The Turn On The Jets 12 Pack is back and we are talking quarterbacks. Yes…quarterbacks, the one major qualifier that is inserted into any discussion about the 2015 New York Jets and all New York Jets teams the past decade. Since Geno Smith is the projected starter, we’ll spend most of today talking about the Jets frequently debated third year player while also hitting a few points on Ryan Fitzpatrick and Bryce Petty. Sorry Jake Heaps, you didn’t make the cut this week.
1. The Contrast – Smith has generated a high amount of positive buzz in the past few months, from this making the leap feature, to All-22 analysis from Bucky Brooks, to ascendant ranking placement and praise from Ron Jaworski. Generally, national analysts and people around other teams have a higher opinion of Smith than Jets fans, many of whom have devolved him into a borderline joke after two seasons. The lack of emotional attachment to the team and player is beneficial when it comes to breaking down his game. Ultimately, Smith is a question mark. To assert he definitely can’t be a competent starter is equally as premature as asserting he definitely can be. The reality is that due to mitigating circumstances in 2013 and 2014, nobody knows yet. From a physical perspective, he has the size, foot speed and arm strength to start in the NFL. From a mechanical and consistency perspective, he hasn’t proven he can avoid enough mental errors to start in the NFL yet.
2. Mitigating Circumstances – Smith trended slightly upward in most major statistical categories last season despite multiple limitations. The talent around him was subpar and the team, especially the offense, was poorly coached. He was the victim of petty staff disputes culminating in laughable game plans and bizarre targeting strategies from the sideline. He was also thrown into a starting role immediately as a second round pick in an organization not built to foster quarterback development. Let’s not drop into the Rex Ryan pros and cons sandpit debate but at least acknowledge if you are hoping for a young quarterback to grow, putting him on Rex’s team is not an ideal situation.
3. Have A Slice – You can’t hand out blame for Geno Smith’s struggles without a fat piece of the pie going to him. Bad game-planning or not, Smith is too careless with the football and inconsistent with his accuracy. He also had a period of handling adversity poorly last season after the Jets early season losing streak. You can’t be late to a meeting and you can’t curse at a fan. He responded well to his mid-season benching by playing well down the stretch but those initial incidents have stained his reputation and created further skepticism about his ability to be a starter.***it*** factor, the nonsensical arbitrary term sometimes thrown around about quarterbacks.
By all accounts around the organization, Smith has consistently been a hard worker and has spent this off-season doing and saying all the right things. He’s organized throwing sessions with his receivers away from team activities and despite grasping for straws reports has impressed the new regime by picking up the offense quickly and with his work around the building. There is a reason Chan Gailey won’t be splitting the reps 50/50 between Smith and Fitzpatrick or into thirds with Bryce Petty this summer and he was so forward on naming Smith the starter.
Nobody is saying Smith is a golden boy because he organized throwing activities or there is some concrete proof he has an amazing attitude. However, volleying personality judgements at a person you have never met is one of the more annoying, silly pastimes for NFL fans and Jets fans in particular. Smith is going to sink or swim based on his on field performance in 2015 not because he botched setting a cell phone clock in the middle of the 2014 season.
5. The Chan Factor – On paper, Smith should benefit from the hiring of Chan Gailey. He has a documented history of getting production out of quarterbacks with middling talent and recently ran an offense that has many similar concepts to what Smith thrived with at West Virginia. Gailey will also likely avoid the bizarrely awful playcalling that plagued Marty Mornhinweg in the red-zone last year, shouldn’t shy away from the running game when it is effective and will avoid the Rex Ryan imposed Wildcat madness. All of those factors will play into Smith’s favor although it will be on him to not shy away from running lanes, tuck the football away properly and avoid mindless mistakes when throwing over the middle. If Smith can’t make it work in this situation, it isn’t happening for him in the NFL as a starter.6. The Catch Radius – Smith’s help isn’t limited to Gailey. Brandon Marshall, Devin Smith, improved backfield depth and a year older Jace Amaro are going to help as well. The Jets have their deepest, biggest and most versatile group of pass catchers since 2010. Smith’s accuracy was a touch below 60% in 2014 but players like Marshall are going to help by being able to corral slightly errant passes. Look at this basketball team:
- Brandon Marshall: 6’4, 230 pounds
- Eric Decker: 6’3, 215 pounds
- Jace Amaro: 6’5, 265 pounds
- Devin Smith: 6’0, 195 pounds
- Jeff Cumberland: 6’5, 250 pounds
Beyond that, the Jets defense should be one of the better units in the NFL, if not one of the best. Hopefully, they will also no longer be allergic to turnovers (no defense in the NFL has forced less over the past two season), which will also help the cause. Consider this, the Jets defense has averaged forcing 0.8 turnovers per game since Smith has joined the team, a ludicrously low amount by league standards. Smith hasn’t helped himself by turning the ball over so much himself (34 interceptions in two seasons) but hopefully the new offensive system and surrounding talent helps remedy that to an extent.
7. The Problems – The Jets still have a question mark nearly as big as Smith on the offensive line. Smith’s accuracy and performance under pressure has been poor in his first two seasons. The best way to help a borderline quarterback is by giving him solid protection, even more so than surrounding him with talented pass catchers. On the other hand, the best way to prevent a borderline quarterback from being competent is by having him constantly under pressure. The Jets badly need James Carpenter and whoever wins the other guard spot to stabilize the interior of the line and to hope that Breno Giacomini can be somewhat average this season.
8. The Hook – Despite Smith wooing over the new staff thus far, he is going to be on a substantially quicker hook than in previous years. The schedule breaks well for the Jets to contemplate a quarterback change during their bye after week 4. Smith will have a quarter of a season to show he is competent enough to keep the Jets in the mix for a playoff, spot something the organization absolutely believes should be attainable this season, or be replaced by backup Ryan Fitzpatrick.
9. The Backup – Fitzpatrick was the best available veteran option for the Jets to acquire this season in a limited market. He knows the offense, has been productive with Chan Gailey and did good work in Houston last season. Unlike last season’s backup, he isn’t likely to check out while being the team’s backup, considering how many times he has come off the bench in his career.
The general perception of Fitzpatrick is somewhat misguided, likely because he is an unathletic looking white guy who went to Harvard with a big beard. The thought process seems to be he is a pocket passer, who will stay within in the confines of the offense, play conservatively and protect the football. In reality, he is an athletic scrambler who often improvises and does a poor job of protecting the football. The backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town but know what to expect if he does come in.
10. The Depth – The only thing more popular among Jets fans than the backup quarterback is the third string quarterback taken in the late rounds. Brett Ratliff. Erik Ainge. Greg McElroy. Matt Simms…and now Bryce Petty. To be fair, Petty is a better prospect than any of those previously mentioned guys but is still a project. Of course, some in the media have already given him the ***it*** factor and he will be a popular name if there are quarterback struggles in 2015. The best thing for Petty’s development would a year as the third string quarterback and then having him in the mix for a backup role in 2016 pending how this season goes.
11. The Projection – Never an easy task but I’ll put Smith’s stat line roughly at this if he starts all 16 games: 60% completion percentage, 3,300 yards, 20 TDs, 13 INTs, 4 fumbles, 320 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns