Handicapping the Indianapolis Colts with Brissett Under Center
A month ago, Jacoby Brissett was not much more than an afterthought. He was the ultimate luxury in the NFL - an experienced backup quarterback who provided a nice level of comfort behind a superstar starter. But he was a guy you never wanted to see play, so he wasn't a guy you spent too much time thinking about.
But then, as Andrew Luck's weird injury situation turned into his truly shocking retirement, Brissett instantly went from an afterthought to pretty much the only thought when it came to these Indianapolis Colts. And he is a big puzzle for handicappers as we head into the new season. The immediate reaction was very negative, as four wins fell off the season win total in a flash. But as time passed, people seemed to calm down a bit. Curiosity replaced the sense of doom. And now, as the hours between now and Sunday's debut at the Chargers pass, all we can do is speculate about what might happen with this team. There are reasons to be positive and reasons to be skeptical. Like a game of tennis, let's go back and forth between the highs and the lows of Brissett as a starter:
Pro: Experience. Brissett isn't a raw starter. He has started 17 games for two teams since 2016. In 2016, he started two games for the Patriots when Tom Brady was suspended for Deflategate and Jimmy Garoppolo hurt his shoulder. It was an unremarkable stretch of games - he didn't throw a touchdown and probably would have missed the second start with a thumb injury if the team had another option. Brissett was traded to the Colts at the start of the 2017 season and then was plunged into the starting role when Luck was injured. He was in charge for 15 starts and appeared in all 16 games. The coaching staff is different now, and so are some of the personnel, but some of the pieces are the same, and he certainly knows the logistics of leading this team.
Con: Not all experience is great. Brissett started all of those games, but he didn't exactly dominate. He completed only 58.8 percent of his passes, his 6.6 yards per attempt were well below ideal, and his ratio of 13 touchdowns to seven interceptions was neither explosive nor particularly strong. That was two years ago, and it's hard to believe that if he had kept that level of performance up that he would still be starting for this team right now. He was just a guy then - not at all a star. The one striking difference, though, is that last time he had to adjust to a new team and learn the system in just a week before becoming starter after the trade. Now he has had a season of watching and a full training camp of first team snaps to get ready.
Pro: Ideal mentors. The guy has been an understudy to Tom Brady and Andrew Luck in his short NFL career. The greatest QB in the history of the league, and a guy who was all but a lock to be a hall of famer. It could certainly be worse.
Con: The Brady backup legacy. Being a Tom Brady backup hasn't exactly been a sure path to success in the league. The first backup, Damon Huard, went on to go just 10-11 as a starter with the Chiefs. Rohan Davey was with the Cardinals for just one year after ending his three years with the Patriots, and then he was out of the league. Matt Cassel was the next big thing when he left New England, but he wound up going just 26-40 as a starter and played with six different teams after New England. Brian Hoyer has bounced around, and is with the Colts right now, but was only 16-21 as a starter. Ryan Mallett was just 3-5 as a starter outside of New England. And injuries have given an incomplete grade to Garoppolo right now. Generally, though, guys have a habit of showing a lot more promise on the sidelines in Foxboro than under center elsewhere.
Pro: Tools. Brissett has a lot of nice pieces to work with - pieces that had expectations so high for this team with Luck. The offensive line, led by all-Pro Quenton Nelson, is legitimate. T.Y. Hilton is an excellent receiving target, and he's not the only one there. Devin Funchess is an interesting addition, and rookie Parris Campbell has a lot of promise, among others. And though they may not have a superstar-caliber running back, they do have a lot of depth in the position. Brissett has a lot to work with.
Con: No playing under Reich. While Brissett has had a lot of time to study this system last year and this fall, he has very little practical knowledge under this coaching staff. Last year he threw just four passes, and they obviously weren't impactful ones. He has knowledge. However, translating that knowledge into production is no guarantee.
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