Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch
November, 2, 2011
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
AP Photo/David DupreyQuarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has led the Buffalo Bills to the top of the AFC East standings.It’s real easy to say Tom Brady and Ryan Fitzpatrick never should be mentioned in the same sentence. But that’s not accurate right now.
Brady’s New England Patriots and Fitzpatrick’s Buffalo Bills each are 5-2. If you want to get real technical, the Bills currently hold the tiebreaker in the AFC East because they won the first head-to-head meeting this season.
So how and why in his seventh season has Fitzpatrick suddenly become a good quarterback? Why are Buffalo fans suddenly convinced they’ve got the second coming of Jim Kelly? And why did the Bills just go out and sign Fitzpatrick to a six-year contract extension worth $59 million?
“I’m really not all that surprised," said Tony Softli, who joined the personnel department of the St. Louis Rams in 2006, the year after the team used a seventh-round draft choice on Fitzpatrick. “Everything I’m seeing now, I kind of saw when he was in St. Louis. The problem was he didn’t get the chance to show it other than in preseason games. As far as I’m concerned, he was the best No. 3 quarterback that’s been with any of the teams I worked for.
“I thought he could develop into something. But [former St. Louis coach] Scott Linehan didn’t think Ryan could develop into an NFL starter. Ryan’s bounced around, landed in the right situation with [Buffalo coach] Chan Gailey and now he’s really blossoming."
Fitzpatrick has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 1,739 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Fitzpatrick showed some signs last season when he started 13 games and threw for 3,000 yards, but the Bills weren’t winning.
This year, the Bills have been winning and Fitzpatrick’s been a big part of the reason. In the last two wins (Sunday against Washington and Oct. 9 against Philadelphia), Fitzpatrick’s stat line has been the same -- 21 completions on 27 attempts. That’s 77.8 percent, and you can’t ask for much better than that.
“What you’re seeing is Chan Gailey and Fitzpatrick are a good marriage for one another," Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson said. “Buffalo’s offense relies on a lot of pre-snap reads and they spread the field a lot. They’re really good with their route combinations and scheming. You need a bright quarterback for that and that’s Fitzpatrick."
“Bright" is a word that always come up when Fitzpatrick is talked about. He lasted until the seventh round of the draft and followed his time in St. Louis with a stint in Cincinnati before landing in Buffalo because he didn’t have the physical pedigree of the big-name quarterbacks. What Fitzpatrick had, however, was the mental pedigree.
He went to college at Harvard and had a perfect score on the Wonderlic test.
“His best asset is his head," Williamson said. “Well, that and the fact he’s tough. His teammates love him and he’s an excellent leader."
“Even when he was the No. 3 guy in St. Louis, Ryan had as much respect and leadership ability as anyone in the locker room," Softli said. “The guy just needed a chance in the right situation and he finally got that."
But does Fitzpatrick really belong in the same sentence as Brady if you’re talking about anything other than the current AFC East standings?
“He’s a nice player and he’s helped make it an exciting time in Buffalo, but I can’t call him elite," Williamson said. “And I don’t think he’s ever going to become elite. His physical tools are average and his intelligence makes him a slightly above-average starting quarterback. He fits nicely in their system and he has great intangibles. All that is wonderful, but I’m not sure he ultimately is the guy who can get you where you want to go."