The premise is simple: I'll tell you what players you can confidently start the season with, and what players should cause your stomach to wobble if you have to start them.
2006 stats at NFL.com and pro-football-reference.com
Michael Vick (QB): For fantasy football, it is difficult to compare the value of a running QB simply by looking at final numbers or game logs. Vick's passing production is far below other quarterbacks, but does his rushing production make up for it?
To figure this out, I examined the 2006 numbers for many of the league's quarterbacks, and simply transformed their total numbers into fantasy points per game. This isn't brain-busting, original, or difficult: you simply turn their season statistics into fantasy points according to your league's scoring system (divide the yards and multiply the touchdowns), and divide this number by the number of games the quarterback played. This transforms four factors--passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns--into one simply number. This number gives you each QB's average fantasy points per game for 2006, and allows you to simply rank the real production of all the QBs in the league. If your league uses fractional scoring, this gives you each player's exact fantasy score; if you do not use fractional scoring, it's a little high, but still quite useful for comparison.
This exercise caused me to drastically alter my own quarterback rankings. I'm not going to write about that here--the rat-bastards in my league can do their own work (or pay for magazines, I suppose). But I will provide my findings for Michael Vick to help explore the value of a running quarterback.
According to my league's scoring system, Michael Vick averaged 10.2 ppg in 2006. For comparison, Carson Palmer (considered by many to be the #2 fantasy QB in this year's draft) averaged 10.4 ppg. In fact, only four quarterbacks in the league averaged more fantasy points per game in 2006 than Michael Vick.
So while many may dismiss Vick as a fantasy quarterback, the actual numbers suggest in 2006 he was one of the five most productive fantasy QBs.
We do need to qualify this. We are trying to project how each player will perform in 2007; that Vick ranked so high in 2006 does not necessarily mean he will in 2007. Given that Vick is not a productive passer, he depends on his rushing numbers to rank so high (and given that in 2006 he had to break the QB rushing record to rank so high, it is unlikely he will be able to match that in 2007). Other QBs are more consistent week-to-week than Vick, so if you value consistency among your starters, Vick should be avoided. And in general, Vick has been inconsistent throughout his career, so he's a less dependable fantasy player than some other QBs who have produced consistently over several years.
And of course, we can't assume that the dog fighting allegations around Vick won't affect his 2007 performance; they very well could, and that makes drafting Vick more risky. Then again, given the numbers, Vick could turn out to be a draft night bargain--you can likely get him late or cheap, so he could be worth the pick (I, however, will likely not draft Vick: as the most vocal animal rights guy in my league, it would feel a bit unconscionable to draft a player currently accused of running a dog fighting ring. Then again, it will probably give us a good draft night laugh. It brings up a larger question for fantasy football: since these are players you are going to be rooting for throughout the season, do you want to draft players that you like anyway and will enjoy rooting for, or do you want to be mercenary and just draft the best scorers regardless of whether you like them and want to cheer for them? This probably depends on if, and how much, money is involved. And this all brings up two other questions: why do I include so much in parentheses, and do I have a serious problem with parentheses? They are my writing weakness, but I love them too much to try and curtail them).
Alge Crumpler (TE): Will a new offensive system make Crumpler less effective? I doubt it--he’s switched systems before. He’s one of the five best TEs in fantasy football.
I'd avoid starting everybody else. You might want Warrick Dunn and/or Jerious Norwood on your roster, and depending on what happens in training camp, you may want to start one or the other week one. As of right now, they're worth the roster spot and perhaps sometime during the season one or the other will prove to be a valuable fantasy starter. The kicker and defense are not good enough to happily start. If you start any Falcon wide receivers, you may as well install a vomitorium in your home and watch football there.
UPDATE: with Michael Vick now persona non grata at Falcon training camp, you obviously don't want to draft him. You don't want Joey Harrington either. And Harrington really doesn't help Atlanta's WRs much at all: he's only slightly more accurate than Vick (55.2% to 53.8%), and doesn't seem to me very likely to connect on a lot of deep passes, as Vick might have.