NFL New York Jets

A Way Too Early Look at the New York Jets’ Quarterback Competition

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

In with Geno Smith. Out with Tim Tebow. Still here with questions surrounding Mark Sanchez’s job security.

Welcome to another installment of “Who’s Our Quarterback” presented commercial free by the New York Jets. Even though last year’s production was a critical and commercial flop, the Jets have decided to run out a sequel anyway — and only a year later.

Sanchez returns in the Nicolas Cage role — terribly play a major part, but make the entertainment value of the badness too good to pass up. Sanchez gets joined in the cast by two newcomers — Smith and David Garrard.

Smith and Garrard were brought in because we have enough evidence to confidently say Sanchez is not very good at quarterback. In Sanchez’s four years as a starter, he has never finished higher than 20th in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) — with only one of those years ending in a positive DYAR — and has never had a season with a positive value per play based on FO’s DVOA.

It’s possible Sanchez won’t be in the quarterback competition because there are rumors of him being cut after June 1. As much as the Jets would love to cut ties with Sanchez, cutting him would result in $17 million worth of dead money on the Jets’ salary cap — about $5 million more than his cap hit if he stays on the roster. It’s almost as if former GM Mike Tannenbaum knew he would be fired if 2012 went poorly and created the terms of Sanchez’s extension to leave the Jets screwed if that were to happen. But hey, at least Tebow’s gone, right?

Garrard is the established veteran in the group, but he brings a ton of question marks. He was named the Miami Dolphins‘ starter in training camp last season before a knee injury kept him from playing at all. He hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2010 and is currently 35 years old. Only three quarterbacks 35 or older played in more than three games in 2012 — Matt Hasselbeck, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. It’s tough to envision Garrard as more than a positive veteran presence for Smith to learn from in the quarterback room and the practice field. That alone could be worth keeping him around since the other veteran presence would be, you know, Sanchez.

Smith, though, is the wildcard in this competition because there’s actually a chance he could be good. Football Outsiders has a projection formula for college quarterbacks to project how they will translate to playing at the professional level — using stats like games started and completion percentage — called the Lewin Career Forecast. The LCF projects a player’s DYAR for years 3-5 of his career. Smith’s LCF came out to 2,604 — the highest for the 2012 QB class and in between the LCF projections for Robert Griffin III, 2,530, and Andrew Luck, 1,749.

As a conservative prediction, if Smith can total 15% of his LCF projection in his first season  — Griffin had 28%, Luck 14%, Russell Wilson 32%, and Andy Dalton had 35% in his rookie season in 2011 — he would finish with a season DYAR of 309, which would place him 19th overall for the 2012 season.

For a reference, Sanchez’s LCF projection was for 151. In years three and four of his career, he has a total DYAR of -664. Sanchez would need a DYAR of 815 — a better season than Eli Manning‘s 2012 — to match his projection, so sometimes players will fall short.

Smith may be the Jets’ best shot at decent quarterback play in 2013, but both John Idzik and Rex Ryan have stated they feel no pressure or need to immediately start him. If the Jets can accept realistic expectations and realize players like Griffin, Luck and Wilson are exceptions to the usual play of rookie quarterbacks and wait until Smith is ready to take the field, they could finally have an answer at the position.

Now the question remains — regardless of who wins the starting job — who does the quarterback have to catch the ball?

It just wouldn’t be the Jets without a cliffhanger. Stay tuned to find out.

 

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