Unquestionably, the virtual sports world is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society. When producing, owners would willingly swig your beer backwash without second guessing. When not, and the disgruntled masses, fueled by broken dreams and greenbacks lost, angrily charge after you with vengeful eyes and clinched fists.
Among the hundreds of players who will be selected on draft day this year no commodity better embodies that apathy more than Philly's Michael Vick.
Two years ago, the quarterback had a loyal, unwavering following. The relationship he fostered with gamers was unbreakable. Homeboys tight. Together they played Madden until all hours of the night, performed choreographed moves at the club and gleefully rode tandem bikes through city parks. Their bond was thought to be inseparable.
The lucky few who rescued Vick from free agency early that season were rewarded handsomely. He consistently pounded opponents via ground and air accumulating 29.7 points per game in standard formats, up to that point the highest single season mark by a quarterback in the history of fantasy football (Aaron Rodgers reset the bar with a 30.5 ppg last year). His 330-4, 80-2 thrashing of the 'Skins in Washington Week 10 was arguably the greatest individual performance ever. To say he was unstoppable would be the understatement of the century. Those who owned him likely raised a virtual trophy in triumph. Over 59 percent of Yahoo! champions had No. 7 at the helm. Naturally, expectations for the follow-up were astronomical.
Too bad the sequel sucked.
Highly touted entering '11 drafts — some in the industry proclaimed he was a deserving No. 1 pick — Vick was supposed to be a one-man wrecking crew. In an unsavory way, he was. Though he finished with respectable numbers across the board (23.2 ppg, QB6), his spike in turnovers combined with a sharp downturn in rushing stats (589-1) and three-game absence due to cracked ribs deemed him a failure, leaving a bitter taste in owner mouths.
Now slapped with a post-hype label, the controversial QB may actually be underrated. Examine the facts:
• This is the first year since 2006 he will enter camp in the same system and with a full offseason to prepare. Since the season ended he's lived like a hermit dissecting hours of game-tape in an attempt to pinpoint his problems. The extra time and dedication in the film room should transform him into a more disciplined, polished passer, potentially stemming the turnover tide from a season ago while also increasing his vertical contributions. No wonder Ron Jaworski is predicting a "banner year".
• The Eagles boast one of the most explosive offenses in the league. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy are a dynamite arsenal.
• Andy Reid is rather fond of beef stroganoff, and throwing. Philly consistently ranks near the top of the NFC in pass attempts every year, a healthy environment for any QB to post standout numbers.
• His most reliable receiver, Maclin, who was weakened by a mysterious illness last summer, will enter camp at full-strength.
• Vick's disappointing ground gains last season were likely an anomaly. Though the passer vows he will "make a conscious effort, a cognitive effort" to protect himself, he won't abandon tucking and running when presented with an exploitable situation. He is still one of the game's finest dual threats.
To be fair, there are downsides to investing in Vick. He suited up all 16 games just once in his career (2006). And, for the schedule advocates in attendance, his 2012 slate ranks the 11th-toughest.
Still, at his current price point (44.3 Y! ADP, QB6), the former fantasy king might be the most overlooked asset in the early rounds. Despite the risks involved, he is more than capable of again donning a crown. Most importantly, because of the incredible depth at QB, owners could conceivably shore up the position by grabbing upside passers Robert Griffin III, Ben Roethlisberger or Jay Cutler later on, making the dice roll more palatable.
The 2010 buzz subsided long ago, but soon Fantasyland will again be infected with the Vickness.
Fearless Forecast (14 games): 261.2 passing yards per game, 22 passing touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 631 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns
Similar to Vick here are six additional underrated players looking to earn owner respect:
Eli Manning, NYG, QB
Y! ADP: 50.8 (QB8)
Adding a second Super Bowl ring to his jewelry box last February, Eli finally earned unabashed support from the New York media. Ok, maybe until November. However, despite joining lofty company in reality, younger Manning remains underappreciated in fantasy, a mind-blowing slight. No longer a midlevel QB2, the passer's production has steadily grown. From 2008-2011, his per game average increased by at least a point each year, topping out at a career-best 23.1 a season ago. That mark, the seventh-best at the position, outpaced Philip Rivers, the No. 8 QB, by nearly two points per game. Considering the superb weapons around him (Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Ahmad Bradshaw, David Wilson and Martellus Bennett) and solid protection up front, his upward trend should continue. And let's not forget the iron-man hasn't missed a game since 2004. Another 4300-plus passing yards with 30 TDs are attainable. E-reliable, not Peyton, is the more desirable Manning for fantasy purposes this year.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 278.8 passing yards per game, 30 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 44 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
Reggie Bush, Mia, RB
Y! ADP: 72.4 (RB24)
