When I set out to write this Jets QB battle piece, I wondered, “How badly does the Jets offense need Ryan Fitzpatrick to be successful?” … Last year, the Jets’ offense boasted two 1,000-yard receivers, a 1,000-yard rusher, and a Top-10 offense. More importantly, the team made a drastic turnaround under Ryan Fitzpatrick after struggling with Geno Smith and Michael Vick the two seasons before. Check out the table below, courtesy of the RotoViz game splits app, to see just how successful the Jets were between 2013 and 2015 without Geno Smith:
After such an improvement, it’s only natural to make the claim that Ryan Fitzpatrick and his knowledge of Chan Gailey’s system was the key to the Jets’ offensive turnaround. While trying to make my case that Fitzpatrick was the rising tide, however, I saw the light. First, let’s consider Ryan Fitzpatrick’s career production before becoming a Jet.
Before becoming a Jet, Fitzpatrick was a below average quarterback. Those years included time with the St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals (pre-AJ Green), Buffalo Bills (in Chan Gailey’s offense), Tennessee Titans, and Houston Texans. Let’s look at the type of talent he has worked with over the past three years.
Above is a list of every player Ryan Fitzpatrick has played with who recorded at least 50 targets. This speaks volume to the type of talent he worked with before becoming a Jet. Four of his top seven targets have been running backs or tight ends and three of the top seven were on his team this past season. In other words, he didn’t have much help before 2015.
Geno Your Enemy
Fitzpatrick is a good game manager, but looking at his career numbers and list of top targets both indicate the offensive weapons and the system he played with in 2015 were pivotal to his success as a fantasy quarterback. This led me to wonder, “If the design and talent in the current offense led to a career year for Fitzpatrick, can it help Geno Smith at all?” Note, in his one game as a starter in 2015, Smith completed 64% of his passes, passed for 265 yards, and threw two touchdowns versus one interception. It’s an extremely small sample size, but the point is the numbers can be there. Like Fitzpatrick, let’s look at the level of talent Geno worked with in his two years as a starter:
I almost vomited looking at this list. Bilal Powell has improved greatly and Gailey’s system suits his strengths as a pass-catching, change-of-pace back. Eric Decker is arguably better now, playing opposite Brandon Marshall. Outside of those two, this list garbage. Geno hasn’t exactly made the smartest in-game decisions, but he definitely could’ve used a talent upgrade.
What does this all mean for 2016? First off, if Geno Smith is the starter, he will be playing with two wide receivers who have been remarkably consistent producers, regardless of quarterback.
The Jets also brought in Matt Forte, another QB-friendly back, who should provide plenty of support as a check-down option and an intimidating presence in the backfield. This offense is loaded with tools to mask its quarterback. Hell, the three best players in it have masked primarily poor quarterbacks their entire careers. The defense has also improved greatly since Smith last held the reins as a starter. While I don’t think Geno Smith can be as efficient as Ryan Fitzpatrick was in 2015, I think this offense can not only succeed with Geno Smith at quarterback, but also make him a draft day steal and potential league winner in the right committee.
Fitzmagic or Fitzillusions?
Touching back on Fitzpatrick, I was curious to see if regression would sour his prospects for 2016. I looked at comparable quarterbacks aged 31-35 using RotoViz’s similarity scores app and came up with the following points-per-game numbers for Fitzpatrick:
These seem too optimistic for me personally, but they are encouraging nonetheless. New York’s schedule will be much more difficult in 2016 and one has to believe Fitzpatrick will regress in terms of efficiency.
The bottom line is, unless Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg are under center to start the season, you shouldn’t care all that much whether Geno or Fitzpatrick start. We already know one is a viable quarterback and the surrounding talent should be enough to prop the other up as a usable fantasy option. We’ll see how their ADPs shake out once there is resolution on Fitzpatrick’s contract dispute, but for now, they’re both values at their ADPs. The Jets quarterback position is one worth targeting come draft day in 2QB and Superflex leagues, especially if you are forming a committee or looking for an upside QB3.