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Spotlight: Ryan Fitzpatrick

posted by Heath Cummings on Jul 29th


Heath Cummings's thoughts

Over the last two seasons, no one has mixed the good with the bad like Ryan Fitzpatrick. At times Fitzpatrick looked like he was emerging as a second tier QB1, while at others you had to wonder if the Bills might be considering benching him for Tyler Thigpen. In 2011 Fitzpatrick was as big of an enigma as a quarterback can be. He had four performances of 24 fantasy points or more, or Eli Manning performances. He also had five performances of 9.9 fantasy points or less, or Blain Gabbert performances. He finished the year as a league average quarterback, but it was pretty rare that he put up a league average performance. Fitzpatrick averaged 17.9 fantasy points per game, but only scored within 20% of that number (14.3-21.4) four times all season. The key then, is to figure out what caused these peaks and valleys?

The first and most obvious conclusion would be competition. Let's put that theory to bed right now. Fitzpatrick's four best games came against the 5th, 6th, 27th, and 31st ranked pass defenses. His four worst games came against the 13th, 18th, 23rd, and 25th ranked pass defenses. You could make an argument that two of his best performances could be explained by the terrible pass defenses of New England and Oakland, but why didn't the same happen against the Dolphins and Cowboys?

The second best theory into the erratic performance of Fitzpatrick is his defense, or the offenses he faced. A lot of people seem to think he had all of his big games when his team fell down big and he either rallied the troops or at least picked up points in garbage time. In fact, three of his four best performances did come when his team gave up 28 points or more, but so did three of his four worst performances. In all, he averaged only 1.3 more fantasy points per game when his team surrendered four or more touchdowns.

In truth, it's hard to find tangible evidence to explain away the erratic play of Fitzpatrick other than to define him as such. He has a solid compliment of weapons and a really smart offensive coach. He just isn't quite good enough to maintain the level of play required to consistently excel, and when things go badly he tends to unravel. But for those of you that would like to be optimistic about Fitzpatrick heading into 2012, here is one more theory.

You'll often hear about players mailing it in after getting a big contract, and Fitzpatrick did get paid last season. However, there is often another explanation for why players suffer a dip in production after a big payday and that is that they're putting too much pressure on themselves. Before his big contract, Fitzpatrick was averaging 19.4 fantasy points per game, a borderline top ten performance. During the four weeks after his contract was signed he completely imploded and averaged 12.1, or just barely below the level of Colt McCoy. He finished the season with five of six games in the northeast after Thanksgiving and averaged 16.7, or basically league average. Take away those four games after the contract was signed and you have a very serviceable low-end QB1.

One thing is for certain, 2012 does not look to set up near as well as 2011 did for Fitzpatrick. If you think the schedule had anything to do with positively affecting his performance in 2011, you'll cringe when you see his 2012 slate. According to our own Ultimate Strength of Schedule, Fitzpatrick faces a considerably harder schedule this season, and the fifth most difficult of any quarterback in the league.

What's worse is that many of the tough defenses he'll face come equipped with anemic offenses. In other words, they'll see Fred Jackson and lots of him. Those offenses will be going up against a Bills defense that improved greatly in the off season. The addition of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson will have a serious impact on the Bills pass rush that was virtually non-existent in 2012.

While we looked in the first part of this spotlight at the negligible impact both strength of schedule and defensive performance seemed to have on Fitzpatrick last season, having both go the wrong direction cannot be a good thing. If he's going to become a better quarterback with virtually every external factor going against him, he's going to need his weapons to stay healthy and improve.

Fitzpatrick has talented weapons, but they're very thin. Steve Johnson is an extremely talented receiver that has topped 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns each of the last two seasons, but he does not have a lot of help in the receiving corps. David Nelson is the only other true receiver on the team with more than 23 catches in a season, and he is much better when the defense is focusing on everyone else.

The only area that offers any depth is running back with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Both backs showed the ability to make something happen catching the ball out of the backfield, but both have their concerns as well. Jackson is a 31 year-old running back coming off a broken leg and Spiller is a smaller back with seven fumbles in less than 250 career touches.

While Johnson, Jackson and Spiller certainly have the talent to carry the Bills offense, they're all going to have to be at their best to improve on what they did in 2011. The potential is great, but the margin for error is miniscule. As Fitzpatrick's 4% interception rate showed last year, he is prone to errors, and there will be too many of them in 2012 for him to finish as a legitimate QB1 in fantasy leagues.

Positives

  • If history is any indicator, Fitzpatrick will put up two to three 300+ yard 3-4 TD performances in 2012
  • Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, and Steve Johnson all have the ability to elevate Fitzpatrick's statistics beyond his talent level
  • Chan Gailey is a creative offensive mind, and will maximize the skills of his weapons

Negatives

  • If history is any indicator, Fitzpatrick will put up two to three 175 yard 0 TD performances in 2012
  • The schedule gets much more difficult in 2012 from a pass defense perspective
  • An improved Bills defense will probably result in less shootouts for the Bills in 2012

Final thoughts

It's hard to find anything negative to say about a quarterback that has gotten as much out of his ability as Ryan Fitzpatrick has. The fact is, he probably had backup quarterback talent for an NFL team and you'd be fortunate to have him as a backup for your fantasy team.

