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Is Ryan Fitzpatrick a Good NFL Quarterback?

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The NFL’s leader in TD passes per attempt this season isn’t Peyton Manning.  It’s not Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, or Aaron Rodgers.  It’s not even Michael Vick or Jay Cutler, or anyone who has been in the headlines at all this year.

Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t even tossed 100 passes this season yet, but 7 of his 85 passes have put his team in the end zone, that’s better than 8%, the best rate in the league.  Fitzpatrick has spent the first five years of his pro career doing nothing more than surviving as a serviceable backup for three different NFL teams, but perhaps it’s now time to ask if the 27 year old trigger-man from Harvard is a quality NFL quarterback.  Furthermore, what holes still remain in his game that could prevent him from establishing himself as the guy behind center for the Bills?

Fitzpatrick happens to fall into the categories of ball holders, proving that even the quickest brains in the NFL sometimes function at sub-optimal speeds.  To his credit, Fitzpatrick is getting quicker with experience.  Ultimately, what did Trent Edwards in after a solid Sophomore season in the NFL in 2008 was that the offensive line was stripped around him, and Edwards gave in to the pass pressure, slowing down his reads when they needed to speed up.  The whole reason that Ryan Fitzpatrick is getting a longer look now is happening.

More to the point, Buffalo’s offense is just overall doing a better job with Fitzpatrick calling the shots.  They were able to move Marshawn Lynch to the Seahawks for a valuable 4th round pick, and Fred Jackson has re-emerged with CJ Spiller as a top RB duo in the NFL.  Few NFL receivers have responded the way that 3rd year man Steve Johnson has.  Johnson has produced the NFL’s most consistently productive statline for a receiver week to week, and has caught 4 of Fitzpatrick’s TD throws on the year.  Lee Evans was a non-factor with Edwards throwing the ball, but has gone over 50 receiving yards twice in three starts by Fitzpatrick.  Even the maligned Bills offensive line is making a clear initiative in the direction of competency.

Chan Gailey’s offensive scheme has invigorated the receiving corps, who have combined for 6 of the 8 passing TDs by the Bills.  When I look at the Bills, I see a plus running game, and a passing game that has made it back to respectable.

It wouldn’t be fair to credit Fitzpatrick entirely without looking at the level of competition, which has included two really poor pass defenses (New England and Jacksonville), and one mediocre pass defense (NY Jets).  Edwards drew much harder match-ups in Green Bay and Miami.  That’s part of the reason for the discrepancy.  But when you are considering the amount of talent on the Buffalo Bills, it’s worth pointing out that with the signal callers they used in 2009, including Fitzpatrick, they weren’t able to score on even the worst passing defenses in the NFL (well, except the Jaguars).

That’s different this year.  Fitzpatrick’s numbers are up across the board (QB rating of 99.9), and he’s leading the Bills offense out of the ditch they dug themselves to start the year.  Is he good enough to cover for their embarrassingly poor defense?  No, he’s not.  But he’s got a legitimate chance in the next four weeks to show that he’s developed into a capable starting quarterback in the NFL, and not just for the small market franchises who cannot afford to pay someone with more of a resume than Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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