Bush's thoughts of winning a rushing title are completely fantastical. Though he clearly proved he was more than a gimmick back a season ago, displaying previously unforeseen toughness and durability, the change of the coaching guard on South Beach likely means No. 22 won't be required to shoulder the load again. Joe Philbin's Green Bay-styled system, however, does mesh well with the rusher's skill set. In order to take advantage of one-one-one situations with linebackers, Philbin has designs of employing Bush in the slot and even out wide on occasion. With David Garrard and Matt Moore expected to battle it out for starting rights in training camp, Miami's QB play is sketchy, but 60-70 receptions are possible for the rusher, making him a very attractive RB2 in PPR formats. Daniel Thomas may be more of the in-between the tackles force for the 'Fins this year and rookie Lamar Miller will play a role, but crack open an ice-cold BUSHHHHH!!! in the middle rounds and watch the liquid gold flow. Keep in mind the Miami offensive line is still one of the league's stiffest.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 198 rushing attempts, 891 rushing yards, 66 receptions, 693 receiving yards, 6 total touchdowns
Doug Martin, TB, RB
Y! ADP: 51.8 (RB17)
The failure rate of rookie running backs in recent years is well-documented. Some have produced fruitfully in spurts (e.g. Roy Helu and DeMarco Murray last year), but most have carved a destructive path (e.g. Ryan Mathews and Mark Ingram), diminishing the hype of this year's class. But Trent Richardson and Martin are in line to buck the recent trend. Eye-blacker LeGarrette Blount may man the captain's chair in Tampa currently, however, all indications suggest he's merely keeping it warm. The Boise St. product isn't outstanding in any single category but he's sound across-the-board, drawing comparison's to Ray Rice who played under Bucs head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers. Eventually his superb lateral quickness, grittiness between the tackles and excellent versatility will supplant the incumbent, possibly by mid-August. Because the Bucs boast one of the finest offensive lines in football and have a respectable passing attack, Martin is in a very favorable situation. Come January, it would be no shock if he finishes a borderline top-10 RB, especially in PPR.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 239 carries, 1,051 rushing yards, 48 receptions, 313 receiving yards, 8 total touchdowns
Percy Harvin, Min, WR
Y! ADP: 49.1 (WR20)
It appears Harvin's incessant trade demands during mini-camp were complete bluster. Back in Leslie Frazier's good graces, the outspoken wideout is expected to report to camp on-time. For a Vikings club loaded with questions, any bit of good news is appreciated. The former Florida standout chomped on the competition a season ago. He finished with a career-best 87-967-6 receiving line equal to 11.2 fantasy points per game, the 10th-best mark among eligible WRs. And that's not counting his rushing contributions. Considering he played only 58-percent of Minny's snaps last year, what he accomplished was nothing short of amazing. Imagine what he could have achieved if he lined up on even 80-percent of his team's plays. Under that scenario he would have likely finished No. 2 behind Calvin Johnson among wideouts. Harvin is arguably the league's most versatile player. The human Swiss Army knife can slice and dice opponents via special teams, Wildcat, end-around plays, on deep outside routes and, most often, in the slot. In this passing age, he is the ultimate nuclear weapon. Yes, there are injury concerns, but, after playing in 16 games in '11, his migraines appear to be under control. Throw in Minnesota's defensive shortcomings, and he's a strong candidate to finish inside the WR top-10.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 91 receptions, 1,188 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns
Antonio Brown, Pit, WR
Y! ADP: 64.2 (WR27)
As of now, it doesn't appear there's a light at the end of the tunnel for Mike Wallace and his ongoing contract dispute. It's entirely conceivable, PIT's top weapon from '11 won't be in uniform when Steelers camp opens for business July 25 or possibly well into August. Wallace's disdain is Brown's gain. Last year's exhibition darling proved he was no preseason fluke. His TD total (2) was yawn-worthy, but he hauled in 69 receptions for 1,108 yards, the 13th-best output among WRs. The third-year target has benefited greatly with Wallace pouting, working closely with Ben Roethlisberger and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley. That team-building only improves his already glowing 2012 prospects. Last year he out-targeted Wallace 124 vs. 114. That disparity may widen in '12. As Big Ben disclosed earlier this summer, Pittsburgh could increase its reliance on the pass, featuring the no-huddle more. Based on Haley's history and considering the uncertainty around Isaac Redman and the run game, it seems likely, which boosts Brown's potential fantasy impact. Expect substantial growth in all categories.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 74 receptions, 1,209 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Fred Davis, Wash, TE
Y! ADP: 64.1 (TE8)
Overshadowed by the elite, Davis experienced a breakout season of sorts last year. After showing flashes of potential in 2010, he elevated his game, developing into one of Rex Grossman's most reliable weapons across the middle. His 7.3 per game tally ranked No. 5 among tight ends. If not for his fondness for the wacky tobacky, an affinity which cost him four games last year, he would likely be a fixture in the top-50. The environment around him is very supportive. Going from Grossman to Robert Griffin III is akin to trading in a rusted clunker for a pimped out Bentley, a significant upgrade. As seen in the past, tight ends and inexperienced signal callers typically forge an instant bond. Because of his slippery abilities against zone coverage, plus-sized frame and reliable hands, he should immediately become a favorite target of RGIII. If the Heisman winner's remarkable accuracy translates, Fab Fred could match his jersey number in total receptions. Recall he posted just a 70.2 catch percentage with Grossman last year. Outside Antonio Gates and Coby Fleener, there is no finer bargain at TE this draft season.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 77 receptions, 965 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns
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