With his ability to put up big numbers a few times a year you'd really like to think of him as a QBBC candidate but his schedule doesn't provide for enough opportunities to make that realistic and his outbursts are far from predictable.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

amicsta said:

Ryan Fitzpatrick could represent great value this season as a committee type QB. Last season, he was playing great football for an improved Bills offense before getting hurt against the Redskins in week 7. After that, his season seemingly went down the tubes as his balls noticeably lacked any zip. Buffalo has not improved much in terms of their offensive skill players. They added a young WR in Graham who could help them right away to stretch the field, but other than that they have not made any major changes. They have, however, upgraded their defense tremendously and it should keep them in enough games to utilize the 1-2 punch of Jackson and Spiller and not rely on the pass as much. Buffalo's best pass play is perhaps the screen pass, and FJax runs it to perfection, which should help out Fitz' numbers greatly. If we look at those first 7 games, Fitzpatrick put up a 155/229, 1739, 14/7 line, which would extrapolate to 354/523, 3965, 32/16 over a full season. Those numbers would represent career highs in both yards and touchdowns, and the YPA of about 7.58 would grossly outperform his career average of 6.27. We also cannot probably pin ALL of Fitzpatricks awful play in the last 9 games of the season to the injury.

GroveDiesel said:

I will be keeping a close eye on Fitzpatrick during training camp and preseason. He's been working this offseason with one of the best QB coaches in the league in David Lee. For the first time in his life someone is actually addressing throwing mechanics with him. It's shocking to hear, but Fitzpatrick said he's NEVER had a coach at any level ever talk about mechanics with him before.

They've worked on some footwork issues and have intensely charted and broken down every throw this offseason. The early reports from teammates were that he had more zip on balls thrown across his body and was getting the ball downfield to his left better. Fitzpatrick claims that they've been able to actually chart an increase in his accuracy since working on his mechanics.

It will be interesting to see if there is a noticeable increase in velocity and accuracy of his throws during camp and, more importantly, in preseason action. If his throws really are stronger and his accuracy tightens up some, he could be in for a huge year. He had WRs open deep for huge TDs last year and just couldn't hit them. He could have easily added 350 yards and 5 or 6 TDs last year if he threw the ball downfield more accurately. There's reason to believe that he may actually be able to connect in some of those this year.

TheDirtyWord said:

In 2011, Fitzpatrick was startable for the first half of the season. Not so for the 2nd half. In 2012, I suspect you'll see him revert to his 2nd half form. However, I think the Bills will be a better team for it.

1) With the emergence of CJ Spiller, I think the Bills now have an RB combination they can put their offense on the back of. As such, whereas last season the Bills operated with essentially 1 primary RB, now they'll have 2 - both of whom are quite proficient in the passing game.

2) The Bills allowed an AFC high 434 points in 2011. The Bills early season success was surprisingly built on the string of some surprising shoot-outs. But I think this team recognizes they won't be a consistently good team via this philosophy. They've got to be smarter about how they control the tempo not only of each game, but their team and identity. 38-35 (OAK), 34-31 (NE), 31-24 (PHI)...this was Fools Gold for BUF.

3) The Bills claim Fitzpatrick was hurt, and that may have been the case - but I think he was simply miscast as a franchise QB and the attention his new contract drew (and his immediate nosedive in play) didn't do him any favors in that regard. Making the most out of his pass attempts would seem to be a better use of Fitzpatrick's talents versus having him chuck it up 40x/game.

This is a roster that is truly devoid of a 3rd pass catching option outside their RB's. David Nelson is an adequate #2 WR and Stevie Johnson probably deserves the same designation as a #1 WR. But simply put, the Bills don't have the tools to be prolific. IMO, the Bills really need to establish Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller as their 1st and 2nd weapons on offense in capacities where one relieves the other and when they are on the field at the same time. Spiller has more versatility to be moved around in this regard and so his ability to embrace this role is going to be important. But now having tasted some success professionally when he replaced F-Jax, I think his confidence and ability to take on diverse responsibilities may make for a truly unique rotation here.

But a passing game built around this aspect of your offense is going to curtail the type of numbers that Fitzpatrick is going to be able to put up. Whereas his YPA during that torrid 7 game stretch was 7.6, I expect it to be closer to 7. In addition, He needs to cut down his INT's. We all know he led the NFL in this category in 2011, but again - Games 1-7, his INT rate was an acceptable 3.06%.

I'm forecasting Fitzpatrick's return to being an average NFL starting QB, but one that has command of his team. Statistically speaking, he's not going to produce anything special. But his ability to make everything work will be what makes him indispensible to the Bills.


Ryan Fitzpatrick projections

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