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Smith struggled as a rookie; then again, so did many greats

Smith struggled as a rookie; then again, so did many greats.

In 2013, Geno Smith had the worst passer rating (66.5) in the NFL. The year before, Mark Sanchez had a passer rating of 66.9, which was very nearly the lowest in the league (Matt Cassel had a rating of 66.7). But while the Jets didn’t quite do it, a couple of teams have managed to have different quarterbacks in consecutive seasons finish with the lowest passer ratings in the NFL (minimum 14 attempts per game).

In 2000, a second-year Akili Smith was given the starting job and posted a miserable 52.8 passer rating. A year later, Jon Kitna took over for the Bengals, and his 61.1 rating was the worst among qualifying passers.

In 1993, Mark Rypien finished with the worst passer rating in the league two years after winning the Super Bowl. Washington drafted Heath Shuler the following year, and as a rookie, Shuler finished with the worst passer rating in the NFL.

The Seahawks almost pulled off this feat in the prior two years. In 1992, Stan Gelbaugh had the worst passer rating as part of the historically inept Seattle passing attack. In 1991, Jeff Kemp finished with the worst passer rating in the league. Kemp, the son of Jack , started the year with Seattle but finished it with Philadelphia. He didn’t have enough attempts with the Seahawks to qualify, so I probably wouldn’t include the ’91-’92 Seahawks in this category, although that may be pickin’ nits.

The table below shows the quarterbacks to finish with the lowest passer rating in the NFL in each year since the merger. For each passer, I’ve included his age as of September 1st of that season, his traditional metrics, and his passer rating.

2013Geno SmithNYJ22.94432473046122166.5
2012Matt CasselKAN30.3277161179661266.7
2011Blaine GabbertJAX21.94132102214121165.4
2010Jimmy ClausenCAR22.929915715583958.4
2009JaMarcus RussellOAK24.1246120128731150
2008Derek AndersonCLE25.228314216159866.5
2007Kellen ClemensNYJ24.2250130152951060.9
2006Andrew WalterOAK24.3276147167731355.8
2005Kyle OrtonCHI22.8368190186991359.7
2004A.J. FeeleyMIA27.33561911893111561.7
2003Kordell StewartCHI30.9251126141871256.8
2002Joey HarringtonDET23.94292152294121659.9
2001Jon KitnaCIN28.95813133216122261.1
2000Akili SmithCIN2526711812533652.8
1999Jake PlummerARI24.7381201211192450.8
1998Ryan LeafSDG22.3245111128921539
1997Kerry CollinsCAR24.73812002124112155.7
1996Rick MirerSEA26.5265136154651256.6
1995Trent DilferTAM23.5415224277441860.1
1994Heath ShulerWAS22.72651201658101259.6
1993Mark RypienWAS30.9319166151441056.3
1992Stan GelbaughSEA29.7255121130761152.9
1991Jeff Kemp2TM32.1295151175391755.7
1990Marc WilsonNWE33.5265139162561161.6
1989Troy AikmanDAL22.8293155174991855.7
1988Vinny TestaverdeTAM24.84662223240133548.8
1987Mark MalonePIT28.8336156189661946.7
1986Jack TrudeauIND24417204222581853.5
1985Vince FerragamoBUF31.4287149167751750.8
1984Todd BlackledgeKAN23.5294147170761159.2
1983Scott BrunnerNYG26.4386190251692254.3
1982Joe FergusonBUF32.4264144159771656.3
1981Vince EvansCHI26.24361952354112051.1
1980Phil SimmsNYG24.84021932321151958.9
1979Doug WilliamsTAM24.13971662448182452.5
1978Steve DeBergSFO24.6302137157082240
1977Joe PisarcikNYG25.2241103134641442.3
1976Gary MarangiBUF24.12328299871630.8
1975Archie ManningNOR26.3338159168372044.3
1974Mike PhippsCLE26.8256117138491746.7
1973Norm SneadNYG34.1235131148372245.8
1972Jim PlunkettNWE24.7355169219682545.7
1971Bobby DouglassCHI24.222591116451537
1970Terry BradshawPIT2221883141062430.4
  • Rypien is the only quarterback to finish with the lowest passer rating after winning a Super Bowl. Joe Namath had the 2nd lowest rating in the NFL in ’76; Eli Manning had the 3rd lowest in 2013, although a few other quarterbacks have done that, too.
  • Two franchises have had four quarterbacks finish with the lowest rating in a season. You probably won’t be surprised to see the Bears are one of them. But the Giants are the other, with all four quarterbacks coming between the years of 1973 and 1983.
  • Red

    In 2001 Jon Kitna had the worst passer rating while also leading the league in pass attempts. Amazing the Bengals didn’t bench him at some point in the season.

