The gunslinging king is alive, and he will live for a bit longer. In a year where the ultimate laboratory-created gunslinger, Patrick Mahomes, looks poised to win the MVP, the more human, imperfect form, Ryan Fitzpatrick, turned in the most gunslinger season of all-time.
Fitzmagic did not last in 2018, but it was unique while it did. He did not throw a pass after Thanksgiving. But he ended up leading the league in yards per attempt, at a whopping 9.6 yards per attempt. That’s the third-highest figure for a guy that threw 200 passes in a season in the last fifty years.
He also led the league in interception percentage, and it wasn’t particularly close. Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston combined would have been third in the league in touchdown passes (behind only Mahomes and Luck) but also would have led the league in picks by a landslide.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has always been a gunslinger, willing to risk interceptions, getting rid of the ball, not taking sacks, and making some big plays. He just waited until 2018 to turn in his final masterpiece.
Here is the list of guys who make our single-season gunslinger list. This was compiled by taking guys who averaged a league-adjusted score of 110 or better (where 100 is average) in yards per attempt, TD rate, and sack rate, but under 90 in interception rate. (All data via Pro Football Reference).
Fitzpatrick nearly laps most of the field, even among our extreme gunslinger seasons. The only one even close was Kurt Warner in 2000, coming off the Greatest Show on Turf Super Bowl win, in a season where the defense collapsed and the Rams were involved in shootouts all year.
You’ll notice, though, there is another 2018 player on that list. Nick Mullens who came on as an undrafted free agent after Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard got hurt. At age 23, he was an immediate sensation, throwing for 3 touchdowns and over 10 yards per attempt against the Raiders. He closed the year with a 3 touchdown, 3 interception game. The other 23-year olds to have such an extreme gunslinger game in 2018 were Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes. Mullens is likely to be the forgotten one here.
We should have seen it coming. Thirteen years ago, another 23-year-old came on in his first game and led a 24-3 comeback, averaging over 10 yards a pass. That, of course, was Ryan Fitzpatrick.
So while we may not have Fitzmagic forever, but we do now have Mullens-anity lurking, and the torch should pass nicely. I’ll remind you, as you look at the fresh-faced Mullens, that Fitzpatrick once looked like this:
Fitzpatrick will likely to get to linger and get a few more opportunities. I think he would be a great stylistic fit backing up either Mayfield (where his OC from this year, Todd Monken, has landed) or Mahomes over the next few years.
Meanwhile, I expect Mullens, like Fitzpatrick, to end up starting a lot of games in the NFL and play for over a decade, bouncing from franchise to franchise where he takes over for the failed starters that could not get it done, and they turn to Mullens. Maybe, just maybe, someone will give him a chance to be the starter in a few years. I’m predicting he will carry the Fitzpatrick torch, and probably surpass it. It would be nice if he could add a full beard in the future to complete the lineage.