Buffalo QB Battle Royale: Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Tarvaris Jackson
Well, that decision in Seattle was settled fast. After our breakdown of the Seattle QB situation last week, a battle that I assumed would come down to the last preseason game, Head Coach Pete Carroll has already tabbed Russell Wilson as the starting quarterback in Seattle. And since three starting quarterbacks are usually two too many (unless you're the Jets), and since Matt Flynn was paid more money per year ($19 million over 3 years) than the first overall pick ($22 million over 4 years) this past offseason, Tarvaris Jackson had to be the odd man out. He's now shipped off to Buffalo, where he immediately displaces a now-released Vince Young as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Or at least, everybody assumes that he'll be the backup, given what the Bills gave Fitzpatrick to put him finally equal with what most Harvard grads make in a year (about $10 million per year over 6 years). But now, there's only one question left to be answered: should the Buffalo Bills be thinking twice about keeping Fitzpatrick as the starter?
When looking at a quarterback's performance, numberFire likes to look at one main stat above all the rest: Net Expected Points. As I've noted in these position battles before, NEP asks one simple question: how much did that last play help or hurt your team's chance of scoring when compared to the average team in that exact situation? All of those totals are added up, and the player is given an NEP score, either positive or negative based on whether they helped or hurt their team. Some guys really help (Drew Brees gained 0.38 NEP per pass last year) while others should have just been left on the sidelines (Sam Bradford had -0.15 NEP per pass for the Rams). Looking at these numbers can usually help give a good indication of just how effective a quarterback has been for his team.
Tarvaris Jackson: By the Numbers
As we already covered when looking at the Seattle QB battle, Tarvaris Jackson had a pretty solid season among NFL quarterbacks last year, even if Seattle's 7-9 record didn't show his effort. Last season, Jackson finished with a +0.04 NEP per play mark, the second best for a starting quarterback in the NFC West behind Alex Smith. What we didn't cover before, however, is that finishing with a positive NEP isn't exactly a new trend for Tarvaris. In fact, in each of his three seasons with at least 100 passes thrown, Jackson finished with a positive NEP per play rating, registering a +0.01 mark in 2007 and a +0.04 mark in 2008 as well for the Vikings. To be sure, nobody's going to confuse Jackson with Drew Brees any time soon, but he doesn't exactly have the arm of Tim Tebow (-0.19 NEP per play last year) either. If he became the starter for the Bills, he would be a tiny bit better version of J.P. Losman (-0.02 NEP per play) in 2006, one of three straight years in the middle of last decade where the Bills went 7-9. Jackson wouldn't win you very many ballgames, but he wouldn't lose you any either.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: By the Numbers
When Fitzpatrick received his extension last fall, some out there were left scratching their heads. And when he promptly plummeted to failure after week eight, a lot of those critics thought that they had the last laugh. When taken as a whole, Fitzpatrick's numbers are very similar to Jackson's: +0.04 NEP per play, a rough 6-10 season, no real impact on the team when compared to the average QB. However, there's something much deeper at work in Fitzpatrick's numbers: a tale of two seasons. After the year was finished, it was revealed that he played through much of the end of October and beginning of November with a rib injury suffered against the Washington Redskins in week eight. Think that one little rib injury can't derail your season? You need to take a look at these splits:
Weeks 1-8: 238 passes thrown, 70.99 NEP total passing, +0.30 NEP per pass
Weeks 9-17: 355 passes thrown, -47.90 NEP total passing, -0.13 NEP per pass
In one particularly brutal three-game stretch right after the injury, Fitzpatrick had a 2:7 TD:INT ratio, averaged 5.4 passing yards per attempt, and did not have a single QB rating above 51.4. When those numbers are taken into account, it puts his final total on the season in a whole new perspective. By all accounts, Fitzpatrick comes into this season completely healthy. And considering that the Buffalo Bills have the easiest schedule in the NFL, it makes sense to expect those numbers to go up.
Tarvaris Jackson really does need to find himself a starting job somewhere, because he's played above average football before in the NFL. Once again, however, he finds himself in a bad situation. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can play anywhere near the level he did before getting injured in week eight last year, and the Bills have $59 million reasons to believe he will, then there's no way he can be displaced as the starting quarterback.
Zach Warren is a writer and editor for numberFire. Don't agree with what you read? Let him know in the comments, or make your voice heard by shooting him an e-mail at Zach@numberFire.com or on Twitter at @ZachWWarren.