An athletic quarterback who scores with his legs as well as his arm, wearing Eagle green and setting the fantasy world on fire, taken as early as first overall in many fantasy drafts.
Haven’t we seen this movie before?
In the fall of 1989 I was fresh out of college when my roommate invited me to become a founding member of the FFL@MML, a work-based fantasy football league of which I would be the only non-employee member. I was giddy with anticipation; my playing career (and as a four-year backup in college I use the term “playing” loosely) was over and I had a whole season of fantasy experience under my belt already. Surely I would clean these clowns’ collective clocks.
At that time there was very little in the way of fantasy information available. Cliff Charpentier’s book was the Bible, and there were a couple other magazines floating around; the power of the World Wide Web had yet to be harnessed for fantasy football purposes. But having grown up watching football and having played it for most of my life, I knew who the player I had to have was.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham was coming off a season in which, at least according to his profile on Pro-Football-Reference.com, he was the top overall fantasy performer. He threw for 3,808 yards and 24 touchdowns, adding 624 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He was tall and sleek, with an arm like a cannon and the speed of a cheetah; in short, he was everything I wasn’t as a backup offensive tackle. And I wanted him on my fantasy football team.
So with my first round selection—in its infancy, the FFL@MML was a draft; we’ve since seen the light and switching to an auction—I snapped up Cunningham. I can’t tell you where in the round I picked, nor can I tell you who else was on that team.
But I can tell you that the handful of original league members who are still in the FFL@MML have yet to let me forget that Cunningham directed my team to an ignominious 1-12-1 record.
Maybe it wasn’t Cunningham’s fault. Despite being presumed an injury risk (just like Vick), Cunningham played all 16 games in 1989, throwing for 3,400 yards and 21 touchdowns with 621 rushing yards and four touchdowns. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com those numbers made him the fourth-best quarterback that season and ranked him 15th overall.
And the next season, 1990, Cunningham’s 3,466 passing yards, 30 passing scores, 942 rushing yards, and five rushing touchdowns made him once again the top-ranked player in all of fantasy football.
So fast forward a couple decades. Michael Vick is coming off a season in which he threw for 3,018 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 676 yards and nine scores while playing just 12 games. He’s wearing Philly green, some fantasy owners are avoiding him because his running style lends itself to injury… and I own him in three of my eight leagues thus far—though, it should be noted, NOT in the FFL@MML, which just held its auction last week.
Did I learn nothing from what taking Cunningham in the first round did to the 1989 Roidboyz? Have my three Vick-led teams been doomed to repeat that 1-12-1 campaign?
Let’s have some fun with the numbers.
Cunningham’s fantasy points dropped a shade over 11 percent from 1988 to 1989, but he was still a top-4 fantasy QB and a top-15 overall performer. That’s not exactly what you’re hoping for from your first-round pick, but it’s not a disaster, either.
If Vick’s overall numbers drop by a similar margin from last year to this year, his numbers would still have landed him in the top 10 QBs based on 2010 production—right in the Matt Ryan/Josh Freeman range. Again, not ideal but not season-wrecking.
And keep in mind that Vick only played a dozen games last year. If, like Cunningham, he manages to stay on the field for a full 16-game slate, even with a drop off similar to Randall’s Vick would have outscored every player’s 2010 fantasy numbers by a healthy 10 percent.
Those are rudimentary projections, ignoring a wide variety of variables. But the upside in those numbers highlights why Vick was such an attractive option in the three leagues I snagged him in.
So, have I failed to learn from history? Am I doomed to repeat it? If that means another 1-12-1, I certainly hope I’ve picked up enough knowledge along the way to recover from a busted first-round pick.
And if it means 3,600 passing yards, 900 rushing yards, 900 rushing yards, 24 passing scores and another eight on the ground as Vick’s per-game numbers dip by 11 percent… well, cue the Propellerheads featuring Shirley Bassey and clear a spot on the mantle for my trophy.