay: Vintage Michael Vick
"Quarterback controversy" has become quite the buzz phrase in the NFL. It seems that any time a starting quarterback puts forth even a one-week stinker, or a backup shines in a brief relief appearance, people are quick to toss around those words.
In an effort to avoid that discussion, Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid said there was no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia just before his team's Week 2 contest, started by Michael Vick with Kevin Kolb recovering from a concussion the latter sustained in the season opener. Before the game, Reid announced that Kolb had passed his concussion tests, taken by both the team and an independent Philadelphia doctor, and that his opening-week quarterback would return to practice this week and should be able to start in Week 3 at Jacksonville.
Then Vick went out and threw for 284 yards and two scores in the Eagles' 35-32 road defeat of the Detroit Lions.
So, Andy, are you sure there's still no controversy?
Reid's stance is understandable from a couple of viewpoints: One, much of the impetus behind his trade of Donovan McNabb within the division to the rival Washington Redskins less than six months ago was his confidence in Kolb's ability to inherit the throne as the Eagles' long-term starter. Unseating Kolb this quickly might be construed as admission of the trade being a mistake. Two, there's a prevailing thought that players shouldn't lose their jobs as a result of injuries; Reid himself gave McNabb his job back in Week 5 of last season despite the fact that Kolb had thrown for 300-plus yards and two scores in each of two starts in place of McNabb.
Still, Vick's performance in Week 1 in relief of Kolb and in Week 2 as a starter -- his first opportunity to start an NFL game since Dec. 31, 2006 -- just might lead to a genuine controversy down the road. After demonstrating in 2009 as well as before Kolb got hurt in the opener that he has a place in this offense, however limited, Vick showed us that, if presented with a full-time opportunity, he still has the mobility that made him only the second 1,000-yard rushing quarterback in NFL history back in 2006, as well as the arm strength that helped him to 20 passing scores that very same season, five of them of 20 yards or more.
Vick presumably will return to his No. 2 role come Week 3, meaning usage primarily in special packages (like the Eagles' underwhelming version of the Wildcat seen at times last season), but at least you can count on this: You'll probably see more of those. His Week 3 might be practically invisible compared with his Weeks 1-2, and because fantasy football owners are often reactionary, he might be as popular a drop for next week as he was an add for this week. But this is a player you want to keep stashed if you have the bench space to do so. After all, Kolb endured a rocky preseason and didn't impress in the opener before getting hurt, and while he might still be promised a job, you can count on Reid's patience with him having shortened.
One caveat for the pro-Vick crowd: His Week 2 numbers, while eye-popping, were partially fueled by a super-soft matchup against the Lions, fantasy football's favorite whipping-boy defense. After all, the Lions have now surrendered a 300-yard passing game in six of their past 13 games, 20 touchdowns in their past nine and have totaled just four interceptions in their past nine games. Even if Vick recaptures the starting job, the best-case scenario has him as a probable 200-yard, one-touchdown, 75-yards-rushing caliber performer, or a high-teens player in terms of fantasy points. That's a valuable asset, but it's no fantasy stud.
Look at my Week 2 year-to-end re-ranks, however, and you'll see why that projection still could make Vick a meaningful fantasy option. After the top seven on that list, there are all sorts of questions among the next seven:
Joe Flacco: Terrible Week 2, including four interceptions.
Eli Manning: I'm optimistic, and pending his Sunday night performance, he might move up to eight to comprise a "trusted top eight."
Brett Favre: If not for Flacco, his would be ugliest of the Week 2 outings.
Jay Cutler: So many interceptions last year, but his stock is rising.
Matt Ryan: Week 2 was a positive, but Week 1 was a negative. That might cement his status as a matchups quarterback.
Donovan McNabb: Better Week 2, but still lacks the depth in terms of weapons that he had in Philadelphia.
Ben Roethlisberger: Still suspended until Week 6.
Given another chance to start, who's to say Vick couldn't bump one of those seven names from the list?
Jahvid Best was the week's top scorer (40 fantasy points) and Jason Snelling (35) ranked second, but neither one was started in even half of ESPN leagues. So for that reason I'm handing out the hardware to the No. 3 man on the list, LeSean McCoy, who was started in 91.4 percent of ESPN leagues. While the attention was on Vick in the Eagles-Lions Week 2 game, it was McCoy who led both teams in fantasy points, stepping up in the kind of matchup where he should have stepped up.
