Receiver Values: Amish-Powered Jets
The Jets popped onto the radar with their signing of Stevan Ridley, although it’s not their increasingly redundant backfield that’s intriguing. More interesting is a passing offense that not only added a major receiving weapon but is virtually guaranteed to feature improved quarterbacking.
Last offseason, I detailed why Ryan Fitzpatrick was too-lightly regarded, not only for what he brought to the table himself, but because he’d been more than adequate in facilitating receiver success. But even if you do still fear the beard, he provides a performance baseline that third-year passer Geno Smith must match if he wants to continue starting.
|2014||Pass Gm Grade (Rk)||QB Rating (Rk)||Yards/Att. (Rk)||TD : INT (Rk)|
|G. Smith||-16.0 (38th)||77.5 (38th)||6.9 (35th)||1.0 : 1 (39th)|
|M. Vick||-18.0 (44th)||68.3 (45th)||5.0 (48th)||1.5 : 1 (28th)|
|R. Fitzpatrick||+7.9 (11th)||95.3 (11th)||8.0 (6th)||2.1 : 1 (16th)|
– 48 qualifying quarterbacks (minimum 100 snaps)
Clearly there’s nowhere to go but up for New York’s passing game. Even if well-respected offensive coordinator Chan Gailey wasn’t taking over, the fact that Rex Ryan’s regime shuffled off to Buffalo is addition by subtraction. Not only had he failed at developing passers in six years with the Jets, in recent seasons, Ryan put on a clinic in how to jerk quarterbacks around.
Just last year, Rex dropped perennial square peg Percy Harvin into New York’s offense and promptly yanked Smith when he predictably struggled. Ryan barely allowed him to attempt passes in his next start a month later. Then during the final four weeks, Smith impressively tied Cam Newton for PFF’s sixth-best passing grade (+5.0) while equaling Teddy Bridgewater’s league-high yards per attempt mark (9.2).
It’s nearly impossible to predict the direction of a quarterback who, in the same season, achieved both a perfect single-game passer rating of 158.3 and a “perfect” zero. Even if Smith again begins September with positive results, few will feel confident that he’ll end it in the same manner.
Yet for the fantasy value of New York’s pass catchers, it doesn’t really matter. And, at least in the short term, it’s creating wide receiver value because a bearded safety net is in place.
Chances are the Jets won’t draft a quarterback of note. New front office regimes often enjoy a honeymoon season while waiting to “start the clock” on their tenure. They get a pass while working with incumbent passers to see if they’re salvageable. Since the Jets have a functional veteran and a young quarterback who has flashed promise, bet on New York spending their early picks elsewhere.
One change we can bank on is an offensive makeover under Chan Gailey. According to Mike Clay’s breakdown of offensive coordinator turnover, Jets receivers will benefit from a far more balanced offense as well as a heavy emphasis on three-receiver sets. Gailey employed a third wideout on 85 percent of snaps during his last stop in Buffalo, which severely outpaced the league average rate at the time (61 percent). Fitzpatrick is well-versed in this spread attack.
Last season’s profile of the Amish Rifle includes the years when Gailey was his coordinator (2010–2012). Fitzpatrick’s 2014 season shows how much he’s improved since then. Each mark listed below represent career highs —in most cases by a significant margin—and that includes his best efforts from three seasons with Gailey. His ranking among 39 qualifying quarterbacks from last year is also noted.
|2014 (Rank)||Overall Grd||Passing Grd||Yards/Att||TD/INT||TD%||QB Rating|
|Fitzpatrick||+8.8 (12th)||+7.9 (11th)||8.0 (5th)||2.13 (13th)||5.5 (6th)||95.3 (9th)|
Last year, DeAndre Hopkins was the seventh-highest scoring fantasy wideout in both standard and PPR leagues during the 11 weeks that Fitzpatrick played full games. With no FitzMagic, he was the 62nd-best wideout (58th in PPR). Hopkins scored 1.74 fantasy points per target with Fitzpatrick and 0.53 without him. Andre Johnson’s points per target (0.80 with, and 0.74 without) remained unaffected.
An interesting note from Fitzpatrick’s time with Gailey is, in their first season together, he tied for the second-highest deep ball percentage out of 24 qualifying passers. During the next two years, however, he ranked 19th (out of 20), and 22nd (out of 23). It’s possible Gailey reigned in Fitzpatrick’s downfield attempts because his accuracy percentage stunk (18th, 19th, and 23rd, respectively), or perhaps it was due to their main deep threat, Lee Evans, departing for Baltimore.
Either way, it’s encouraging that Fitzpatrick ranked second out of 38 quarterbacks last year in deep ball accuracy percentage (52.6 percent). Eric Decker can undoubtedly stretch the field, but was held back by hamstring woes and Smith’s woeful downfield accuracy (30 percent; 35th). At the very least, we can expect Decker’s production on deep balls to tick back up, even if Fitzpatrick’s accuracy regresses.
Decker actually saw a higher percentage of catchable targets last year (74.6) than all but seven 100-target wideouts (36 total), and none of them were within a full yard of his 11.5 average depth of target (aDOT). Most ran far shorter routes. While that seems to indicate that Decker enjoyed accurate quarterbacking, a receiver’s work plays a key role in what makes a catchable ball.
Smith’s Accuracy Percentage ranked 26th out of 39 qualifying passers, and the collective percentage of catchable targets that his other wideouts saw was 58.7—well below Decker’s mark. This illustrates both the inconsistent accuracy that Decker dealt with, as well as hints at the ineptitude of Smith’s “supporting” cast outside of his top wideout. All of the Jets ships will be lifted by a rising tide in 2015.
A typically less-than-100-percent Decker still managed to qualify as the 10th-highest scoring fantasy wideout during the 11 weeks that he ran at least 25 routes. Now that Brandon Marshall is joining the receiving corps, the worry is Decker’s target share will diminish. Even if that’s the case, New York will actually throw the ball under Gailey, and more team targets will mitigate Decker’s shrunken slice of the passing pie.
Marshall, whose slot percentage last season reached 49.2 percent, saw that mark rise for the third straight season. While Jeremy Kerley has been New York’s primary slot receiver (78.2 percent of snaps in 2014), one of Gailey’s strengths is creating advantageous matchups with his spread offense. It’s a safe bet that Marshall will have ample opportunity to use his size against smaller slot defenders.
Marshall’s ADP in MFL10s is slipping to back-end WR2 territory, and he’s being drafted in the Golden Tate, Jeremy Maclin, and DeSean Jackson area. Last season, he was the 14th-highest scoring fantasy wideout during the 12 weeks that he played a majority of snaps, albeit in a Marc Trestman offense. It was a disappointment relative to his ADP (mid-WR1), but far from a meager scoring pace.
Unlike Decker, Marshall’s equity is likely dependent on his ADP sinking a little more, although it’s arguably fair where it currently sits. On the other hand, Decker represents a clear bargain with an ADP that is hovering around the 30th wideout chosen, and he often slips further in MFL10s. Both receivers, and those who roster them, will benefit from improved quarterbacking from Geno Smith—or his Amish-powered backup plan.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman