On the NFL calendar, May is usually marked with contract disputes, unsubstantiated rumors and, in the case of Justin Blackmon, unlawful acts. However, an interesting tidbit trickled off the wire last week prompting Eagles, and fantasy, fans to reminisce about 2010.
Ahh, the good ol’ days.
Last Thursday, with teammates looking on, Michael Vick went all Usain Bolt on LeSean McCoy, burning the gum-flapping youngster, a player eight years his junior, in a 40-yard footrace, a resounding victory for thirty-somethings everywhere.
Most will understandably brush off the four-yard dusting as nothing more than a meatless bite on an otherwise slow news day. Their perspective, to a point, is legitimate, but when you take into account the big picture, Vick’s triumph offers so much more.
This season, the veteran is slated to enter training camp atop Chip Kelly’s depth-chart, a guinea pig in the mad scientist’s experiment. As discussed in detail previously, the NFL has never seen an offense quite as sophisticated as Kelly’s zone-read option. Its lightning-fast complexity – Kelly wants to go snap-to-snap in seven seconds – is designed to keep coordinators guessing and defenders gasping for air. At the collegiate level, it was remarkably effective, evident in Oregon’s 44.7 points per game average during Kelly’s four-year tenure as head coach. However, given the speed of the game, the NFL presents a much stiffer task.
But if there’s one team in the league with the resources to successfully implement the zone-read, it’s the Eagles. The quick-footed offensive line, which gets Jason Peters back and drafted Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft, has a chance of being one of the league's best. If it executes at a high level, it should light the offensive wick. McCoy, Bryce Brown, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are rockets who will keep tacklers on their toes.
Vick apparently will too.
Because of his cannon arm and ability to tuck and run, the veteran really is the prototype soldier to carry out Kelly’s marching orders. As seen in spurts over his past two injury/turnover-marred seasons, when on and unharmed, he’s an instrument of destruction (e.g. Week 2 vs. Baltimore last year). Conversely, when off, he’s a catalyst of disaster.
To achieve consistency, Vick must be wiser in his decision-making. Over the past three years, his completion percentage has steadily declined, dropping from 62.6 in 2010 to 58.1 last year. No surprise, his fantasy contributions also slipped during that span, sliding from 29.7 to 20.7 points per game. Still, as Kelly recently explained on local radio in Philly, Vick isn’t solely responsible for his statistical downfall:
“The guy in 2010 who is the comeback player of the year and is running all over the field making great decisions? A lot of that because he’s clean in protection, he’s not getting hit immediately after he’s getting the snap. The one thing, when I watched the film and I saw Michael last year, you just kind of almost felt bad for him, is you lost four lineman to season ending injuries…
He can throw the ball, it comes off his hands, he can make people miss, but no one, there’s no quarterback in the NFL, there’s no quarterback in any level of football that can function when you are missing four of your offensive lineman. So a lot of things that happened when you watch the film last year, it isn’t all Michael’s fault.”
Yes, his propensity for cracking ribs and committing turnovers are major downsides, but name a passer who will be drafted as a QB2 with as much top-five upside. Take your time. Eli Manning? You’re crazier than Amanda Bynes on a 24-hour bender. Joe Flacco? I’ll happily provide 120 million reasons to the contrary. E.J. Manuel? You must be inebriated. Fact is, save for Vick, there are ZERO QBs going after Tony Romo (QB12) in average drafts that have realistic odds of penetrating the elite class. NONE. Sage owners who pluck him around pick No. 100 (ADP: 110.1, QB14) in Yahoo! drafts may score a valuable trade chip. There’s a 4,000-combined yard, 25-TD (Pass and rush) slinger still in that body.
It may take an act of God for him to suit up 14-plus times, but don’t be shocked if the soon-to-be 33-year-old smokes the QB2 field.
Just ask Shady.
• Elsewhere in Fantasyland, Justin Blackmon (ADP: 103.6, WR41) is quickly becoming a formidable challenge to Kenny Britt for the league's Biggest Dunderhead honor. Last week, the troubled wide receiver was suspended four games by the league office for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Because of his previous pre-pro brushes with the law, the Jag is on extremely thin ice. He's one trip to the pokey or failed drug test away from a one-year hiatus. Despite the missteps, new head honcho Gus Bradley was quick to support Blackmon noting he still "trusts" the wideout and remains "confident" he will get on the straight and narrow.
Blackmon finished his rookie season on a high note. Over his final seven games, he hauled in 38 receptions for 615 yards and four touchdowns. Extrapolate that data over a full 16 game season and you're talking Demaryius Thomas-like production. Obviously, he shouldn't be dubbed a WR3 on draft day in 12-team leagues, but place him just outside the WR top-40 on your cheat sheet. When his head is screwed on straight, he's a viable fantasy starter, with or without Chad Henne under center.
In his absence, Cecil Shorts (ADP: 89.7, WR37) will likely be peppered with targets against Minnesota, Houston, Indy and Cincinnati, the Jags' first four opponents. Sure Blaine Gabbert would struggle hitting the Jolly Green Giant on a shallow cross, but last year's waiver sensation could pick up where he left off. Slide him up a notch or two on your draft board.
• Rob Gronkowski enthusiasts can breathe a deep sigh of relief, for now at least. According to an ESPN Boston report, the hard-partying tight end has "looked great" in offseason programs and has not suffered any unexpected setbacks. However, Gronk isn't completely out of harm's way. Doctors are still a couple weeks away from determining if his slow-healing forearm will need to undergo a fourth procedure after an infection surfaced roughly a month ago. If forced onto the surgeon's table, his Week 1 availability would be very cloudy.
In a pair of mock drafts I participated in this week, Gronk went No. 11 and No. 60 overall, clearly a wide variance. Given the measurable uncertainty, plucking the former Pro Bowler at the back-end of Round 1 was a reckless pick. A season ago, his 13.2 fantasy points per game was third-best, one spot ahead of Dez Bryant, among WRs and TEs. Still, given the significant risks involved and the incredible depth at tight end this season, he isn't worth passing up a Brandon Marshall, Drew Brees or Alfred Morris to acquire. There's huevos. And then there's HUEVOS ESTUPIDOS. Play it safe, gamers.
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