During his first five seasons as an NFL starting QB playing in all 80 games, this player threw 100 interceptions, an average of 1.25 interceptions per game, or 20 interceptions per season.
During this same period, this same QB threw for 138 td passes, an average of 1.725 td passes per game or just under 28 td passes per season. His QB rating over the first five seasons as a 16 game starter in each was an average of 85.9.
Who was this NFL QB struggling with interceptions while throwing lots of TD passes?
None other than the future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
Peyton Manning is now considered perhaps one of the top 5 QBs in the history of the NFL, if not one of the Top 2 or 3 all time. But despite playing for one team in a dome stadium over the first five years of his career, Peyton Manning was erratic at best. He threw lots of TD passes, but along with it came an average of 20 interceptions per season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has yet to play in 80 games during his career. This Sunday will be his 73rd game as an NFL QB. He has a reputation for being a gunslinger, with lots of TD passes being undermined by too many interceptions.
During Ryan Fitzpatrick's first 72 games as a QB, his statistics are the following: 91 TD passes and 81 Interceptions. Fitzpatrick will not start his 80th game in his career until almost midway through 2013, assuming he continues to start for the Buffalo Bills next season.
During his brief career as an NFL QB with less than one-third the starts of Peyton Manning (now with 223 starts), Fitzpatrick has averaged 1.26 TD passes per game, and 1.13 interceptions per game.
Over a 16 game season, Fitzpatrick is averaging just over 20 TD passes and 18 interceptions per year. So compared to the first third of Manning's Hall of Fame career, the allegedly erratic Fitzpatrick has thrown fewer interceptions per game, but also fewer TD passes.
Fitzpatrick's Passer Rating over his 72 game career is 76.7 over his career. Manning's was 85.9, significantly better, though Fitzpatrick has had the disadvantage of playing for three different teams and only being the fulltime starter over the bulk of past three seasons, less than 50 percent of his total games played in the NFL.
It seems fair to say playing as a backup is more difficult for any QB than it is to be prepped mentally and physically to be the starting QB. So advantage Fitzpatrick (in an unhelpful way).
In his 44 games as a full time Bills starter Fitzpatrick has 70 TD passes and 54 interceptions, which translates into 1.59 TD passes per game and less than 1.3 interceptions per game.
His Passer Rating since taking over from Trent Edwards in the third game of the season against the New England Patriots on the road has been over 81, with his high of 82.9 being registered in this his roughly third full season as a starting QB in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
So in comparison to one of the greatest QBs in the history of the NFL, and one of the top 5 QBs in the game today, Ryan Fitzpatrick's start to his NFL career compares favorably in terms of interceptions, and less favorably in terms of TD passes per game and Passer Rating.
Still, as a starter for the Buffalo Bills under Chan Gailey, Fitzpatrick (still young by Peyton Manning experience standards) has a Passer Rating of roughly 81.2, which is in the ballpark with Manning's first five years as a full time starter, where he had a Passer Rating 85.9, which is considered roughly average by current NFL QB ratings.
When it comes to the number of TD passes per pass attempt, an interesting comparison emerges. During his career of 72 games played in the NFL, every 24.4 passes Fitz has thrown results in a TD pass, but every 21.27 passes have resulted in a TD since becoming the full time starter as Bills QB, which compares favorably with the performance of Manning's early career.
During Manning's first 80 starts, every 20.41 passes resulted in a TD pass.
Over Manning's incredible career, every 17.93 passes has resulted in a TD.
Manning averages 1.94 TD passes per game over his career, which shows an improvement of more than an additional three TD passes per season since his first five seasons in the league.
For his career Manning has 209 interceptions in 223 games, or 0.937 interceptions per game.
Where Manning truly improved his performance over time though was by reducing his number of interceptions as he gained experience. Since his first five seasons (80 games) Manning cut his interceptions per game from 1.25 per game to 0.76, a reduction of roughly 8 interceptions per season. Manning has only thrown 109 interceptions in his past 143 games, after throwing 100 in his first 80 games.
If Fitz were to throw a few more TD passes per season, and reduce his interceptions per game as Manning has since his first 80 starts in the NFL, Fitz would be one of the leading QBs in the league.
Manning's career Passer Rating is 95.5, an increase of 10 points from his average during his first five years and 80 starts in the NFL.
But considering the improvement in Peyton Manning's game after his first five seasons in the NFL, those who claim that Fitzpatrick has hit his ceiling need to explain how it is that one of the greatest to ever play the game struggled so much with his game over the course of his first five seasons, and then took his game to a superstar level over the course of the following nine seasons in the league.
I am all for drafting a QB this time around, but I also do not believe Fitz cannot get better, and significantly so, in the seasons to come, if given the opportunity.
While I am in no way claiming that Fitz can become another Peyton Manning, I am suggesting that the career trajectory of Peyton Manning shows how a QB that can throw TD passes can also learn how to keep throwing them in abundance while learning how to significantly reduce the interceptions which kill drives and lose football games.
Perhaps Fitz will continue to reduce the number of interceptions he throws, while continuing to throw an impressive number of TD passes, as he has shown the ability to do since becoming the Bills full time starter.