    What happened to Mark Rypien anyway? He was spectacular in ’91, mediocre in ’92, and abysmal in ’93. I’m too young to remember the early 90’s in much detail, so I’d love to know why he fell off so dramatically.

    • Chase Stuart

      The thing about the early ’00s Bengals teams is that they were just so bad that Kitna was probably the best quarterback on the roster — by a mile. The other options were Akili Smith and Scott Mitchell. Mitchell, mind you, had compiled the following stat line from 1998 to 2000: 151/318, 47.5%, 1,654 yards, 5 TDs, 15 INTs, with a ANY/A of 2.73 and a passer rating of 48.9. I don’t recall if Smith or Mitchell were unavailable due to injury, but in any event, they were both much worse quarterbacks at the time than Kitna.

      As for Rypien, I think it’s mostly two things. One, he was never as good as his numbers, and two, the supporting cast fell off dramatically. The offensive talent was completely different in just two years in Washington. Jacoby, Lachey, Byner, Monk, and Clark were all gone or injured.

      • Richie

        Also Joe Gibbs retired after the 1992 season.

    • JeremyDe

      Rypien’s decline was a combination of 3 things: his own mediocre QB abilities, the age of his surrounding cast, and the o-line having perhaps the greatest performance by an 0-line in NFL history in 1991. Rypien was only a 6th round draft pick whose only outstanding ability was that he threw beautifully accurate bombs. Under 15 yards, there were times his passes looked like wounded ducks, but 30-40-50 yards down the field, he would hit guys in perfect stride if given the time.

      In 1991, except for three o-linemen (Schlereth, Lachey, McKenzie) everyone else on the offense was 29 or older. Missing on draft picks in the late 80s/early 90s meant that they were not replenishing their talent. The surrounding cast got older, and started to retire or leave, especially when Gibbs left after 92.

      And the Hogs had possibly the greatest single season for an offensive line in history. #1 in yards, 5th all-time in total points. 9 sacks all season. 5 sacks to the Eagles, who were one of the better defenses all-time, but I think are ignored somewhat because they missed the playoffs. I remember a game against the Cardinals where the announcers started counting how long Rypien had to throw and they were reaching 7-9 seconds on some of the throws.

      • RustyHilgerReborn

        Wow, 9 sacks allowed all year. People were oohing, and aahing after P. Manning was only sacked 18 times last year. 9 just seems unearthly.

  • Ryan Leaf in 1998. My goodness. His awfulness really sticks out. It is like his stats were plucked out of the 40s.

    • RustyHilgerReborn

      The amazing thing is that his backup, Craig Whelihan was barely better (48 passer rating). Yet the team still managed to win 5 games because they had a really good defense (highlighted by Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison in their primes). If the 1998 Chargers had a quarterback who was even semi-competent they would have easily contended for a playoff spot. They were a poor man’s version of the 1991 Eagles.

  • Richie

    It can be really amazing to see how level of talent makes such a huge difference. I watched Jimmy Clausen play in high school. He made everything look so easy. I’ve seen a lot of high school football games, and he was the most impressive QB I’ve ever seen. Obviously, just making it on to the list of “worst NFL starters” takes quite a bit of talent. But if Clausen looked that good in high school, but isn’t quite good enough to be an NFL starter, then what did Drew Brees or Peyton Manning look like in high school? Would there be a noticeable difference?

    • I think about that stuff all the time. My high school (Yorktown, VA) featured a FB/LB who was 6’4, 275 and ran a 4.5. He was also an undefeated wrestling state champion. He looked unstoppable, and he continued to look great playing for NC State. Last I heard, I just got released from the Vikings practice squad. It would probably blow my mind to see someone like Peterson or Calvin Johnson to play high school ball.

