NFL fantasy roundtable: Vick's impending fantasy future uncertain
Each week of the NFL season, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will huddle together and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. Michael Vick had another disappointing day in the Eagles' loss to the Cardinals. How best should he be deployed the rest of the season?
Mike Beacom: If not for the injury he suffered Sunday, fantasy owners would have little choice but to stick with Vick. Disappointing as he has been, he's still a top 10 fantasy quarterback. But his two broken ribs change everything. Vick's ability to throw down field and his mobility may be affected. Even if he can go this week against the Giants, fantasy owners should turn to their No. 2 quarterback and buy time to re-evaluate Vick's status.
Will Carroll: With a better flak jacket? Vick's fractured ribs may or may not have hampered him. I still have questions about the timeline the Eagles are presenting. Vick simply can't handle the kind of hits he gets regularly in the NFL. He continues to present those opportunities to the defense, and without his top two WRs, the frustration made him scramble more and quicker. He still puts up points with his arm and his legs, but he's showing why signing him long term was so risky.
Gary Gramling: I'm guessing that if you drafted Vick, you're on the outside looking in at the playoff picture in your league. You really don't have a choice but to keep plugging him in there and crossing your fingers. I think he plays through the broken ribs, and I don't think it's in Andy Reid's nature to back off the pass-heavy game plan. Vick still has plenty of upside because of the weapons around him, even if they start utilizing more quick-hit, catch-and-run type stuff. And, obviously, you should have Vince Young on your bench.
Eric Mack: With great care. Vick has a rib issue that could make him a target, especially against a pass-rushing team like the Giants. He could be one sack away from the bench. His play of late could force him there as well. Vick hasn't performed like a top fantasy starter when he was completely healthy and he had Jeremy Maclin 100 percent and DeSean Jackson motivated for a new contract. Now, none of that is a sure thing. Don't start Vick unless you alternatives are bad.
David Sabino: The fact that he suffered broken ribs against the Cardinals certainly complicates things, but Vick has regressed to the player he was as a Falcon: capable of huge games but also a complete fantasy liability when things don't go right. With the team's playoff chances teetering on the edge and the use of his most talented receiver, DeSean Jackson, in serious jeopardy, I'm not sure how many games (including tough road contests against the Giants, Seattle and Dallas) I'd plan on using him in. The injury, of course, could well make those decisions by themselves anyway.
2. Which rookie wide receiver's injury will cost fantasy teams more: A.J. Green of Julio Jones?
Beacom: Jones' hamstring injury is more devastating. Early reports from Bengals camp suggest Green (knee) will not miss time. The same may be true of Jones, but his nagging hamstring is sure to limit his ability to beat opposing defenses over the top. Green has been the better player, and should return to top form sooner.
Carroll: Neither. Jones couldn't go without his hammy tightening up and Green got very lucky that he was knocked over at just the point where the hyperextension was taxing the ligaments. Both have a good chance to play next week. I'll cover it in Med Check on Thursday, of course!
Gramling: It sounds like Jones is more likely to miss time than Green, which is too bad. He was starting to come on, and I love the Falcons' schedule from here on out (everything's indoors or in warm weather climates). Green is going to become a riskier play down the stretch because of Cincinnati's schedule (at Baltimore and Pittsburgh, home against the Texans among their next six games), and I think they'll start leaning on the run game a little more. That said, he's obviously become an every-week starter.
Mack: Green's injury may hurt more, but we fully expect him to play. Jones' issue is a recurring one with his hamstring. That makes him more dangerous to trust right now. So, to answer the question, Jones will be affected more in the near future, even if Green would be the bigger loss if we have to do without him. Green is a must-start week to week, while Jones hasn't been the same consistent week-to-week presence.
Sabino: It's great to be young and flexible, and as such Green seems like he'll be able to go this week against the Ravens after skirting a serious knee injury in last week against the Steelers when he came down awkwardly on his leg after an end zone leap. Jones has suffered repeated hamstring issues this season that has limited his chances of challenging Green as the league's most spectacular rookie receiver. But Green's consistency and every-week-starter status makes him the player fantasy owners would miss more. Still, I believe Jones would've had the better year had he been able to stay on the field.