While the Eagles might have some questions to answer at quarterback, it's McCoy who demonstrated his ability to serve as a workhorse starting running back, a plus in light of the season-ending injury to Leonard Weaver and the team's offensive line issues. He carried 16 times for 120 yards and three scores, the touchdowns handing his team a commanding lead (albeit one that was whittled down by the Lions late), and four times broke off a run of 10 yards or greater. With Kolb due back in Week 3, the Eagles would be smart to continue to put emphasis on McCoy to lead, at least until they determine whether Kolb is capable of handling the gig.
Week 2 observations
• While Vick was the popular from-waivers-to-starting gem at quarterback, Brandon Jackson fit the description at running back, albeit with only modest results. Jackson scored a touchdown, yes, but he also totaled only 29 yards on 11 carries, numbers that don't really separate him from fullback John Kuhn's 9-for-36, and he did it despite a favorable matchup versus the Buffalo Bills. I've written on these pages a few times in the past week that Jackson, for all his skills as a blocker and pass-catcher, isn't especially quick, and my worry is that Kuhn might sneak in to vulture his goal-line work in coming weeks, with rookie James Starks perhaps threatening for additional carries once he's activated from the PUP list. Unfortunately, my advice would have been to sell high on Jackson had he thrived this week, and a nine-point fantasy day might not allow you to do so. I'd still try, at least if I hadn't invested in him under the expectation he'd be a matchups/flex play at best.
• Speaking of Favre, his day was dreadful, including three interceptions, one of which was a terribly ill-advised throw deep into coverage, and a fumble. His receivers -- Visanthe Shiancoe excused -- are partly to blame for the awful results, but the rest belongs squarely on his shoulders. Favre's throws look as though they're coming from a 40-year-old's arm (go figure) and his decision-making skills look no stronger than they did in his interception-laden 2005 and 2008 campaigns. Rumors that a Vincent Jackson trade might be on the horizon at least offer hope for Favre, but even if it happens, let's not proclaim Jackson his savior. Even with the rumors, I'm seriously considering jumping off this cliff.
• Conversely, Cutler looks great in Mike Martz's offense thus far. The 372-yard passing day in Week 1 was easy to dismiss because it came against the Lions, but after a rocky start he made quick adjustments and confounded the Dallas Cowboys' defense in a road game to the tune of 277 yards and three passing scores.
• While I frequently stress it's smarter to build your roster primarily around talent, sometimes opportunity just doesn't align. In two weeks, Thomas Jones has 33 carries to Jamaal Charles' 22, despite Charles' yards-per-touch average (7.33) standing at more than twice that of Jones (3.74). Charles, in fact, admitted to the Kansas City Star after Sunday's game that he's the "backup," which speaks volumes about the Kansas City Chiefs' backfield split. I'm not advising you give up on Charles, because in the end, talent usually drives opportunity, but for now he cannot possibly be regarded as a top-10 option at his position.
• Speaking of muddled backfields, Jerome Harrison had more carries (16) for the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 than Peyton Hillis (8). Harrison did have more yards from scrimmage (68), but Hillis had more goal-line carries (2-0), scored and had more rushing yards (35-33). Obviously they're in a timeshare, and while Harrison might get more carries, Hillis is a stronger goal-line threat. That makes neither player a strong fantasy choice, and neither matches up well with the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3 anyway.
• Jahvid Best shredded what was expected to be a stout Eagles defense heading into this season, totaling 232 yards and three scores for a week-best 40 fantasy points (one shy of Arian Foster's Week 1 number). Foster's Week 2 demonstrates why you should never overestimate a young running back's weekly fantasy potential based upon one explosive game -- in Best's case, his 36 total yards in his NFL debut exemplify that -- but that he has five total touchdowns in his first two career games shows how massive his upside is. This job is his; Kevin Smith has been scratched two straight weeks, making him every bit as productive as "that Kevin Smith." Don't sell high, because chances are he's valued right about where he should be.
• Denver Broncos rookie Demaryius Thomas should rank high on your list of potential pickups this week. He caught eight of his nine targets for 97 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut, and while he'll have Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal and Brandon Lloyd to fight with for targets, his skills aren't any less than theirs. With Kyle Orton off to a white-hot start to 2010 and the Broncos facing a fantasy-friendly schedule, Thomas might stand a chance at top-30 numbers, or at least a fairly significant number of useful matchups in the coming weeks.
