Why the New York Jets Made a Mistake By Benching Geno Smith for Michael Vick
If you made millions of dollars every year at your job, wouldn't you do everything you could to save your job if your boss was breathing down your neck, expecting an improvement in your performance?
That's the situation Rex Ryan finds himself in at the moment, as his New York Jets are stumbling yet again. Ryan likely won't make it to the 2015 season without a turnaround in his team's fortunes, which is apparently why he's decided to make a change at quarterback.
I say "apparently why" because there are no good, legitimate reasons to bench Geno Smith for Michael Vick. The only reasonable explanations are "refusal to admit a mistake" or "change for change's sake," because the numbers below simply don't support this kind of move.
Riding Off Into the Sunset
Michael Vick was one of the most dynamic and exciting players in the NFL in his prime, leading the Atlanta Falcons to some of their most successful and dramatic seasons in team history. But after a spell in prison, many thought his career was over.
But the Eagles gave him another chance, and he stepped into the starting role and became a solid performer under center. Here's a look at his Net Expected Points (NEP) output as a passer since his return to the NFL in 2009.
|Year||Drop Backs||Passing NEP||Per Drop Back|
No, don't worry, that smell isn't food you forgot to take out with the trash this past weekend. It's just Michael Vick's 2014 statistics.
Vick is on pace for one of the worst NEP outputs for a quarterback in recent history, as only 17 quarterbacks since 2000 have reached 100 drop backs with an average NEP per play lower than Vick's current number. And that list is full of names like Spergon Wynn and Ryan Leaf.
In fact, these are Vick's worst passing numbers since his rookie year, when he was just as erratic and inefficient as he transitioned from All-World college athlete to NFL quarterback.
These days, the problem is Vick's transition from NFL quarterback to "whatever it is Michael Vick is going to do after football." It should come as no surprise that a quarterback who has taken as many hits as Vick, and who has been on such a decline over the past few seasons, would play poorly, which brings us back to the decision to replace Geno Smith with a player like Vick.
Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
Geno Smith wasn't off to a hot start this season, to be very clear. On 248 drop backs, Smith was averaging -.09 NEP per opportunity, which was among the worst in the NFL. But compare that to Vick's -.33, and things look a bit better for the second-year West Virginia product.
Smith has also been a more effective runner than Vick so far this season, albiet in a very small sample size for both players. On 35 runs, Smith has a Rushing NEP of 7.02, while Vick has 12 runs for a mere .27 Net Expected Points.
But this shouldn't come as a surprise, as Geno's rookie output as a runner was better than any of Vick's rushing totals since 2010, according to our data. Despite not being heralded as a great runner out of college, Geno has made the most of his opportunities to take off and run while under center, something Vick doesn't do effectively anymore.
Smith did have a very, very bad game against Buffalo, dropping his Passing NEP by over 11 points, and lowering his per-drop back average by .05 in limited work in the first quarter. But his overall numbers for 2014 still represented an improvement over 2013's results, and an upgrade over whatever Vick may provide at his advanced age.
There Is No Right Answer
The problem the Jets have at the moment is that there is no right answer to the quarterback problem, but simply changing signal callers just to "light a spark" could have undone whatever progress Smith could make over the final few games of this season.
As it stands, Smith would rank in the lower half of young quarterbacks over their first two seasons since 2000, with statistics compiled by our JJ Zachariason in this article.
If Smith were to not take another snap this season, here's the company he would keep when considering Total NEP (which includes rushing data) after his first two seasons.
|Player||Total NEP Through Two Seasons|
Obviously that list doesn't spark a lot of hope for Jets fans, but the presence of names like Stafford, Brees and even Fitzpatrick should provide some sort of hope that the young quarterback could turn things around despite an inauspicious start.
Because the worst part about relegating Geno Smith to the bench, for the Jets as an organization, is that they're taking a young quarterback playing better than he did the year before out of the lineup, and putting in an old quarterback playing worse than he has in a decade.
But when a coach is on the hot seat, the decisions don't always have to benefit the organization at large. They just have to benefit the coach's effort to keep his job.
Do I think Geno Smith will have a Drew Brees' like turnaround in his career? Probably not. But I also don't think that Michael Vick gives the Jets a better chance to win football games in 2014, and he's certainly not the future at the position for a franchise that was able to earn AFC title game berths with Mark Sanchez under center.
The Jets' problems run deeper than the quarterback spot on the depth chart, as they're currently our 24th-ranked defense to go with all of their offensive issues. And by making this change under center, the Jets are throwing away the only thing resembling a lottery ticket they had on offense, instead opting to go with a declining veteran quarterback with no future ahead of him.
I'm not a proponent of simply letting a young quarterback play forever just because he's young and might get better. But in this case, it's clear that Smith is a better player than Vick, and does have some unknown years ahead of him that could bring better football than what we've seen through his first season and a half.
So good luck to whoever coaches the Jets next year. Be sure you've watched plenty of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston tape before signing the dotted line for that job.