Mark Sanchez recently announced that he will forgo his senior year at USC and enter the NFL Draft. It seems fitting that his announcement came the day after fellow quarterback Sam Bradford announced his intentions to remain at Oklahoma next season.
Sanchez held the starting job at USC for only one season, but that 2008 campaign was spectacular. He finished the season with 34 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, leading USC to a Rose Bowl romp over Big 10 Champion Penn State. While his stats show a seasoned quarterback, the intangibles reveal a one-year starter with little experience.
This decision has two complete sides to it. On one hand, Mark Sanchez made a brilliant (while cowardly) decision to go pro. On the other hand, he made a risky decision that might cost him in the long run.
First, I will address the strategic but manipulative motives behind this move.
While Mark Sanchez may not be ready to play immediately in the NFL, there is little disagreement that he has the talent to play some day. Sanchez holds the classic quarterback stature, at 6' 3" 225 pounds, and has shown highlights of his leadership capabilities. Despite these attributes, Mark Sanchez's decision to go pro was only partially fueled by his physical capabilities.
Another factor in his decision was the composition of the 2009 NFL draft class.
In 2008, there was a distinguished upper tier of college football quarterbacks. Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Tim Tebow were heralded as the best quarterbacks in the country and combined to earn a number of both conference and national honors. Some argued that Graham Harrell belonged in this group as well. However, he was left out as a Heisman finalist and rarely mentioned after Texas Tech's midseason descent from greatness.
Towards the end of the NCAA football season Bradford, McCoy, and Tebow announced their intentions to return to school in the fall, drastically improving Mark Sanchez's draft position.
Also influencing Sanchez's decision was the possibility of a future cap on NFL rookie contracts. 2008 draft pick Matt Ryan was signed to the largest rookie contract in history, forming much bitterness in the veteran corps of the NFL.
The NFL Players Association is currently lobbying for a league measure to limit the salary of NFL players during their first two years in the league. Sanchez's quarterback competition in the draft was falling apart, while his window of opportunity for a multi-million dollar contract was potentially closing.
Based on his physical capabilities, as well as the NFL Draft climate and current contract negotiations, Mark Sanchez declared his eligibility for the 2009 NFL Draft.
While the decision makes sense right now, Sanchez might face consequences once he enters the NFL. His immediate gains are obvious. Mock drafts are projecting him as a late first round pick. With much of his quarterback competition depleted, Sanchez has an excellent opportunity to excel in the combine. Additionally, if he is selected in the first round, he is nearly guaranteed a large contract (a guarantee which may not be present next year).
That being said, Sanchez is taking a significant risk by passing on another season of development at the college level. Under Pete Carroll, USC has been a quarterback factory. Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and John David Booty were all NFL draft picks. However, all of them stayed at USC through their senior year before going pro. Carroll openly criticized the decision in a news conference tonight.
"The facts are so strong against this decision. After analyzing all the information, the truth is there—he should’ve stayed for another year. Mark’s chance to increase his value and become the top player in college football next year would have been worth $10-$20 million or more—likely more. One more year of running a team is almost priceless, so he lost the chance to fully prepare himself and become the very best he could be before going to the NFL. That’s why there’s a 62 percent failure rate for underclassmen quarterbacks." -USC Head Coach Pete Carroll
Only time will tell, but years down the road Sanchez might look back and wish he had spent one more season at USC to develop his quarterback skills.
This much is certain: no one wants to be the next Brian Brohm. Brohm was a projected top five draft pick following his junior season at Louisville, but decided to return to school. He had a tumultuous senior year, resulting in a second round draft selection by Green Bay, and a third string spot on the roster (even behind Green Bay's seventh round selection—LSU's Matt Flynn). Sanchez has a chance to be a first round draft pick this year, and he is taking it.
No one can fault Mark Sanchez for wanting to play in the NFL. However his motives, decisions, and consequences will all be placed under scrutiny.