For Jets, There's No Backup Plan

I know, I know, conventional wisdom suggests you give your starters some real playing time in the third preseason game, but when the Jets line up against their crosstown (or cross-stadium) opponents on Saturday night, they’d be well advised to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick out out of harm’s way.

Not only wouldn’t I play Fitz, I’d think about keeping him under house arrest --for his own safety and the team's well-being. After all, let’s face it: the journeyman QB may not be much, but he’s all we’ve got.

Yes, the sad fact remains that, after two different general managers selected a total of three quarterbacks in the top four rounds of the past four NFL drafts, Gang Green still doesn’t have a backup signal-caller worth the clipboard he’ll hopefully be carrying for 16 games (plus playoffs).

Geno Smith? Was he really the fallback -- and I do mean fall (very, very) far back -- if the ridiculous stalemate between Mike Maccagnan and the Fitz extended into the part of the season where the games actually count? Now starting his third NFL season, Smith made his biggest contribution to the franchise a year ago in the preseason, when he was good enough to get sucker-punched, thereby allowing Fitzpatrick to step in.

Smith has been so bad through the first half of the exhibition slate, in fact, that the second-string spot has become an open competition, with Bryce Petty making a pretty convincing case for it. That’s right, Bryce Petty -- the same guy who looked like he didn’t know which way the helmet went on a year ago. Petty was solid in last week’s lost to Washington, but if he’s not good enough to unseat Smith -- and, at least in coach Todd Bowles' opinion, he hasn’t been yet -- then he’s clearly not ready to successfully lead the team if Fitz goes down.

Then there’s Christian Hackenberg, who Maccagnan picked in the second round of this year’s draft. At this point, Hackenberg is about as ready to play NFL football as Ryan Lochte is to admit what actually happened on that wacky night in Rio.

I don’t doubt that Hackenberg is talented, and maybe one day he’ll be a good pro. But his body of work to date in no way whatsoever suggests that. In his junior year at Penn State last season, Hackenberg ranked 85th among FBS QBs in passer rating and 104th in completion percentage. He converted a paltry 53.5 percent of his pass attempts. For comparison’s sake, Smith completed 71.2 percent of his passes his last year at West Virginia.

Hackenberg did rank highly in one stat: he was sacked more than all but two other QBs last season. So not only can’t he hit the side of a barn, he also can’t outrun one.

Fitzpatrick won over his teammates and Jets fans with his hard-charging play last season. But, given the caliber of guys behind him, I think everyone would breathe easier if he’d charge a bit less hard this time around.

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