Why Ryan Fitzpatrick Should Immediately Start for the New York Jets

Ryan Fitzpatrick has bounced around the league recently, but he's been a much better passer than most realize.

Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't really get the respect he deserves. Well, outside of Buffalo, that is.

Since signing a monster six-year, $59 million deal with the Bills in 2011, Fitzpatrick has started for two additional NFL teams. And with the Jets trading for signal-caller today, that could become three at the start of the 2015 season.

The Jets are in quarterback limbo, not exactly knowing what they have in soon-to-be third-year passer Geno Smith. If you were to ask me, I'd tell you that Geno isn't the answer -- his early-career numbers really don't show much promise. Some fans and analysts think otherwise.

But now you have the veteran Fitzpatrick in the mix, who's a lot better than most realize. In fact, he's so much better that it would seem foolish for the Jets to go with Geno under center to start next season.

Underrated Numbers

If you're new to numberFire, you may not be aware of our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. Rather than looking at traditional raw statistics, NEP analyzes football from an expectation standpoint: a one-yard gain on 3rd-and-1, after all, is much bigger than a one-yard gain on 3rd-and-7. One results in a first down, while one results in a punt.

To get a full understanding of how NEP works, check out our glossary. I'll be referencing it a lot here.

Passing is more efficient than rushing, so passing Net Expected Points numbers skew towards a number higher than zero -- which would understandably mean "expectation". In fact, among 200-plus attempt passers since 2000, the average Passing NEP per drop back rate has been 0.05.

Fitzpatrick has had his ups and downs throughout his career but, really, since a miserable 2009 campaign with the Bills, things have mostly been up. Within context, of course. Take a look at his numbers among seasons where he's dropped back to pass at least 200 times.

YearPass NEPRankPer Drop BackRank

Fitzpatrick is like fine wine, as he's gotten better from a production standpoint with age. Starting in 2008 and 2009, he was a bottom-of-the-barrel passer, finishing as one of the worst 200-plus drop back quarterbacks in the NFL in Passing NEP, even on a per drop back basis. From 2010 through 2012, Fitzpatrick got a little better, but was still a little below average.

But when he left Buffalo for Tennessee (2013), things changed. He got even better. That year, Fitzpatrick finished in the top 15 in Passing NEP per drop back, ahead of players like Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck. (Remember, this was before Luck's big season this past year.) And then last year in Houston, Fitzpatrick was an average starter in the league, outplaying Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton with each drop back.

And looking at his numbers versus Geno Smith's, there's really no comparison.

Passing NEPRankPer Drop BackRank

You may be surprised to see such a drastic improvement from Smith in 2014, but a lot of his improvement is skewed by a big Week 17 performance against Miami. In that game, Smith added 24.49 Passing Net Expected Points to his total -- without it, he would have finished as the fifth-worst NFL passer last season.

(Fitzpatrick had a 24.13 Passing NEP game this past season, but without that contest, he still would have far outpaced Smith in both cumulative NEP and per drop back NEP.)

From a NEP standpoint, Fitzpatrick is better. A lot better. Even if you look at Success Rate, which measures the percentage of passes that contribute positively towards NEP, Ryan Fitzpatrick is the superior passer -- Smith's rate since entering the league is 41.9%, a rate that Fitzpatrick has far surpassed in all but one of his seasons as a starter in the league.

Start With Fitzpatrick

So as it stands (and according to our metrics), it'd be tough for someone to argue that Geno Smith is a better quarterback than Ryan Fitzpatrick. But the reason to go with Geno is obvious: you want to know what you have with him so that you can make more reasonable decisions in the future.

However, the Jets' offseason moves show that they still want to win now, as they signed cornerback Darrelle Revis to a big contract and traded for veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

If I'm New York, I start with the predictable thing at quarterback -- Fitzpatrick -- and if things go south, I move to the player who has shown little upside through the first two years of his career. That gives you a win-win situation: If Fitzpatrick is good enough, the Jets will be playoff contenders. If he's not, you at least get to see what Geno Smith is made of with a better arsenal.