NFL Fantasy Football 2011: Michael Vick or Aaron Rodgers as Top Quarterback?

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NFL Fantasy Football 2011: Michael Vick or Aaron Rodgers as Top Quarterback?
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So, you begin for preparation for the 2011 fantasy football season by opening up a magazine or fantasy web page, expecting to find typical names like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady at the top of the quarterback rankings, only to see the list topped by Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers.

This might baffle some, but most fantasy owners in tune with the status of the league are not surprised by the swift emergence of Vick as a top quarterback option and Rodgers as the young Brady or Manning.

Still, there is a new debate emerging as fantasy players decide between the quarterback that would be a top-25 running back in Vick, and the true passer who's secondary rushing skills put him over the top in Rodgers, as the top quarterback option in 2011.

Let's make a case for each player.


The Case for Michael Vick

In 2011, Michael Vick was the only player in fantasy football that could single-handedly carry a team to a win each week.

Based on ESPN standard scoring, Vick scored 20 or more points in 10 of the 12 games that he played in during the 2011 season.

Let's compare that to the top 10 quarterbacks from last year:

Player Games with 20+ points Games played in 2011 Percent of games with 20+ points
1. M. Vick 10 12 83.3
2. A. Rodgers 8 15 53.3
3. T. Brady  6 16 37.5
4. P. Manning 6 16 37.5
5. P. Rivers 6 16 37.5
6. D. Brees 4 16 25.0
7. J. Freeman 1 16

6.3

8. M. Ryan 4 16 25.0
9. M. Schaub 4 16 25.0
10. E. Manning 3 16 18.8

Vick was great in 2010.
So, what can we take out of this chart?

No, Josh Freeman is not mistakenly put on this list. He was one of the most consistent quarterbacks in fantasy football last season. He may not be explosive, but his steadiness pushed him into the top 10. 

Yes, Vick absolutely slaughters the rest of the field in producing a large number of fantasy points every time he straps the pads on.

So, it is clear that last season Vick was far and away the best quarterback in the fantasy football when healthy.

However, that introduces the problems in Vick's scenario.

First, how do we know he will stay healthy? We don't, and he doesn't have the best track record either, missing significant time during his tenure with the Atlanta Falcons and playing a full 16 games only once in his career.

Second, how do we know last season was not an outlier? We don't. He did set career records all over the board last season that include:

- Passing yards (3,018 in 12 games surpassing 2,936 in 15 games)
- Passing TD (21 in 12 games surpassing 20 in 16 games)
- Passer rating (100.2 surpassing 81.6 in 2002)
- Completion percentage (62.6 percent surpassing 56,4 percent in 2004)
- Passing yards per attempt (8.11 surpassing 7.21 in 2004)
- Rushing TD (9 in 12 games surpassing 8 in 15 games)

Whew.

That is just the beginning.

By all accounts, Vick had the best year of his career. He had posted better rushing statistics in Atlanta at times, but the combination of his unreal passing improvements and potent rushing skills were truly remarkable in 2011.

Still, it begs the question:  was Philadelphia a better fit for him than the Atlanta Falcons, did Vick get that much better, or was it a fluke?

All three scenarios are possible, with two of them making him the number one fantasy quarterback, and the other making him a very scary first round pick.

Let's make a case for Rodgers before we make any decisions.


The Case for Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers has officially taken the NFL by storm, becoming the face of the new wave of quarterbacks. By leading the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl title in only his third year at the helm, he has established himself as one of the premiere franchise quarterbacks in the league for years to come.

As for fantasy football, he has been an elite quarterback option for the last three years, progressively rising up pre-draft rankings year by year.

The key that sets Rodgers apart from the rest of the pure passers in fantasy football is the points he racks up on the ground.

First, let's look at the passing numbers (sorted by passing yards) from the five elite fantasy passers in 2010.

We will include the total points received solely from TDs (four points in standard leagues) minus the points lost from INTs (minus-two in standard leagues). So, the formula looks like:  (4(TDs thrown) - 2(INT thrown)):

Player Completions Attempts Completion Percentage Passing Yards TD INT TD-INT Pts
1. P. Rivers 357 541 66.0 4,710 30 13 94
2. P. Manning 450 679 66.3 4,700 33 17 98
3. D. Brees 448 658 68.1 4,620 33 22 88
4. A. Rodgers 312 475 65.7 3,922 28 11 90
5. T. Brady 324 492 65.9 3,900 36 4 136

Was Michael Vick's 2010 season a fluke?

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These basic stats reveal more than one would think.

First, the bottom two passers had the least amount of attempts, which makes sense. However, it is obvious where Tom Brady makes up his points from the lack of yards with the most touchdowns thrown and least interceptions by a significant margin.

Second, Rodgers looks like the odd man out as a passer. His touchdown-interception ratio is basically a wash with the three players who threw for significant more yards than him. So, where does he make up for the lack of passing yards that Brady does with the exceptional TD-INT ratio? The answer is on the ground.  

Let's compare the same five quarterbacks, sorted by rushing yards last season:

Player Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Avg TD
1. A. Rodgers 64 356 5.6 4
2. P. Rivers 29 52 1.8 0
3. T. Brady 31 30 1.0 1
4. P. Manning 18 18 1.0 0
5. D. Brees 18 -3 -0.2 0

Now, Rodgers looks like the cream of the crop, and this is the advantage that allowed him to be the top scoring quarterback in this group.

Again, these tables merely provide basic stats, but when the numbers of the five top passers are put together, it tells the story of their relative fantasy values.

Rodgers and Brady were the top two quarterbacks of these five in ESPN standard scoring leagues last season, despite being fourth and fifth in passing yards.

Thus, the first set of statistics shows how Brady made up for his lack of yards, and the second explains how Rodgers did it.

So, do these stats prove that Rodgers is the number one true passer in fantasy football? Not necessarily.

However, when you consider the weapons around him, who all return with the same Super Bowl chemistry in a lockout shortened offseason, Rodgers appears to be in a situation to succeed.

He doesn't have a new top receiver to deal with like Brady.

He isn't coming off surgery like Manning.

He doesn't have a rookie running back like Brees.

He isn't part of, arguably, the most inconsistent team in the league like Rivers.

This is what makes Rodgers the safest and most comfortable pick as the top true passing quarterback option.

But, is he worth selecting as the top quarterback overall?


The Verdict

Michael Vick can win your league for you almost by himself. Aaron Rodgers cannot do that.

Vick could turn out to be the biggest bust of the season, wasting your first or second round pick. Rodgers is a near guarantee to return your investment of an early-round selection.

The question is, do you want to roll the dice, or take the sure thing?

Most times, fantasy football leagues are not won by taking the safe route.

In the end, though, this is what the game is all about.

You're the owner. Make your call.

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