The Atlanta Falcons made Michael Vick the top draft pick of 2001. He was unbelievably fast with an absolute cannon for a throwing arm, combining and amplifying most of the traits one wanted to see in a great dual-threat QB.
I recall the time leading up to that draft in particular. The Virginia Tech QB was no secret in college and highly coveted. The main concerns were that his size wouldn’t allow him to be a classic pocket-passer at six feet flat.
On the other hand, everyone knew he wasn’t going to play like one. I think Vick marks the first QB taken with designed running in mind as an integral part of the offense.
He had shown off his ability so much in college that he had some people drooling over what he might be able to do as a pro. Rocket arm, 4.3 speed, agile with moves. While Randall Cunningham’s changes he brought to the offense had evolved, Vick was drafted with the idea of using his talents directly and designing an offense around those talents.
Design, they did. Atlanta’s Head Coach, Dan Reeves, experimented with a number of different approaches. One involved alternating Vick and Chris Chandler every play there for a short period. He played 8 games as a rookie, completing only 44% of his passes for 785 yards, 2 TDs and 3 interceptions.
It was not a great rookie season but it wasn’t expected to be. The rookie QB that started and starred hadn’t yet been perfected. Even Dan Marino didn’t start until the game after the Monday Night game when he relieved an ineffective David Woodley. I’d call a Dan Marino an exception.
Even a rookie Peyton Manning threw more interceptions than touchdowns and won only 3 games.
Vick was expected to improve his second season and he did exactly that. He jumped to a decent 55% completion rate and 777 rushing yards and 8 TDs.
After that, when he has been in a game, defenses MUST account for his ability to run the ball. He was just beginning to perfect the “art” of quarterbacking when his career was derailed by his own hands in 2007 with the dogfighting scandal.
He had just completed his best season, a 2,474 yard passing season combined with 1,039 yards rushing and had 20 passing TDs vs only 13 interceptions. It was clear by now that his play was slowly beginning to shape the game when the scandal broke.
Now poisonous the Falcons organization, he had two years to reflect, repent, and the Philadelphia Eagles took him on to backup another in this series, Donovan McNabb.
Vick wound up taking the starting job over by 2010 and has remained in the role since. His rushing role has decreased some with advancing age, although he remains a viable threat when he does so. The years of hits have taken a toll on his 215-pound body and his style of play has evolved into a guy who will scramble and look to buy more time rather than designed runs.
Even so, he’s only played in as many as 13 games in any season since his return from prison. We’ll never get to know what those 2007 and 2008 seasons might have held or how the make-up of the league might be different with Vick still being in Atlanta. He leads the NFL in QB hits since 2010, which is the main reason he hasn’t appeared in all 16 games since his return from his “legal hiatus.”
What we do have is a plain dividing line for his career it appears. As a young Falcon, he had just peaked – again, we can only speculate about those 2 seasons so we won’t. Now, he is trying to work using his still-quick feet to create time to throw.
By now, it seems to be a matter of balancing some running with the passing to be what they categorize as a “dual-threat” quarterback. In that sense, it seems Vick was the first QB drafted as-is to create an offense built around the ability to run as well as pass.
Next: Part Six – Cam Newton
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