New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick is hands down one of the most electrifying and talked about players in the history of the NFL. This is a fact, though we don't have data to support it.
Another quarterback for the Jets by the name of Geno Smith posted one of the worst seasons we've seen since 2000 last year. This is also a fact, and we do have data to support it.
So who should really be the Jets’ starting quarterback in 2014? The argument can be made for both players, and the situation is certainly a little murky. And that’s what numberFire is here for - to break down the metrics and help clear up the muddied water.
There's Not Really a Competition
First of all, the supposed quarterback “competition” between Smith and Vick was never really one to begin with. According to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, Geno has taken nearly all the first team reps in training camp, and has been on the field for eight series with the starters in two preseason games compared to just one for Vick. This clearly proves the Jets are putting all of their trust in Geno at this point.
According to the primary metric we use here at numberfire, Net Expected Points (NEP), that may not be the best idea in the world. NEP basically analyzes how many points a player either adds or subtracts from his team over the course of a season. You can read more about it here. By looking specifically at Passing NEP, we can investigate how Smith performed last year strictly as a passer, perhaps showing whether or not he's the best option in New York this year.
Teaser: It wasn’t good.
Geno’s Historically Bad Rookie Season
According to research done by numberFire’s very own JJ Zachariason, there have been 38 different quarterback seasons where a passer has thrown for a Passing Net Expected Points (PNEP) score of -60.00 or worse since 2000. To put it simply, these 38 quarterbacks have lost their team at least 60 points or more in a season.
Unfortunately for the Jets, Smith is a part of this list after posting a Passing NEP score of -68.55, which is good for the 28th worst quarterback season since 2000. That also made him the worst quarterback in the NFL last year in terms of Passing NEP.
In his column, Zachariason uses the numbers from these historically bad quarterback seasons to conclude that Smith has about a 15% chance of ever becoming a top-20 passer in just one season in the league. That doesn’t bode well for his short-term or long-term potential.
So, why in the world would the Jets start Geno when they have a much better option on their team in Vick?
The Case for Vick
Vick has never been a great passer in the NFL, which was illustrated by Zachariason earlier in the offseason. And he’s also only played a full 16-game season just once in his career. He can’t exactly be trusted to stay healthy.
But the point of this examination isn't to look at Vick’s entire career as a passer, but what he’s done with his most recent opportunities. Because that’s what the Jets are likely to get in 2014. And when looking at the numbers, Vick is without a doubt a clear upgrade over Smith.
In four games last season as the starting quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick put up some pretty impressive statistics. He passed for over 1,000 yards (1,080), accounted for a total of seven touchdowns (five passing, two rushing), all while throwing just two interceptions.
His Passing NEP came in at 5.26, meaning he added a little over five points for the Eagles through the air during his shortened campaign. Compare that to Smith, who actually subtracted almost 70 points for the Jets in the passing game over the course of the season.
Since both Vick and Smith can both be considered threats to run, it would only be fair to include their Rushing NEP numbers as well from 2013. Vick added 5.90 points via the ground game for the Eagles, and Smith actually contributed a solid 24.61 points for the Jets. Keep in mind, however, that this is a cumulative statistic, and Vick's per-game numbers weren't far off. And still, even if you take Smith’s positive Rushing NEP into account, he still lost 42.87 points for New York last season, which is bottom-of-the-barrel in the league.
Not to mention, Vick is now reunited with former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg in New York. When Mornhinweg called the plays in Philadelphia with Vick as the starter, Vick posted two out of his best three seasons in the NFL in Passing NEP. He was a machine, and Mornhinweg probably knows him better than anyone at this point.
However, even with the numbers stacked against Geno, there should still be optimism that he can improve.
Hope For Geno
Let's not even try to pretend that Geno had a remotely solid weapon to throw to last year. His best options at receiver were Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes, and both didn't even rank in the top-50 receivers in Reception NEP in 2013. His next best option at receiver was Stephen Hill, who didn't even come close to cracking the top 100 in Reception NEP last year. And it's not as though this was just a direct result of playing with Smith, as these players - including Holmes - have never been consistent top receivers in the game.
Geno definitely has much more to work with in 2014. The Jets brought in free agent Eric Decker (who finished 11th in Reception NEP last year among all wide receivers), and a unique weapon in rookie tight end Jace Amaro. The Jets also traded for running back Chris Johnson, and while he's overrated when it comes to catching the football, his presence should at least open things up a bit.
The Jets also clearly didn’t draft Smith 39th overall with intentions of making him a career backup.
Also, it doesn’t make much sense to stunt the growth of a supposed “franchise” quarterback by benching him in his second year, especially now that he has these markedly improved offensive weapons at his disposal. That won’t do much for his confidence. The common sense solution here is to trust your vision as an organization and let Geno’s development take its course.
Still, the question remains whether the Jets should look to win now or grow a foundation to win later.
Yay or Nay on Geno?
The NFL is obviously a “win now” league, and head coach Rex Ryan can’t sit around twiddling his thumbs waiting for Smith to make the leap. According to AthlonSports, Ryan is essentially coaching for his job again this season after missing the playoffs the last three years.
So, what does Smith have to do as a passer in 2014 before the Jets start thinking about pulling him for Vick?
Well, for comparison, he only needs to be slightly better than what Matt McGloin and Matt Cassel were last year as passers, as they posted a similar NEP scores to Vick in 2013. That’s really not that much to ask.
Regardless, it seems inevitable that Geno will struggle at some point this season, and many will question whether starting him was the right decision to begin with. The answer once again lies where the Jets would like to be as an organization in 2014.
We all know in today’s NFL that it takes above average quarterback play to make a deep playoff run. If Ryan wants to go “all in” in 2014 and save his job, then Vick may be the short-term answer - not Smith.
And yet, the Jets are clearly giving Geno every opportunity to prove himself that he is both the short and long-term solution.
They better hope he can beat the odds.