NFL Position Battles: Matt Flynn vs. Tarvaris Jackson vs. Russell Wilson
While much of the hype in the NFL preseason has focused on the QB battles in Arizona, Tennessee, and Miami, one major player in the NFC is getting overlooked: Seattle. Matt Flynn comes into Seattle with a multi-year deal to pry him away from Green Bay. But take note of what Coach Pete Carroll said even back in March at Flynn's introductory press conference: "We're excited to bring Matt in here to compete with Tarvaris." The fact that the Seahawks are paying Flynn almost 9 million a year does not make this an open and shut case. Tarvaris Jackson got the crack at replacing Seattle "legend" Matt Hasselbeck and performed admirably, leading Seattle to a respectable-ish 7-9 record. But despite his growth in only his second full year as a starter (and first since 2007 with Minnesota), the Seahawks may be abandoning the experiment. Beware the anger of the Alabama State football fans, 12th Man. The decision is understandable, though: considering Seattle lost five of their nine games last year by less than seven points, any little bit can make a difference. Like Seattle needed any more pain. (If you don't want a reason to spike your Starbucks at work, I wouldn't look at that picture Seattle fans.)
The Seahawks brought in Russell Wilson in the draft to compete as well, making this a three-way QB battle up in the Pacific Northwest. But since Wilson doesn't have any NFL stats to go off of, we're just going to take a look at whether Flynn or Jackson would be the better choice. Flynn hasn't thrown too many NFL passes, leading to only a small sample size to work from in his case. Even so, the past numbers point one distinct direction.
Tarvaris Jackson: By the NumbersAs explained in our previous QB battle breakdown of Tebow vs. Sanchez, the main number numberFire looks at for efficiency is NEP: Net Expected Points. NEP is the number of points your team gains or loses with that particular player when compared to the average NFL team, and it gives you a baseline that can tell you whether a player is above-average or below-average, and by exactly what degree. And possibly to the surprise of many Seattle Seahawks (and Minnesota Vikings, for that matter) fans, Tarvaris Jackson played above average for his position last year. His +0.04 points per play last year ranked better than Josh Freeman (-0.05), Matt Cassel (-0.01) and Kevin Kolb (-0.01). In fact, in beating out Sam Bradford (-0.15) as well, Jackson played the second best quarterback in the division behind only Alex Smith (+0.09). While Jackson was on the field, the Seattle Seahawks gained a total of 22.06 NEP passing over the average quarterback. Not bad numbers at all for a guy that USA Today says "will have to settle for a backup role". John Skelton's just praying that doesn't mean Arizona...
Matt Flynn: By the Numbers
The Hasselbeck comparisons just loom too large to ignore: Green Bay back-up comes to Seattle and assumes the starting role. Fans have seen this before. But what they haven't seen is somebody with this much promise. In 2000, his final season in Green Bay, Hasselbeck tripped on a cheese wheel and stumbled across the finish line, ending the year with a -0.26 NEP per play rating in only 21 pass attempts. Granted, that's a very small sample size and backing up the Ol' Gunslinger was never easy. But then Hasselbeck was able to turn it on in Seattle - he only finished one of his next seven seasons with a negative NEP mark.
Flynn, then, looks Sky Needles ahead of where Hasselbeck was entering his Seattle days. He finished the season with only 54 pass attempts, but those netted him a +0.44 NEP per play rating. That's the highest of any single player in the NFL with at least 50 pass attempts recorded; the next highest was some dude named Brees who finished with a +0.38 rating. Overall, Flynn finished with adding a total of 23.86 passing NEP in value to the Green Bay Packers, or almost 2 points more than Jackson added to the Seahawks when he played in 15 games. Most of Matt Flynn's stats came in his week 17 start against the Lions while Aaron Rodgers rested for the playoffs, but if that one 480 yard, 6 TD start against a playoff team is any indication, he'll be just fine.
Surprisingly, this isn't as conclusive of a verdict as you might think. The main thing to remember about this battle is sample size: can Matt Flynn sustain those particular numbers over the course of the entire season? Jackson was above average for the Seahawks last season, but Seattle has a chance for something special with Flynn. Flynn's 54 passes last season created more NEP in value than any single season Tarvaris Jackson has ever had. With all due respect to a solid quarterback, the choice should be clear.