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Geno Smith's Turnovers Are a Problem, But His Sack Rate is a Bigger Number to Watch

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Geno Smith has eleven turnovers this year, which of course would put him on pace for 44 turnovers as a rookie. That’s a large number, and even more than the 26 turnovers that Mark Sanchez had in each of the last two seasons. He was a turnover machine on Sunday, failing to secure a ball on a scramble when he could have gotten down, and then inexplicably trying to move a ball behind his back on a sack. It was a rock-bottom kind of day.

Geno Smith has lost his mind while playing the Titans

Let’s settle down with the on pace stuff, though. At the quarter pole, many stats are on pace for various positive and negative milestones, but expect them to regress and not continue on the same pace. I feel pretty confident saying that Peyton Manning will not have 64 touchdown passes (50, on the other hand, should be challenged again), and I feel equally confident that Geno Smith will not have 44 turnovers. That’s not just because he won’t get there because he will be benched, either.

It’s hard to get reliable fumbles lost data, but I can tell you how guys that got off to bad interception starts did. Since 1990, 22 quarterbacks started the first four games of a season and threw at least 8 interceptions, and thus were on pace for at least 32 interceptions. How did they do after that? They averaged an interception on 3.1% of passes, which is roughly league average.

The average number of interceptions thrown over the rest of the season was 9.1. Brett Favre, in 2005, easily had the most of the group, throwing 21 more over the rest of the season. Peyton Manning as a rookie in 1998 was next, with 17 more.

There are reasons to think that Geno will continue to throw interceptions at an above average. Primary among them is that he is 22 years old, and a rookie. Of the 50 rookies who were age 21 to 23 since the merger, and threw at least 224 passes, only 24% of them were better than the league average at avoiding interceptions.

The only two rookies on that list of 22 who opened the season with 8 or more interceptions were Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. There is obviously a whole world of outcomes between those two, and Geno Smith will be in the middle.

One positive is that Geno Smith is averaging 8.0 yards per pass attempt. There have been some big plays – most notably the game clinching deep throw to Santonio Holmes against the woeful Bills secondary – but that 8.0 figure may regress, as well.

How important are interceptions in predicting future performance? Take a look at this list and tell me which group you would take.

Rookie Quarterbacks

Group One represents the bottom third of rookie quarterbacks, 23 or younger, when it comes to league-adjusted interception rates. Group Two represents the top third in avoiding interceptions as a rookie.

It’s a fun list to debate, but I think it’s pretty even on balance between the stars, starters, and busts in each group, when it comes to whether they were turnover machines or not as rookies. Compare that to the yards per attempt list, where you have to get to Troy Aikman at 9th worst as a rookie on a 1-15 Dallas team to find a future success, while the top is mostly full of good players.

The bigger concern long term for Geno, from a predictive standpoint, is the sack rate. That fumble where he tried to pass it behind his back? Yeah, he needs to have better awareness. He has been sacked on over 9% of his drop backs this year, a number that needs to go down. If he fails long term, it will be because he is not processing reads and pulling the trigger, not because he threw some ill-advised passes into disguised coverages as a rookie.

Related: Sam Bradford: Not Quite Bad Enough to Make a Team Give Up on Him . . . Yet
Related: Geno Smith Ran Backwards into the End Zone, Was Tackled, But the Refs Didn’t Call a Safety

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