2009 NFL Draft: Why Mark Sanchez Has League Personnel Swooning

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2009 NFL Draft: Why Mark Sanchez Has League Personnel Swooning
(Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

I’m not at all surprised that NFL scouts and executives are swooning over USC’s Mark Sanchez, and his stock continues to rise as draft day approaches. 

The guy who started only 16 games in his college career is now projected to be the second quarterback drafted, probably within the first four overall picks.  

What I believe some are seeing is a young man who is as smooth an operator as has come around in years at the quarterback position. 

It's almost as if Sanchez was groomed to assume the role of team spokesman and leader.  He smiles engagingly, he speaks well, and he knows how to conduct himself in public.

All of those qualities help give Sanchez perhaps the most important attribute a quarterback needs: star quality. 

Star quality is the essential, yet intangible, asset that separates the superstars and fan favorites from those who are merely good or just competent.

Quarterback is football’s most important and glamorous position, and most owners, coaches, and fans would prefer to have stars play quarterback. It helps the team with marketing, it helps coaches keep their jobs, and it helps fans identify with the team.

I can see why here in Washington, the Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, after recently spending quality time with Sanchez, became enamored with him and is trying to find a way to deal up in the draft to get him. Snyder has been looking for a player like Sanchez ever since he bought the Redskins a decade ago.

Mark Sanchez is very impressive in person. I witnessed his appeal firsthand when Sanchez was one of the nation’s top players as a high school senior, at the US Army All-American Bowl. I had the chance to meet and interview Sanchez. 

I also watched him work the fans, his teammates, and the media. He had poise far beyond his years. That was in 2005, and even then he talked in TV-ready sound bites. It didn’t seem an implausible leap to imagine him playing on Sundays someday.

The one thing I have yet to mention is Sanchez’s ability. Based on what I have seen, Sanchez does have talent. Is he as talented as one of his predecessors at USC, Carson Palmer, who has distinguished himself in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals? I’m still not sure about that. 

Nonetheless, NFL folks always believe they can nurture quarterbacks to greatness, either through their systems or through their coaching. Is Sanchez coachable? Probably, but being a star quarterback is more than just being a good student of the game, or what you actually accomplish on the field.

I’m not saying that any of this means that Sanchez will ever be a better player than the man the Redskins would like him to replace, Jason Campbell.

In his three years as a Redskin, Jason Campbell has so far failed to display that ever-elusive star quality. As of now, Campbell is simply a nice, competent player, with a big arm and potential. But for Dan Snyder, that isn’t nearly enough.

Jason Campbell isn’t Joe Theismann, and he’s also not Doug Williams—the only two guys in the last 30 years who even vaguely displayed star quality at quarterback in a Redskins uniform. Prior to that, the other star Redskins quarterback of the last half-century was Sonny Jurgensen, who will this year turn 75 years old.

Star quarterbacks are rare indeed in the NFL. Peyton Manning, of course, comes to mind, and obviously Tom Brady. I also consider Donovan McNabb a star, just as I do the just retired—again—Brett Favre.

Those guys are stars. Their fans talk about them, buy their jerseys, and watch their games.

Dan Snyder, and I’m sure several other owners who may gamble on Mark Sanchez, believe that he might one day become one of those special signal callers.

That’s why they are swooning.

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