With legal action looming, Michael Vick is seemingly less and less likely to be the Falcons' starting quarterback this year. Given that our current collection of backups is either not so great or unproven, I thought it might be prudent to look at who would be most likely to keep the job long term. I'll also be looking at a couple of likely trade or free agent candidates who might seize the job. The notable omission to this list will be, of course, Vick. I would put his chances of playing most of this year at less than 25%, much less his chances of being a starting QB for this team. So assuming he's taking the year off due to legal issues, here's our contenders:
First up is Joey Harrington, aka Vanilla Thunder. Once an extremely highly touted prospect out of Oregon, Harrington is entering his sixth year in the league as a thorough disappointment at both stops he's made. He's completed only 55% of his passes for his career, and he's also thrown five more interceptions than touchdowns. Last year the Dolphins yanked him in and out of the starting job as he played like a human roller coaster ([ED Poster Templar has corrected this assertion, noting that Harrington actually played every game except the first four and the last. My bad), starting out games well and finishing poorly or following a nice effort with a trademark blah one. Harrington has shown nothing at any point in his NFL career that made me look forward to this signing, and now that he's the early frontrunner for the job I feel even worse about it. Harrington's best strength is as a pure game manager who isn't asked to do too much, and the Falcons do have the offensive line to protect him. However, he's not going to roll out for any big runs, he doesn't have the world's strongest arm, and he is capable of making judgment calls so poor that they make Andrew Walter's look rational. So that's Joey Harrington.
That being said, he's the early favorite for the job. Harrington has shown just enough consistency that a team confident in its running game and defense can put him out there and be reasonably confident he won't blow the game. The Falcons are putting him in an odd situation without a ton of strength at wide receiver, and I'm not sure Harrington's used to throwing to a decent tight end. He'll likely begin the year as the starter, but if he plays poorly through the first half I expect--and demand--that Pet Rhino pulls him for someone else. If Harrington's on top of his game, he'll leave us in a position to win and occasionally come through for us in the clutch. Maybe the change of scenery in Atlanta will bring out that best in him, but I still doubt it.
Projected 2007 Stats: 2160 yards, 56% completion, 15 TDs, 19 INTs
Let me begin this preview by noting how hard it is to project what a young QB will do. Given his limited experience and lack of chances, it would be foolish and irresponsible to predict great things from D.J. Shockley. Predicting good things from him would be slightly less foolhardy, however, so that's what I'm going to do.
Shockley has been called "Michael Vick-lite", but I find that to be inaccurate. He's mobile, yes, but he doesn't have the freakish arm strength that Vick could display when he wanted to. Instead, Shockley has a good short-to-midrange arm with the ability to air it out on occasion. He's a raw product as far as quarterbacking goes, but he's got good instincts and I fully believe he can learn to make good reads and be aware of the situation with time. Did I mention he's mobile? Harrington can scramble a little, but Shockley is a lot shiftier. The bad news is that we literally don't know what he'll be capable of with the balls in his hands until we see it. Projecting him from college, I'd say he has the potential to be an above average quarterback who can make plays with his arms or legs. I'd also say that he'll make some boneheaded decisions at times unless he blossoms greatly in the starter's role. In essence, Shockley looks like a quarterback somewhere between Michael Vick and Joey Harrington, but I believe he could have greater success than either. I don't expect Hall of Fame numbers from D.J. Shockley. I do expect that he could toss more touchdowns than interceptions each season and make some good reads, and that makes him a more appealing option to me than Joey Harrington.
That being said, what do I know? Pet Rhino seems impressed with Harrington so far, and there's almost zero chance that Shockley will start from the beginning of the year. If Harrington falters, however, it might be Shockley's chance to shine. I just hope he seizes the chance if he gets it.
Projected 2007 Stats: 660 yards, 54% completion, 5 TDs, 3 INTs
Meet Chris Redman. The former Louisville and Baltimore Ravens QB can best be described as Harrington-lite. He has 7 TDs against 5 INTs for his career in pretty limited playing time, all seven of those TDs coming in a pretty effective 2002 campaign. Since 2003, however, Redman has played exactly zero snaps. This might have something to do with the fact that he only completed 53% of his passes, it might have something to do with the fact that he has little arm strength, or it might have something to do with the fact that nothing about him stands up and says "I'm a decent QB!" Then again, it might be all of those. There's a reason Redman hasn't played in almost four years, and that's because no matter how nice of a guy he is, he isn't starting-caliber material.
Redman is the kind of dude I'd like to see with an assistant's job down the line, or even as a quarterbacks coach. He also seems like a pretty sharp kid to me, but his tools aren't impressive enough to warrant him being the starter for this team, much less the backup. If Pet Rhino is at all rational or intelligent (and I believe he's both), Redman will never climb higher than 3rd on this depth chart. Ever.
Predicted 2007 Stats: 0 passes attempted, 1 bench warmed.
Now for the most likely free agent, one I expect you all are pretty familiar with. Daunte Culpepper has been limited by injury and ineffectiveness the last couple of years, but he was a complete stud for Minnesota for several more. Critics point out that he was paired with Randy Moss for practically that entire team, and I concede that that's a valid point. On the other hand, we're talking about a guy who once completed 69% of his passes and threw for 39 TDs in a season. We're talking about a guy who has a 64% completion rate for his career and has awe-inspiring arm strength. He may never be that QB again, I know. But the Falcons can sign him for a year and see what they get out of him, and there's very little risk involved there. Just cut Chris Redman, pick up Culpepper and let him compete with Harrington for the starter's job. If he sucks, bury him under Harrington and Shockley on the depth chart or trade him for some low round draft pick. Unless some other team simply gets to him first, I can't think of a really compelling reason not to roll the dice on Culpepper.
You can read much better analysis on Jacksonville's QB situation over at River City Rage, our Jags blog. Yet the Jags are easily the most sensible trading partner for the Falcons. They have three--three!--QBs over there who could at least provide good depth for the Falcons. Byron Leftwich is slow as sin but has a nice arm and a contract that expires soon, David Garrard can scramble and get the ball downfield, and Quinn Gray can do a little of both. None of them have been stellar, but the point is that the Jags probably don't need or particularly want all three. If the Falcons could package together Roddy White and a lower-round draft pick or two for one of them, I wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger on that deal. I realize it might take much more than that given the past success of both Leftwich and Garrard, but I'd be stunned if the Falcons didn't at least inquire after one of 'em.
Final Word: There's a lot of different ways this could end up. If the Falcons stand pat, Harrington is the starter and Shockley's the backup. If they go after Culpepper or one of the Jag trio, they could slot in at starter or backup. Either way, I don't expect whoever begins the season to finish it, barring some spectacular and unexpected play. This could be a very unsettled year at QB, but Harrington will likely get a shot to prove he can start for the Falcons. So even though it's like playing a carnival game and winning some soggy tissues, Harrington wins this edition of The Stormy Skies.
Leave your picks in the comments section.