Michael Vick Was a Better QB Than You Think

Before Michael Vick's run-in with the law, he was widely considered an exciting and elusive quarterback with below-average throwing ability. Usually, his poor completion percentage is cited as evidence of his lackluster passing ability. It seems that reputation is still with him. Case in point is this excerpt from Peter King's most recent post:

Well, as a quarterback, Vick was decidedly mediocre in his four full seasons starting for the Falcons. His completion percentages when he started at least 15 games -- 54.9, 56.4, 55.3 and 52.6 -- were poor; he had 36 fumbles and 38 interceptions in his last 46 starts.

One thing is certain--Vick is (or was) an unconventional QB. He was a breakaway runner without peer, and the normal rules of quarterbacking don't apply. The vast majority of Vick's 529 career runs were scrambles on pass plays. When a conventional QB progresses through his reads, he looks at WR#1, WR#2, TE, and then dumps off to a RB. But Vick, on the other hand, doesn't bother with the dump off. He is the dump off.

Most of Vick's 52 running yards per game can really be credited as passing yards. They were yards gained on pass plays in passing situations. He averaged 7.1 yards per run. Compare that to the NFL's 5.0 average net passing yards per attempt and 4.1 rushing yards per attempt. And remember, there is never a risk of interception if he tucks the ball and runs. If you factor in his sacks into his rushing average, it becomes 5.1 net yards per run, which is still good. But if we do that, it would make his net passing yards per attempt much higher. After all, we can only count his sack yards against him once. Otherwise, it's double jeopardy.

So Vick's pass completion stats aren't padded by lots of rinky-dinky dump offs. David Carr actually led the NFL in completion percentage in 2006 with a gaudy 68.3%, only to lose his job the following off-season (to Vick's backup nonetheless).

To get an idea of how deep Vick was throwing compared to his league counterparts, we can look at yards per completion. In 2006, the most recent year Vick played, the league's other top 30 QBs averaged 11.4 yards per completion, while Vick averaged 12.1.

Vick's receiver corps in Atlanta was never known as particularly talented. If we remove receiver YAC from the equation, the numbers are even more favorable for Vick. His Air Yards, the yards a complete pass travels in the air forward of the line of scrimmage, is impressive. The top 30 other QBs in 2006 averaged 6.3 Air Yds per completion, while Vick averaged 7.7.

Yes, his interception and fumble rates are higher than you'd like, but those too should be considered in the context of the depth of his throws and the frequency with which he runs. So although Vick's passing stats, especially completion percentage, appear sub-par, that should be expected, and they are somewhat offset by greater gains for each completion. I'm not claiming he's great, or even above average, just
better than his conventional stats suggest.

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16 Responses to “Michael Vick Was a Better QB Than You Think”

  1. Mark M says:

    Great stuff Brian.

    I just had a quick number crunch for Vick's 2006 season. The average NFL QB has 34 rushes per season, at 3.3 yards per carry. So, for all the rushes and rushing yards Vick got on top of that, I added those to his passing stats as completed passes (in effect, reclassifying his scrambles to dump-off passes), taking him from 52.5% to 61.4% completions.

    This would take his passer rating up from 75.7 to 87.0. As you say, it doesn't make him the best QB, but he was a lot better than the traditional stats suggest.

  2. Anonymous says:

    "there is never a risk of interception if he tucks the ball and runs."

    But there is a risk of a fumble, and with the way he carries the ball it's very high. 55 career fumbles, losing the ball 27 times. That's 79 career turnovers against only 92 career TDs. That's terrible.

  3. Brian Burke says:

    That's not so bad. There are many QBs with worse ratios. His Int Rate is 3.0%, which is below average but certainly not terrible, particularly given the depth of his throws.

    Vick has 27 fumbles lost on 529 runs and 187 sacks (plays in which he is tackled) for a rate of 3.8%. Compare that to 2 other mobile QBs: Donovan McNabb's rate is 4.8% and Jeff Garcia's rate is 3.6%. Overall, not that bad.

  4. parker says:

    Thanks for putting Vick's career in its proper context. Could you do the same thing for Vince Young. Its my opinion that Tennessee isn't gaining anything by having Collins at qb instead of Vince.

  5. Anonymous says:

    McNabb and Garcia both have better INT percentages. But that's not the point: it's the lack of touchdowns to offset those turnovers.

    Through their first 6 seasons, TD/TO:

    McNabb 138/82
    Garcia 146/82
    Vick 92/79

    Yes it's a quick and dirty stat, but 50 TDs is a lot to make up.

  6. Dustin Dawind says:

    Considering Vick's runs as alternatives to low-risk, short-yardage passes is an interesting way to think about things. It seems like he was more of a high-risk, high-reward type of player. So, if he can still play, perhaps he'd be a good fit for a bad team trying to squeeze out a couple of upsets based on the strategy described in the previous topic.

    In any case, it's a very welcome change to read anything about Vick where the comments aren't about his off-the-field issues.

  7. PackerNation says:

    Yes, Vick could run as well as any QB ever and better than most. And he was probably a better passer than he's given credit for.

    But the QB needs to be the leader of the team on the field. And Mike Vick isn't a very good person and as a result he's not a very effective leader and ultimately he'll fail at leading a team anywhere.

    It's called character. It gets you through tough spots. It inspires people to follow you. And you never find it on a stat sheet.

