A History of Jets Quarterbacks

A quick and dirty look at how the New York Jets quarterbacks have performed against the league averages since the merger.

Just how do New York Jets (NYJ) quarterbacks (QBs) perform as compared to the average QB in the league? Since the start of the season, we've been down on Geno Smith, and for good reason. From this "QB controversy", a lot of discussions were borne here at Gang Green Nation (GGN). Many of us have wondered aloud why is it the NYJ cannot ever seem to have a competent QB. About a month ago, I had the idea to try and see just how true that belief is.

I must admit, when I started putting the numbers together for this, I had some ulterior motives. I envisioned a hilarious graph demonstrating Jets ineptitude at QB that would do the talking for me. As with many hypotheses though, the data did not nearly show what I thought it would.


The methodology involved here is rather simple. I simply took the statistics year by year from's own statistics banks. I had two major requirements - the first being a simple cut of starting from the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The second cut was more arbitrary, where I required that in order for me to include the QB's performance in my dataset, the QB must have thrown at least 100 attempts in that season. These were taken by hand; in retrospect, I should have just written a Python-based web scraper, but that's neither here nor there. My point in telling you this is that there is a (small) window of error here, although I've gone through and am reasonably sure the data set is good enough for us to draw some conclusions on.

One of the first questions here that I had was regarding the QB Rating stat that provides. In case you weren't aware of this, the NFL actually has had several methods for calculating QB rating over its history (here's some history on it). So I had to confirm that the QB ratings that was displaying was actually the rating based on the current method not the QB rating formula of the time. To do this, I did a quick sanity check on several players from 1970-1973 and 1980-1985 using the current formula. The current formula matched what listed as the QB rating, confirming that even for the "older" players, the NFL was using the current metric.

The only tricky part that really remained was making sure that teams that I had listed as AFC teams were actually AFC teams. For example, making sure that I had the Seahawks in the NFC for that one season in 1976 (before they went back in 2002), and having Tampa Bay as in the AFC in that same year.


JetsQBsright-click > "view image" for big

Above, is the results of that data. In red diamonds, I have plotted the arithmetic average (not the median) of the AFC teams, and in blue diamonds, I have plotted the arithmetic average of the NFC teams. These include the NYJ QBs. I have also plotted, through various markers, the more prominent NYJ QBs by name, and everyone else under the "other" marker. You will notice some years where more than one NYJ QB in the season. Again, remember the cutoff was a minimum of 100 passing attempts. Injuries, and just plain bad QB years (sound familiar?) will result in more than one NYJ-related data point on the plot.

One thing that the discerning reader may notice is the jump around 1978-1979. For the younger football fans, you may not be familiar with the so-called "dead ball era" (roughly 1966 - 1977) which has the majority of the greatest defenses in NFL history. It's important to realize that "pass interference" meant something very different before 1978. Before then, you could bump a receiver anywhere on the field, thanks to DBs like Mel Blount, that all changed. Another huge change in 1978 was that the offensive line (OL) was allowed to use their open hands and extend their arms. Prior to that, an OL had to use their fists (and had to keep them close in) to block a guy. Both these rules lead to a huge opening up of the passing game.

Now, let's talk about the NYJ QBs. I was pleasantly surprised that the QB I grew up watching, Ken O'Brien, is arguably the best QB we've ever had. During his career, he was consistently at or above league average of the time (often times considerably better). Chad Pennington can brag similar successes (for at least the seasons he was healthy enough to throw 100 passes). Unfortunately, aside from that, we've had very little success at the position, and we've been considerably worse than average in recent decades.

And that's the thing that really colors our perceptions, I think. We've had many random QBs see significant play time since ~1992. The major names of course are Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington, and Mark Sanchez, but look at all those "other" QBs who largely dominate our memories. More damningly, look at Mark Sanchez, who didn't even give us a near average performance in his time in New York. The fact is, when we look at this, it seems clear that we've had a tradition of failure at the position since the 90s, barring a brief era of success with Chad Pennington and the occasional good year by Vinny Testaverde.

Let's go one layer deeper though. Just plotting how our QBs do against an arithmetic average is not telling us the whole story. What if a year just had a wide distribution of QB ratings? That would mean that a "better than average" (or worse than average) performance doesn't mean a whole lot. That is why I provide the following table to you, GGN reader. Below, I also provide the max/min performances, along with the standard deviation, and how our QBs ranked.

