Does Michael Vick Deserve a Starting Gig?

While Michael Vick is fun to watch, his numbers aren't nearly as entertaining.

Michael Vick is 33. He’s played 11 NFL seasons (well, more like 9 or 10 when you count the games he was healthy for). He’s made four Pro Bowls. He won the AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2010. And he runs like we’ve never seen a quarterback run before.

He’s experienced – a quarterback who’s been through it all. On the field, Vick has helped win dozens of football games for the teams he's played for. Off the field, he’s served a 548-day jail sentence and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

You’d have a hard time finding an NFL player who has gone through what Michael Vick has gone through.

And now, Vick is about to embark on a new adventure: NFL free agency. He’s been there before, but the circumstances were much different. While he still has something to prove as 33-year-old league veteran, at least his off-the-field issues seem to be behind him.

Is he as desirable of a free agent as some are making him out to be? Can he still help teams win? Can Michael Vick be the Michael Vick of old?

Vick’s Numbers

Michael Vick has always been criticized for his poor decision-making on the gridiron, which has led to a high interception rate throughout his career. In fact, Vick’s only thrown twice as many touchdowns as interceptions twice in his seven seasons as the majority quarterback for his team.

Our Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric sees similar woes in Vick’s throwing game (click here to read more about Net Expected Points). In terms of passing only, Vick has seen positive Net Expected Point totals in just 40% of his seasons with 100 or more drop backs (4 of 10 seasons). Moreover, he’s never reached higher than 56.81 Passing Net Expected Points (2010), a number that would’ve ranked him 13th among all quarterbacks in 2013.

Michael Vick’s best season from a passing perspective saw him contribute nearly the same amount of points for his team as Andy Dalton did for the Bengals this past season.

That’s not bad, but it’s certainly not good. And while his ceiling could potentially be higher than that if not for injury – after all, I’m talking cumulative scores here – we have to remember that Vick never stays upright given his style of play. He’s played just one full NFL season. One.

Clearly Michael Vick’s allure isn’t his left arm. Front offices and teams love and want Michael Vick because of his legs, too.

And he’s put together nice totals on the ground. In terms of NEP, Vick owns three of the top four quarterback rushing seasons since 2000 (Robert Griffin III’s rookie season is second-best behind Vick’s 2004 campaign). On average throughout his career, Michael Vick has contributed about 30 points for his team each season via the run. This is clearly skewed a bit by his monster seasons, sure, but there’s no doubt that he’s been the most dynamic rushing quarterback of this era, and possibly ever.

The problem with Vick isn’t his athleticism or ability to escape the pocket. He’s good at running away from defenders. But folks tend to overrate what that means.

Look at Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick, for example. In 2013, Wilson had a Rushing NEP of 22.19, while Kaep rushed for a 26.61 score. Wilson ranked sixth within the metric among all quarterbacks, while Kaepernick ranked third.

A healthy, ageless Michael Vick has an edge on both of those passers running the ball, but the difference is that Vick has failed to be an efficient passer, while Kaepernick and Wilson have both already exceeded Vick’s best Passing NEP season. Even through some struggles this year, Colin Kaepernick’s Passing NEP was six points higher than Michael Vick’s career best. And Russell Wilson, well, I’ll just point you to this article.

Vick’s knack for escaping the pocket only matters when he’s contributing positively for his team. Wilson and Kaepernick are athletic running quarterbacks, but they’re smart. Even Andrew Luck, who has deceptively great athleticism, is fantastic at picking and choosing when he should take off and run, picking up first downs on the reg.

Comparing Vick to some of the league’s best young passers isn’t fair, I know. But that’s not what I’m trying to do. Instead, I’m simply showing the balance between running the football well and passing it effectively.

In the end, quarterback success is going to stem from efficiency through the air because passing the football is much more effective than running with it. And though we love seeing highlights of Michael Vick running through defenders, the fact is, his running ability really only matters when it can positively impact his passing value. And as you saw with his Passing NEP numbers, that has yet to be the case.

And because passing is much more useful than running, Vick’s Total NEP (when you add passing and rushing efficiency together) still isn’t all that impressive through the years. Again, his 2010 campaign was best, as his Total NEP reached 108 points. But take a look at the rest of his numbers within this metric:

Drop BacksPassing NEPRushing NEPTotal NEP

First off, it’s kind of amazing that Michael Vick contributed more points running the football than he did passing it in four of his seven relevant NFL seasons. The discrepancy was never greater than in 2004, when Vick added 126.08 more points for the Falcons with his legs than he did with his arm. He basically threw the ball that year like Blaine Gabbert, but ran it like we’ve never seen before. Unbelievable.

But here’s the deal: In his seven big seasons as a significant starter, Vick has posted better than a 60 Total NEP score three times. He was below expectation (essentially playing like a backup quarterback) once. And with the other three instances, Vick was incredibly mediocre.

And, of course, his Rushing NEP scores have dipped as he’s gotten older.

I like putting these numbers in context, and it’s easiest to do that with our most recent season. His best year when you factor in both passing and rushing, 2010, was basically a mix between Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson from 2013 – a sixth-ranked quarterback in the NFL. His second-best year, 2011, was along the same lines of how Andrew Luck performed this past season – a fringe top-10 quarterback.

A score of 60 Total NEP, his third-best campaign, would’ve ranked Vick as the 16th-best quarterback in 2013. And the rest of them, well, we’re starting to get into Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill and Matt McGloin territory.

All I’m getting at is that, even during his prime (which was actually after his jail time), Michael Vick has never been a sensational quarterback. Perhaps he would’ve compiled ridiculous numbers in 2010 had he seen more opportunity and a full season, but even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, the majority of Vick’s playing time in the NFL has been barely above average, if that.

Can He Be a Starter?

This doesn’t mean he can’t be a starter in the NFL – there are some really bad signal-callers out there leading teams. And because Vick is the best free agent quarterback available, he’s being associated with pretty much any squad that needs a passer.

Whether or not Vick will end up being a good signing depends on how much money he gets if he does moves on from the Eagles. But according to his numbers, we can at least see if he'd be a significant upgrade for some of the NFL squads looking for better quarterback play.

Though his numbers have been all over the place, if we take his middle five seasons (removing his best and worst), we find that his Passing NEP per drop back score is a nice, even zero. In other words, when he drops back to pass, his play is adding nothing for his team (through the air).

Without factoring rushing, according to 2013 numbers, that would make him a viable upgrade for about 11 NFL teams. Some of those squads, however, have "franchise" quarterbacks who simply didn't play well this past season: Baltimore, Washington, New York (Giants). If Vick is indeed a starter in 2014, I'd expect it to be for Houston, Jacksonville, Buffalo, New York (Jets), Oakland, Cleveland, Minnesota or Tampa Bay.

Each of those teams have their own interesting quarterback situations, and clearly their draft plans will dictate whether or not they make a move for Vick. Ideally, in my eyes, he'd be a good fit for the Jets, perhaps playing behind Geno Smith, later taking the job (side note: Geno Smith's future in the NFL doesn't look pretty). The problem is that teams are far too committed to quarterbacks, so you know Geno will be around for a little while. Why not make the situation at least a little more tolerable with Michael Vick? At least it would fit the recent Jets' trend of having controversial backup quarterbacks.

In the end though, I think fans are getting a little too excited about the possibility of Michael Vick leading their team. His numbers haven't been very strong (at all) throughout his career, and to think he can simply produce as he did in 2010 would be foolish.