The New York Jets made an ultimately inevitable decision on Wednesday, when head coach Todd Bowles announced that Geno Smith will assume the post of starting quarterback for Week 7. Ryan Fitzpatrick made the decision relatively easy for Bowles after a three-game stretch in which the veteran signal caller threw just two touchdowns but nine interceptions.
As of right now, head coach Todd Bowles is taking a game-by-game approach to the starting QB job. “[Geno’s] our starter right now,” Bowles said. “We'll see how things go down the line. Right now we'll take it week to week.”
Unfortunately for the Jets, however, none of their options at quarterback provide much reason for optimism in the short- or long-term.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the veteran
When the Jets gave last season’s starter a one-year, $12 million deal over the summer, the team hoped Fitzpatrick could duplicate some of the “Fitzmagic” that helped the Jets finish 10-6 last season. Fitzpatrick’s 59.7 percent completion rate did not exactly jump off the page, but he had a much more favorable 31:15 TD:INT ratio. Interestingly, however, the Harvard alum averaged 244.1 passing yards per game in 2015.
In 2016, Fitzpatrick has averaged a very similar 240.2 yards per game, but has done a significantly worse job avoiding throwing interceptions. Fitzpatrick’s 11 INTs lead the NFL this season, which seems more in line with his career numbers. He led the league in interceptions once before, throwing 23 picks in 2011, and prior to last season, he never had a double-digit margin for his TD:INT ratio.
Since Fitzpatrick’s 2015 numbers were a bit out of line with his prior performance, that may explain why the Jets were so wary to give him a pricey extension this offseason.
Geno Smith, the one-time future QB
Smith, the starter before and now after the Fitzpatrick era, has not exactly looked like a Pro Bowler either when he started in 2013 and 2014. While those were the first two seasons of Smith’s career and he has likely developed since then, Smith’s completion percentage and passing yards per game averages were both below 60 percent and 200 yards per game, respectively, in both seasons.
In both cases, those numbers consistently put Smith near the bottom of the league. Smith improved late in 2014, but did not impress the Jets enough to keep his job after former teammate IK Enemkpali punched him in the jaw and sidelined him for the first part of 2015.
Despite the extra year-plus of development and potential improvement, Smith has not really demonstrated much reason to feel confidence in his game. In Monday night’s loss to the Cardinals, Smith earned his chance but threw an interception on his first series.
Perhaps Smith may be able to prove himself worthy with more playing time, but his career 27:36 TD:INT ratio and the fact that Smith is already 26 years old increasingly suggests that Smith may have less upside and room to grow than many Jets fans have thought.
The former second-round pick had big expectations placed on him from the get-go, but Smith has failed to assume the role of franchise QB. Considering Smith will be a free agent next offseason and that he has consistently created drama for the Jets, it remains unlikely that the Jets bring him back beyond this season.
Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, the unknowns
Both Petty and Hackenberg may be future starting QBs for the Jets at some point, but neither has played an NFL regular season snap. Petty, a 2015 fourth-round pick, threw 61 touchdowns and passed for over 8,000 yards in his two seasons as the starter at Baylor. However, the offense coach Art Briles ran at Baylor was suited much more for college than the NFL. NFL.com’s draft scouting report for Petty indicated that one of the primary concerns with him entering the league was the possibility that Petty was a product of Briles’ read offense.
Petty has also been dealing with a shoulder injury that has sidelined him for the first six weeks, and only just resumed practicing in full prior to Monday’s game against the Cardinals.
Considering we’ve yet to see meaningful game action with Petty playing in a different, more professional system against tougher competition, it would be difficult to imagine Petty having too much upside unless he proves otherwise in regular season action.
Hackenberg has even more question marks, although the Penn State product is just 21 years old, a full four years younger than Petty. At 6’4 and 228 pounds, Hackenberg has the body of a typical pocket passer and may have a lot of room to develop physically. But even in college, Hackenberg looked like a work in progress. He threw 31 interceptions over three seasons at Penn State, never topping a 59 percent completion rate.
In fact, scouts expressed concerns about his accuracy, as his completion percentage fell in each of his three years as the Nittany Lions’ quarterback. Hackenberg may be able to develop into a starting NFL quarterback if given time to develop over the next few years, but rushing him into the starting gig may do irreparable harm to his development.
Hackenberg looked really raw in the preseason, including one game in which he threw for 54 yards on 31 pass attempts. Needless to say, he’s a few years away.
* * *
Put simply, the Jets currently have no quarterback option on their team ready to turn around this season, even if the schedule does get a little easier for them after their 1-5 start. Of all four current options, Petty looks like the one most ready to earn the job for next season and possibly beyond, but even then, he may not be the right quarterback for the Jets’ system. For 2016, the Jets will have to roll with one of these options, although the results will most likely not look pretty.