  8. Michael Schuttke says:

    The funny thing about Michael Vick and his very unique skillset (or at least what was a very unique skillset as we really do not know what his time away from football has done to his talent) is that I almost think Vick would be more successful in today's NFL than that of a few years ago.

    The spread offense is becoming widespread (no pun intended) and with formations such as the Wildcat growing in popularity, a player with Vick's unique blend of a great, albeit if not overly accurate, deep arm and phenominal running skills could thrive in such a system.

    One of the worst things to happen to his career I feel was Vick, a one-of-a-kind talent with his unique combination of arm strength and running skills (quickness/raw speed/agility/vision), being forced to play another, more conventional type of quarterback's game. Looking at 2006 as a prime example, asking Vick to orchestrate a West Coast offense was not very logical given his abilities and, more so, his deficiencies.

    Coaches need to respond more to the talent inherently present on their teams rather than trying to take round pegs and fit them into square holes so to speak...such it was with Vick.

    Now, whether or not he "deserves" a second chance is another matter entirely but, speaking purely from a performance perspective, I think the Michael Vick of a few years ago would thrive better in today's NFL due to the schematic changes that are favoring a multi-function player to take the snap, potentially run with it, potentially pitch it, and potentially throw it, with all of those options being available on any given play.

    The one point I would contend with you on Brian was the lack of "talent" of his receivers. Matt Ryan last year did very well throwing with Michael Jenkins on one side and Roddy White on the other. One could argue that "Yes but this is the Michael Jenkins and Roddy White of 2008, not 2006!" but that can be countered with how White in particular improved in 2007 when he had a more accurate quarterback (that year being primarily Chris Redman) throwing to him. A lot of the "lack of talent" perception that was attributed to the Atlanta wide receiving corps is more so indicative of a lack of DEVELOPMENT of their talent due to having an inaccurate quarterback throw them the football...Receivers do not develop if they are not thrown catchable passes and their lack of development, in my opinion, is primarily what caused them to be labeled "not particular talented."

  9. Edward says:

    "Vick has 27 fumbles lost on 529 runs and 187 sacks (plays in which he is tackled) for a rate of 3.8%. Compare that to 2 other mobile QBs: Donovan McNabb's rate is 4.8% and Jeff Garcia's rate is 3.6%. Overall, not that bad."Brian, I don't know if you're interpreting this data correctly. It seems to me that you cannot group rushes together with sacks. Now, I don't have the data, but I've always read (and observed, for what that's worth) that fumbles are much more common on sacks than on rushes. Shouldn't you really try to normalize, if you have the data.

    Say an average QB fumbles on 10% of all sacks and 2% of all rushes (these are made up numbers, but seem somewhat reasonable). Let's say you have two QBs; they both get sacked 30 times in a season (atypical for neither Vick nor McNabb), but one has 50 rushes (McNabb), while the other has 100 (Vick). The McNabb-esque QB would be expected to fumble 4 (1 rushing, 3 sacked) times on those 80 plays, and the Vick-esque QB would be expected to fumble 5 (2 rushing, 3 sacked) on his 130 plays. McNabb's expected fumble rate would then be 5.0%, while Vick's would be 3.8%.

    Now, my base assumption (that rushes are less likely to end in fumbles than sacks) could be wrong, but I highly doubt it; therefore, I would like to see their fumble rates broken down and/or normalized for type of fumble, if that data is available.

  10. Jason says:

    Any analysis of Michael Vick that looks at some of his numbers and not all of them is flawed, whether it's something basic like completion percentage and rushing yards or something more esoteric like yards per completion or air yards per completion. It's just a way for someone to say, "Look how good/bad he was! He was good/bad at this one (or two or three) thing(s)!" and support their point by excluding unwelcome facts.

    In my system (which isn't perfect but it at least tries to take everything into account), Vick averaged 4.55 adjusted yards per attempt for his career. That includes passing yards, rushing yards, sacks, touchdowns, interceptions, and fumbles. That would have ranked him at #24 among quarterbacks in 2008, a tick behind Kyle Orton's 4.56.

    Scrambling QBs are fun to watch, but I think they're vastly overrated. Quarterbacks advance the ball best by passing, not by running. Vick's awesome 7.3 yards per rush is still only slightly better than his 6.7 yards per pass attempt, so even he is only slightly better, in the grand scheme of things, as a runner than as a passer (and that's ignoring sacks and turnovers).

  11. Tom G says:

    Brian, (or anyone) where would you rank Vick among all quarterbacks from 2004-06?

    Rough estimate would be fine

  12. Anonymous says:

    Kyle Orton is a better runner than Vick? That doesn't pass the laugh test. I'd say your system needs some work.

  13. Anonymous says:

    He didn't say Orton was a better runner than Vick. He said his productivity was equivalent to Orton's.

  14. Anonymous says:

    According to Dave Berri's model, Vick was the 12th best QB in terms of overall efficiency (the measure includes rushing) in 2006, and was a little above average. I don't have a list of all QB scores for previous years, but Vick's numbers make him pretty well above average in 2002 and 2004 and overall above average for his 2002-2006 career. His best year (2002) would have only been 9th in 2007 and 12th last year though.

  15. Anonymous says:

    "But the QB needs to be the leader of the team on the field. "

    You should be a color commentator.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Having watched Cunningham and McNabb for many years, I think one needs to think about first downs, as well as yards per play. I'd be very interested to see whether scramblers are more effective at sustaining drives.

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