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Injured but irresistible: Vick the big mystery

JOHN C. COTEY
Published August 31, 2003

In one draft, Michael Vick went in the second round.

In another, the fifth.

And in another, the seventh.

Where to pick Vick has been the big question in fantasy football drafts this year, even more than whom to first pick overall. In leagues in which I participate, and others I have sat in on, the No. 1 picks have varied, from Ricky Williams to Marshall Faulk to Priest Holmes. You could throw in Clinton Portis or Edgerrin James as No. 1s as well with nary an ooh or ahh from the other league managers.

But Vick, and what to do with him, has been the hot point in every league.

The league he went second in is a keeper league: owners may protect 6-8 players from year to year. In that case, it's hard to argue with taking Vick that early and sucking it up for 6-8 weeks while he recovers.

In other leagues, however, the question is more dicey. With such a premium placed on running backs, do you pass on one to grab Vick early, knowing that if you take Vick you need to grab another quarterback?

The answer, generally, has been wait and hope. After the third or fourth round, the guessing game begins.

No matter the round, Vick's selection always drew a reaction, as well as some moaning from one owner or another who was hoping he'd fall just a little further.

Vick's injury helped add an element to this year's drafts that actually incorporated strategy beyond just picking players based on a list of rankings. Unless, of course, your league drafted before Vick got hurt (which none of mine, thankfully, did).

The lesson: Don't hold your drafts early.

RUN ON BACKS: Has there been a year in which RBs were at such a premium? In your typical 12-team draft, you could expect as many as 10 to go in the first round.

ESPN.com's overall rankings, for example, had 10 RBs ranked in its top 11, with Indianapolis receiver Marvin Harrison the exception at No.8.

Yahoo.com's rankings had RBs eating up the entire top 10, and USA Today's Sports Weekly had RBs at 1-5, 7, 10 and 13-15.

The best advice when picking: Take RBs with your first two and go as far as the first three if a Jamal Lewis, Ahman Green or Tiki Barber slips.

WHO'S NO. 1?: The top pick in any draft should be a RB, but which one?

Clearly Williams or San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson. Both are young, durable and bound to get most of the scoring chances in their offenses.

In ESPN.com live drafts, Williams' average pick position was 1.95, Tomlinson's 2.02.

A healthy Faulk or Holmes probably would be enough to make them the 1-2 choices, but those would be risky picks with the others sitting out there.

TOP FINISHERS: Guys who ended the 2002 season on a roll often prove to be good bargains. Cleveland RB William Green had six touchdowns in his last seven games and Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck averaged 343 yards his last six. Even Jon Kitna looked good as the season wound down. Find guys like this to snag late.

MAKE YOU GO HMMMMMM: Some picks are no-brainers, but here are the most intriguing of 2003, the kind of guys you think might just break through: Carolina RB Stephen Davis (featured back could return to 1,400-yard season he had pre-Steve Spurrier), Atlanta RB T.J. Duckett (starter Warrick Dunn has been durable, but if he gets hurt, look out), Cleveland QB Kelly Holcomb (was great in relief during playoff game), St. Louis QB Marc Bulger (he does back up Kurt Warner, you know), Oakland WR Jerry Porter (star on the rise?), Giants TE Jeremy Shockey (is he as good as other owners think he is?).

BUCS STOP HERE: The Bucs defense is the NFL's best and almost always the first one chosen in any fantasy draft, especially after producing six TDs in 2002, and Martin Gramatica is a fantasy legend, but the Super Bowl champs still aren't a fantasy juggernaut.

Thomas Jones is owned in 54 percent of ESPN leagues and wasn't taken in two of my three. Michael Pittman is on 55 percent of rosters, Mike Alstott 59 percent. Stay away from Pittman, and flip a coin if you want Alstott or Jones late.

Brad Johnson is on 64.1 percent of the ESPN rosters, fewer than Washington's Patrick Ramsey (82.1) and Denver's Jake Plummer (94.6).

Keyshawn Johnson is on 100 percent of rosters even though Sports Weekly lists him as the 23rd best receiver in the NFL, so don't waste the pick until after six or seven rounds.

ROOKIES: In a down year for impact rookies, Detroit WR Charles Rogers is the best bet, though Michael Bennett's injury in Minnesota makes Onterrio Smith an option, and Kyle Boller was named Baltimore's starting QB.

If you are in a keeper league, be careful not to miss out on Buffalo's Willis McGahee, who will be no help this season but is a potential No. 1 down the road.

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