The Jets’ Quarterback Situation Is Worse Than You Think

Ryan Fitzpatrick headlines a lineup of primetime impostors in the Jets' quarterback group.

I have a fear of starting new television shows on Netflix.

We’ve all had those moments when we’ve narrowed our streaming binge-fest to two choices: one a show we haven’t seen before, the other a old favorite for which we can recite every line by heart. I almost always go with “ol’ reliable”, whether it’s Archer or The Office; I believe the professional, clinical term for this is “Fear Of Starting Something Exciting,” or F.O.S.S.E.

This is the same effect the New York Jets clearly suffered this past offseason, when they paid famously mediocre quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick $12 million to keep their problematic offense floating for one more season.

If they had just acknowledged and combated their F.O.S.S.E. before it could take hold, the 2016 season could have certainly gone a different way.

Now, though, the credits have rolled on New York’s season, and they have to wait until the next season gets uploaded. But does the future have to be as bleak for the current iteration of the Jets’ offense, or can they reboot the series with a new lead?

Is the Jets’ quarterback of the future on their roster?

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Master of None

One of the easiest narrative threads to pull on is that of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s decline. FitzMagic had a breakout 2015 season with the Jets, tossing 3,905 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. It turned out to be nothing more than a plot twist in the bearded bombardier’s career, however, as he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and completed just 57.0 percent of his passes in 2016.

Should the Jets re-up the veteran, or will his series be canceled in the East Coast market?

We can examine Fitzpatrick’s production in terms of numberFire’s advanced metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is a metric that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to standard box score information, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The table below shows Fitzpatrick’s last five years of NFL play in both Passing NEP and more traditional production rates (yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate).

Year Team Comp% Yd/Att TD% INT% Pass NEP/P Success %
2012 BUF 60.59% 6.73 4.75% 3.17% 0.03 44.38%
2013 TEN 62.00% 7.01 4.00% 3.43% 0.09 45.28%
2014 HOU 63.14% 7.96 5.45% 2.56% 0.08 45.51%
2015 NYJ 59.61% 6.95 5.52% 2.67% 0.14 44.23%
2016 NYJ 57.02% 6.82 2.92% 4.09% 0.00 43.49%

We can see that Fitzpatrick’s Passing NEP per drop back peaked in 2015 at 0.14, which is roughly the league average rate this season, but without any significant improvement in any of his peripheral stats. Last year was a good season for the Bearded Brainiac, but it was completely unsustainable and everyone -- including the Jets -- knew it.

That’s why they balked at paying him his original $16 million annual asking price and why they should have balked at his $12 million second stance.

Unfortunately for Fitz and the Jets both, things don’t look good for a career revival to his 2014 to 2015 heyday in the future. His interception rate in every year since 2009 but his peak two seasons is 3.70 percent -- nearly 1.10 percentage points higher than his peak -- and a touchdown rate 1.22 percentage points lower.

In addition, his arc of value production indicates that he’s on a career downswing, and that 2015 was a fortunate -- but brief -- anomaly.

Geno Smith: Arrested Development

I genuinely feel bad for Geno Smith. He was overdrafted and had an inordinate amount of pressure placed on him to be the savior of the Jets’ franchise in 2013, which instead should have been a year for him to develop.

He was clearly a project passer, coming out of West Virginia’s warp-speed spread offense into an under center offense in Gotham, but he was thrust into the Broadway limelight.

Then you add in the fact that two of Smith’s four seasons in the NFL have been disrupted by horrible injuries (2015 broken jaw, 2016 torn ACL) and this story goes from unfortunate to tearjerker really quickly.

Has he made any progress in his professional time, however? The table below looks at the course of his NFL career thus far.

Year Team Comp% Yd/Att TD% INT% Pass NEP/P Success %
2013 NYJ 55.76% 6.88 2.71% 4.74% -0.14 40.82%
2014 NYJ 59.67% 6.88 3.54% 3.54% 0.01 43.29%
2015 NYJ 64.29% 6.31 4.76% 2.38% 0.07 53.33%
2016 NYJ 57.14% 9.00 7.14% 7.14% 0.00 35.29%

With only two years with even 50 drop backs under his belt, it’s hard to say anything for certain about the state of Geno Smith. It certainly seems like he was making progress, as his Passing NEP per drop back steadily increased from a horrendous -0.14 in his rookie year, to 0.01 as a sophomore, and then a combined 0.05 over 62 drop backs from 2015 to 2016.

His Passing Success Rate confirms this added consistency, as do improved marks in completion percentage, touchdown rate, and interception rate.

If the Jets find a way to lock in Geno Smith for a below-market contract this offseason (his four-year rookie contract is up), he could be sneakily solid. Still, a career yards per attempt of 6.88 and career -0.06 Passing NEP per attempt indicate that Smith is suited best for a backup role in the pros. It’s unlikely he stabilizes this offense as a starting quarterback.

Bryce Petty: Halt and Catch Fire

He’s barely 100 drop backs into his NFL career and yes, I’m willing to bury the notion of Bryce Petty as a long-term starter in the NFL. The second-year, fourth-round draft selection out of Baylor was flawed when the Jets selected him, and even the presence of offensive guru/spread aficionado Chan Gailey likely won’t make the best of Bryce Petty anything more than mediocre.

When your first pass as the undisputed starter for your franchise is picked off by the 2016 iteration of the San Francisco 49ers, you know it’s not an auspicious start to the career.

The table below depicts Petty’s first 102 drop backs in the NFL, all coming this season.

Year Team Comp% Yd/Att TD% INT% Pass NEP/P Success %
2016 NYJ 58.51% 6.11 2.13% 4.26% -0.12 41.18%

Well. 94 passing attempts, a regressive yards per attempt even lower than short-armed game managers Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith, and an interception rate double your touchdown rate is no way to impress the Times Square media circus, buddy. Petty’s production on the field has been ugly so far; there’s no way to soft-pedal that one.

Our own JJ Zachariason did a study on the predictive nature of a quarterback’s rookie season by Passing NEP a few years back, and though Petty is a sophomore, it’s worth applying this lens to him for the purposes of comparison. JJ used the threshold of 200 passing attempts in that study, so by extrapolating Petty’s production out to 106 more tosses (which he could conceivably reach in the next three games), we arrive at a Passing NEP total of -25.50.

This puts Petty in the company of noted NFL luminaries such as Christian Ponder, Kyle Boller, Josh Freeman, Vince Young, E.J. Manuel, and Joey Harrington.


Christian Hackenberg: Scrubs

We have no idea what Christian Hackenberg is yet, as the second-round rookie is getting wrapped in plastic and tucked away in the back of the fridge for next year. Still, things don’t look great for the Penn State product, who dropped off from an impressive freshman season there to two more middling outputs before declaring for the NFL Draft.

The table below shows his college production in terms of traditional rates.

Year Comp% Yd/Att TD% INT%
2013 58.93% 7.54 5.10% 2.55%
2014 55.79% 6.15 2.48% 3.10%
2015 53.33% 6.92 4.64% 1.74%
Career 56.10% 6.81 3.93% 2.54%

If he was solely a game manager (6.81 career yards per attempt) and couldn’t place his passes well enough to avoid giving up turnovers left and right (2.54% career interception rate) in the NCAA, why should we believe that will change with better defenses in the pros?

New York still needs to hunt for their next blockbuster quarterback. Nothing in their current rotation catches the eye, so no one will blame the Jets if they flip the channel on these players.