3. Josh Freeman has struggled all year. Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel for him or the Bucs?
Beacom: The outlook not so good for this one. Freeman has completed less than 60 percent of his passes in four of the Buccaneers' last five games. Over the next five weeks, Tampa Bay will face four defenses ranked among the top 13 in the league in opponents passer rating. The lights are about to go out on the Buccaneers.
Carroll: One of the recurring themes in fantasy is "Is this the week ______ breaks out?" I always ask, "What did you see last week that makes you think this week will be different?" In baseball, you'll occasionally see someone in a hitting slump who's not striking out, but hitting the ball well, just at people. That kind of happens in football where you can see signs. With QBs, you're looking for well-thrown balls, dropped passes, an emerging running game. Freeman's had those all season and it just seems like a consolidation for the Bucs. I still like him long term, but I'm not expecting a breakout this season.
Gramling: The good news is that the Bucs defense stinks, so Freeman should be throwing a lot of passes from here on. He's had consistency issues, and I wonder if his thumb injury is adding to that. His receiving corps has been disappointing as well (specifically, Mike Williams). But Freeman's pretty much the same guy he was in September: a high-risk, high-reward borderline starter. You can use him in the right matchups.
Mack: No, so we may as well chalk this season up as growing pains. He is a low-end No. 2 fantasy quarterback who should only be active in two-quarterback leagues. The Bucs are playing a tough schedule. The receivers are not great enough overcome it and make Freeman viable as a starter in standard leagues.
Sabino: The problem with Freeman and the Bucs is that they just don't have enough playmakers on offense. Their receivers are all possession-type guys who have trouble stretching the field. A lack of speed on the outside and in the backfield has relegated Freeman to vanilla quarterback status. It's hard for a quarterback to succeed when he has so few true weapons at his disposal. Keep a watch on him for next season if the front office is able to add some more talented players around him. If not, no matter how talented he is or efficient he may become, he'll be relegated to fantasy afterthought.
4. Why has Vincent Jackson failed to find much of a rhythm this season? What are his prospects for the remaining weeks?
Beacom: Teams are taking Jackson away to help eliminate San Diego's ability to hit the big play. With Philip Rivers struggling and the rest of the receiving corps banged up, that's been easy to do. Malcom Floyd may soon return, but fantasy owners should still view Jackson as a hot-cold player.
Carroll: It's more Rivers than Jackson. Rivers has gone from an expected top five QB on a playoff team to being a guy dropped in a bunch of leagues. (I traded him away as part of a deal, leaving me with Cam Newton.) There's not much in the way of historical comps for QBs that just fall off a cliff without some injury, so I don't have any more of a clue here than Norv Turner.
Gramling: I'm cautiously optimistic. He's definitely a guy the Chargers need to get going, and maybe the emergence of Vincent Brown takes a little bit of the heat off Jackson. What worries me is San Diego's protection issues. Rivers is doing a nice job buying time, but Jackson seems to have no idea what to do when Rivers moves out of the pocket. His instinct seems to be to run further down field and essentially take himself out of the play. The Chargers had 10 days to solve their protection issues (Hey, how about keeping a back or a tight end in to protect every once in awhile?). If they did, I could see a big finish for V-Jax.
Mack: Save for a handful of elite options, receivers always tend to be up and down. If you try to follow the slow weeks with a benching, you are likely to miss out on the payback weeks like Jackson had two games ago. Jackson is still in the class of receiver you keep active every week when healthy. Jackson is going to have some huge performances you don't want to risk missing out on.
Sabino: Just look at the production of the receivers across the field from him -- Floyd and Brown -- and it's become apparent that teams have been game-planning to stop Jackson, and for the most part have done a good job of it. Even with his struggles, games like the one he had two weeks ago against the Packers, when he caught three TD passes, and a recent surge in Rivers' passing numbers make Jackson someone you have to start.
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