1970 30.40 66.47 93.80 Woodall 14, Namath 28 32
1971 37.00 62.21 104.80 Davis 22 35
1972 43.70 67.99 91.00 Namath 13 31
1973 28.80 65.17 94.60 Namath 15, Woodall 17 36
1974 32.40 62.90 95.70 Namath 13 37
1975 44.30 67.84 93.90 Namath 30 33
1976 21.70 66.40 103.40 Namath 32, Todd 34 36
1977 37.40 62.23 87.80 Todd 22 36
1978 22.40 64.98 84.90 Robinson 18, Todd 20 33
1979 39.00 69.46 92.30 Todd 23 33
1980 39.70 72.90 95.90 Todd 30 36
1981 51.10 74.04 98.40 Todd 8 30
1982 56.30 74.83 95.30 Todd 6 30
1983 54.30 75.59 97.60 Todd 23 38
1984 46.20 75.64 108.90 O'Brien 22, Ryan 25 41
1985 50.30 72.91 96.20 O'Brien 1 41
1986 50.20 74.96 113.80 O'Brien 8 41
1987 46.70 75.50 102.10 O'Brien 17 41
1988 37.60 71.90 97.40 O'Brien 13, Ryan 14 44
1989 52.20 74.51 112.40 O'Brien 18 37
1990 43.80 75.40 101.20 O'Brien 18 37
1991 42.10 76.12 101.80 O'Brien 20 38
1992 47.70 75.06 110.10 Nagle 40 42
1993 56.30 78.09 101.50 Esiason 8 33
1994 51.00 76.06 112.80 Esiason 22 43
1995 44.30 77.52 100.70 Esiason 29, Brister 39 41
1996 46.70 75.88 97.20 Reich 33, O'Donnell 36, Foley 44 44
1997 37.20 76.41 106.90 O'Donnell 17 44
1998 39.00 77.33 106.00 Testaverde 3, Foley 40 48
1999 46.60 74.76 109.20 Lucas 8, Mirer 41 49
2000 49.60 77.16 102.90 Testaverde 33 44
2001 56.90 77.91 101.40 Testaverde 23 37
2002 52.40 80.02 104.20 Pennington 1 45
2003 32.50 75.88 100.40 Testaverde 7, Pennington 14 47
2004 52.50 81.90 121.10 Pennington 11 40
2005 40.80 78.24 104.10 Bollinger 29, Testaverde 41 45
2006 46.30 79.29 101.00 Pennington 17 45
2007 55.10 79.36 117.20 Pennington 18, Clemens 47 51
2008 57.80 81.88 105.50 Favre 22 41
2009 42.10 79.27 109.60 Sanchez 37 45
2010 55.60 83.30 111.00 Sanchez 34 43
2011 41.80 81.29 122.50 Sanchez 28 43
2012 46.70 83.90 108.00 Sanchez 35 39
2013 58.40 85.87 119.20 Smith 42 43

Originally, I was going to go ahead as if QB rating is normally behaved. That may or may not be the best assumption, but given central limit theorem, I think this is a good approximation for an internet fan board. That said, I've pulled a few histograms randomly and they don't look as normal as I'd have liked, so I think the data will have to stand on its own. That, and SB Nation informs me that this article is already over 1700 words, so perhaps that's an exercise for another investigation.


While our failure at the position is nowhere near as drastic as I'd thought, we still have had tremendous struggles for a long, long time. We've had a few occasional flashes but we've largely struggled at QB. Yes, we've had a few good performances by QBs, but since Ken O'Brien, Chad Pennington is the only QB who performed consistently above average. Too bad he was made of glass.

Most of us agree something must be done; however, I am not convinced that just getting a new (or veteran) QB will change much. There's a systematic problem that goes beyond just a QB. It is clear by looking at this data that it is not localized to a head coach, it's not localized to a offensive gameplan, it's not even localized to a scout. There's something fundamentally wrong with this organization's ability to have a consistently good passing game.

What is that problem? I've been recently saying it's the ownership failing to put together a good front office. I'm no longer even convinced of that anymore. What can possibly be done to save this team from the consistent failures we've seen at this position for so long? We can argue over who we want drafted all we want (take Prescott!), but I think one thing is clear here:

The problem goes beyond who is playing QB of the team. We should ask ourselves instead - what is wrong with this organization that we've had such consistent failures at quarterback?

This is a FanPost written by a registered member of this site. The views expressed here are those of the author alone and not those of anybody affiliated with Gang Green Nation or SB Nation.