      Then again, I got to see Ronald Curry and both Vicks play high school ball, and they looked like the best things ever. I don’t think too many would argue than any has had a great NFL career.

      • RustyHilgerReborn

        This is exactly why the NFL draft is such a crap shoot. There are subtle things you can look for to suggest a college player might be successful in the pros, but when it comes down to it, most of the time you just don’t know until you see him play at the next level of competition. It’s like when the high school valedictorian goes the Harvard and suddenly finds that everyone else around them was the smartest kid in their high school, too.

      • Crap, I meant “he” just got released from the Vikings. Sadly, I was not invited to the practice squad.

        Rusty, I think Malcolm Gladwell touched on the Harvard scenario in…I dunno, maybe Outliers. Unlike the students, though, athletes don’t generally have another competitor they can just go work for.

        • RustyHilgerReborn

          Seriously, for about five seconds, I really did think you were referring to yourself, and was about to search for “Bryan Frye” on Ourlads.com.

          Going back to Richie’s original post, I’m reminded of a quote by an NFL rookie (it was in the late ’90s, and I don’t recall the players name) when he was asked about the difference between college and the NFL:

          “Imagine the best player you played against in college. Now multiply him by 11.”

          This is why whenever someone inevitably brings up the question of whether the best NCAA team could beat the worst NFL team, I always laugh. Because the answer is always, hell no, and it wouldn’t be close.

          • Oddly enough, there was a Bryan Frye who played in high school around the time I did who I think got All State honors and played for FIU. I think he had about 8 inches and 70 pounds on me (I was a 5’8″ 160 pound defensive tackle and guard in a freakin’ wing-T offense).

  • RustyHilgerReborn

    You have to go all the back to Aikman in 1989 before you find a guy who’s career you can unarguably say was good (excluding strange cases like Rypien). I wonder if there’s an explanation for the fact that nowadays rookies who are going to end up good, at least show some competence in their rookie years, or if it’s the fact that good coaches nowadays tailor their offenses to ‘protect’ rookies (like Andy Dalton in 2011 and RG3 in 2012). If it’s the former, then Jets fans have a right to really be worried.

  • JWL

    Smith did show competence in several games. He was so horrific in others, though, that his rating ended up as the worst in the league. As a Jets fan, I am not worried yet. The Jets now have upgraded the offense and Smith is no longer a rookie. If his stats are bad again, then this year I would get worried.

  • Tim Truemper

    As players age, their relative ability to their surrounding talent pool changes. When they were younger and matured early, they were the biggest, fastest, whatever. But others physically mature later and thus catch up or even surpass them. I would venture that the “soft sign” variables related to personality may start to make a difference. Diligence, persistence, resilience to stress and failure may be a difference maker. Plus, certain physical variables harder to quantify such as quickness and balance may come into play more as the macro-physical variables are more equal at the highest level of a sport.

  • Alex smith had the worst qb ratting in 05. 40.8 1 TD 11 picks 876 yards

    • Roger NotGoodell

      Alex Smith didn’t have the requisite 224 attempts to qualify for the title in 2005. Geno Smith does this year and is on pace to become the first two-time titleholder unless someone else has a really bad last six weeks, or Michael Vick is benched or injured and Geno’s play improves.

      • Roger NotGoodell

        Update: it’s coming down to the wire. G. Smith 70.9, Bortles 70.8, McCown 70.5. (Yes, the same Josh McCown who finished 3rd in QB rating in 2013.) Do you think Smith should sit out week 17 to protect his lead?

  • Roger Kirk

    This article from last August about quarterbacks who finished last in passer rating for a season, and the surprising number who were also Super Bowl winners (in other years), led me to follow this year’s competition. Going into the final week, Peyton Manning seemed sure to be added to the list. He was last among those with enough pass attempts to qualify and neither he nor Nick Foles, the only other QB close enough to catch, was expected to play. When Manning did get to play, he raised his rating from 67.6 to 67.9, not enough to catch Foles, but help came from another source. Ryan Mallett, who needed 36 attempts to qualify, had 56 while lowering his rating from 70.4 to 67.9 and edged out Manning for last place by less that 0.1, spoiling Manning’s opportunity to finish last in passer rating and win the Super Bowl in the same season and Foles and Manning’s chance to be the top two in 2013 and the bottom two in 2015.