• Apparently Mark Clayton's Week 1 outburst wasn't an aberration; while he managed only two receptions in his follow-up game, both of them were touchdowns in a game in which he was covered almost exclusively by star Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Clayton's five targets ranked second on the team, and while his rookie quarterback will make him a risk to have painfully quiet weeks, he's well worth adding and slotting in as a No. 3/4 receiver accounting for matchups.
• Speaking of strong follow-ups, Darren McFadden's 30-carry, 145-yard outburst against the St. Louis Rams probably assures that the starting gig -- and the vast majority of the carries -- will remain his even after Michael Bush is healthy. McFadden has looked like a completely different runner this year after disappointing previously in his NFL career, and given his team's favorable schedule this year, he might be quite the surprise as a No. 2/flex.
• His fantasy value will obviously hinge upon the development of his quarterback, but Dustin Keller's Week 2 performance was immensely promising. He topped the Jets in targets (9), and finished with seven catches for 115 yards and a score, looking less like Mark Sanchez's safety valve and more like his go-to guy. Don't expect such outbursts every week, but if Keller can continue to get looks in red zone situations, as he did this week, he might be one of the more surprising outside-the-top-10 tight end picks from the preseason.
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Michael Turner (groin): His is the headliner of Week 2, as his nine-carry, 75-yard performance was easily dwarfed by backup Jason Snelling's 186-total-yard, three-touchdown day, and that might lead people to wonder how significant Turner's groin injury is. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, however, Turner had been cleared to return to action, but the veteran running back was held out as a precaution because the Atlanta Falcons were already winning by a significant margin. All signs point to Turner being available for Week 3, but keep tabs on his practice reports early in the week, and if you can afford the luxury, scoop up Snelling as a handcuff. After all, his role might be on the rise. No. 3 option Jerious Norwood missed most of the game with a knee injury, so it's not unthinkable the Falcons might arrange some sort of Turner/Snelling Week 3 split.
• Ryan Mathews (ankle): He was carted off in the first quarter of Sunday's game, returned to the sidelines for the entire second half, but didn't return to action. Mathews' health bears watching during practice this week, but interestingly enough, it wasn't Darren Sproles who benefited in his stead; Mike Tolbert tallied 82 yards and two scores on 16 carries as the San Diego Chargers' primary back. Sproles, meanwhile, totaled 100 yards on nine touches, demonstrating that he'd remain involved in the event Mathews misses further action, but it'd probably come more on passing downs or as a change-of-pace option than as a starter.
• Jason Witten (concussion): The Dallas Morning News reports that the hard hit he took when he collided with both Bears defenders Brian Urlacher and Chris Harris gave him a concussion, which puts Witten's Week 3 status in doubt. NFL rules regarding such an injury are strict, and Witten will need to prove he is symptom-free if he's to be able to play next week. Martellus Bennett might see a few added targets if Witten sits, as evidenced by his four catches late in this week's game. But he'd be no more than a high-level No. 2 option even if that's the case.
• Percy Harvin (hip): He was limited for much of the second half after aggravating his hip injury on a block in the second quarter, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that he will undergo an MRI. With Harvin's status up in the air again, expect rumors to continue to swirl about a possible Vincent Jackson trade. In the event a Jackson deal doesn't materialize -- which is indeed possible -- and Harvin misses further time, the Vikings might be left with only Bernard Berrian and Greg Lewis as their starters in Week 3.
• Dennis Dixon (knee): Dixon departed early in the second quarter because of a knee injury, disconcerting in that he had knee surgery in college and the Pittsburgh Steelers lack any reliable, eligible alternatives at quarterback. Coach Mike Tomlin admitted after Week 2 that he doesn't know who his starter will be -- he stressed he wasn't volunteering for the gig -- but Charlie Batch, who was 5-for-11 passing and fumbled twice, might be the de facto choice. You can be sure the Steelers are counting down the weeks until Ben Roethlisberger is eligible to play.
• Darrelle Revis (hamstring): He left with an aggravation of his hamstring injury in the second quarter, though even before his departure he was beaten for a score by Randy Moss. "Revis Island" received low ratings in limited action, and if he misses further time, fantasy owners should have considerably less fear of starting top wide receivers who face the New York Jets.