Lately, I've begun to see the thought put forth that the Bills may not need to draft a quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick, some say, is good enough to be a long-term answer, he just needs more help around him.
Give him an offensive line and he will be a winner, they say. Or he needs a quality guy to stretch the field at tight end. If they put a better team around him, he can win for the Bills, some claim.
But my response to those thoughts would be, to quote the late, great Frank Zappa, "You are what you is."
So, with that in mind, what exactly is Ryan Fitzpatrick?
He is a capable backup quarterback in the NFL. He might even be capable of keeping a team from missing a step if he has to replace an injured number one quarterback for a few weeks. However, that is the extent of what he has been, or ever will be.
You might ask me how I can make that statement so emphatically, especially since the offense has looked much better since he replaced the departed Trent Edwards. He's kept the team in games, given them chances to win against some of the better teams in the league, and taken the Bills to their only win, it could be argued.
What is it you have against the guy? Why not give him more of a chance?
To be honest, the first part of my answer to that would lie in the guy he replaced. He seemingly could not beat Edwards out for the job, it was given to him by Chan Gailey after Gailey had seen enough of Edwards to know what most of the rest of us already did. That being that Trent Edwards was not an NFL quarterback.
The mere fact that Fitzpatrick couldn't beat out a guy who was so bad as a starter is something that has to count against him. If the position we were debating was, say, defensive tackle, and there was a guy starting there that everyone knew was horrible, but it took him getting cut for his backup to take the starting job, I think everyone would say we need to get a better guy there. The same should apply at quarterback.
If by chance, your argument is that Fitzpatrick has looked good since replacing Edwards, and that the offense has looked better as well, I don't disagree. However, I would also ask you to consider how bad the guy Fitzpatrick replaced really was. Not much room to debate that, I don't think.
But the most important, and the most telling reason why Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the long-term answer for the Bills lies in the numbers. The numbers don't lie, and they tell us exactly why he is a career backup, and is not suited to be anything more.
Let's take a look at those numbers, in the form of a six week history of the key numbers a quarterback is measured by. For the purpose of this article, we'll use completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, interceptions and quarterback rating. I'll begin with numbers through Week 5, as that is about the time when Fitzpatrick had accumulated enough numbers to be meaningful.
After Week 5, Fitzpatrick had a completion percentage of 61.2, with 595 yards, seven TDs and two interceptions. His passer rating was 99.9.
Week 6 was the bye week for the Bills so his numbers remained the same.
After Week 7, Fitzpatrick had a completion percentage of 63.3, with 969 yards, 11 TDs and four interceptions. His passer rating was 102.0. This reflected his high-water mark.
After Week 8, Fitzpatrick had a completion percentage of 59.7, with 1,210 yards, 12 TDs and five interceptions. His passer rating was 91.3.
After Week 9, Fitzpatrick had a completion percentage of 59.9, with 1,509 yards, 13 TDs and seven interceptions. His passer rating had fallen to 85.9.
As we stand now, his current numbers are a completion percentage of 59.0, with 1,645 yards, 14 TDs and seven interceptions. His passer rating stands at 85.5.
These numbers tell us a number of things. Most clearly, his overall efficiency is falling. While I cannot say without question what the exact reason or reasons are for this, I'm willing to put forth the theory that there are two things chiefly behind his falling efficiency.
The first theory is that defenses have now accumulated enough film on him in the current Bills offense to be able to best force him to work to his weaknesses, and put him in situations that will be difficult for him to succeed.
If we accept the fact that NFL is by nature a copycat league, it is logical to take the next step and state that whatever has been proven to work against him will be copied by future opponents. It is the nature of the game.
It is, however, my second theory that makes me feel most certain that the top pick for the Bills in 2011 must be a quarterback. Simply put, the numbers we are seeing Fitzpatrick putting up are reflective of exactly who he is.
If you examine his career numbers, his career completion percentage is 58.1, and his career passer rating is 72.3. I think that looking at where his numbers are headed puts his career numbers in the proper perspective, along with the need for an upgrade at the quarterback position as well.
The perspective must be that the 2011 draft has to be headed up by a quarterback, because for Ryan Fitzpatrick, the truth is that, "You are what you is." And that is simply not good enough.