John Idzik has declared an open competition for the job, but in truth, this is a three-horse race between the incumbent Mark Sanchez, rookie second-round pick Geno Smith and added veteran David Garrard. Greg McElroy simply does not have the physical tools needed to be a long-term starter, while Matt Simms will struggle to find a spot on the practice squad.
All three potential starters bring their own set of attributes that are starkly different from one another. David Garrard would play the role of a seasoned veteran who will be a calming presence and a welcomed change at the position. Geno Smith is laced with exciting potential as a rookie, while Sanchez is the only player of the three who started an NFL game last year.
Ultimately, it will come down to which quarterback gives the Jets the best chance to win. Rex Ryan is auditioning for his job this year, and he is not going to sacrifice himself for the sake of playing favorites or giving a young quarterback experience. He needs to win, and he knows it.
Let's take a look at how each quarterback stacks up, as they head into what should be one of the most intriguing quarterback battles of training camp.
While not quite the same prospect as Andrew Luck or RGIII, Smith was the consensus top quarterback in the 2013 class who fell into the Jets' lap in the second round. Smith is usually an accurate thrower and a good decision-maker, but he will need to clean up some minute aspects of his game if he is going to last as the Jets' quarterback of the future.
The Good: Accuracy, Poise
When Smith is on his game, it is difficult to find weaknesses to pick apart. For the most part, Smith is an accurate passer with enough arm strength to make all of the necessary throws. While he is not an explosive runner in the mold of Colin Kaepernick or RGIII, when he has to, he can make plays with his feet as a last resort.
However, Smith's best attribute is his ability to stand in the pocket and take a vicious hit in order to deliver the football, as shown in this 2012 play against Texas:
Smith also has a ton of experience in the pistol offense, which has been thrown around as a possible schematic adjustment for the Jets in 2013, as they try to catch up with the rest of the league after trying to out-age their opponents with the Wildcat last season.
In short, Geno displays all of the qualities necessary for success in the NFL. The problem is, he does not always display those traits that should have landed him a first-round contract.
The Bad: Inconsistency, Experience
The main reason Geno slipped all the way to the second round was his inconsistent play. Eighty-five percent of the time, Geno looks like a top-10 pick. Then, he follows up a terrific throw with a bonehead interception or a wildly thrown pass—which, in fact, is very reminiscent of Mark Sanchez.
There are concrete reasons as to why Smith has had such profound lapses in his game. First, he tends to get sloppy with his footwork, which has a direct impact on accuracy.
The following play should be an easy completion, but Smith's lack of proper footwork leads to an errant throw and an interception:
Smith's first read is wide-open, and Smith has room to step into the throw:
Instead, Smith throws without stepping into it. Notice how his left foot hardly moved from the previous frame—because he did not move it:
Consequently, the ball sails to the right and the Oklahoma defender makes the easy interception:
The good news is that this is a very fixable issue, but Smith cannot afford to make these types of mistakes with an open receiver and a clean pocket at his disposal—which he will find to rarely be the case in the NFL. If Smith is going to start for the Jets in 2013 and have success, he needs to be more diligent with his footwork.
However, there are legitimate concerns about his lack of an elite NFL arm, which causes him to struggle with some deep passes and throwing outside the numbers. Smith hardly has a weak arm, but like Mark Sanchez, he does not drive the ball to the outside or stretch the field.
Smith has plenty of potential as a long-term starting NFL quarterback, but he will need to clean up his game from a mechanical standpoint. If Smith does wind up losing the competition for the starting job, it could turn out to be the best thing to happen to his career, as it will give him more time to iron out his flaws before being thrown into the fire too early, a la Mark Sanchez.
Mark has suffered a considerable fall from grace from his two trips to the AFC title game, but he does have an established chemistry with some of the established offensive players and would be an ideal scheme fit in Marty Mornhinweg's system.
The Good: Anticipation, Athleticism
Yes, believe it or not, Mark Sanchez still brings some quality elements to the table as an NFL quarterback, as much as they were eroded by an unstable organization and team-building philosophy.
While Geno Smith is a faster runner and generally a better athlete, Sanchez has always been tremendous when throwing on the run. Truth is, the Jets have massively underutilized this strength of Mark's since his rookie year—but when it was used, it generally led to big plays.
Mark Sanchez gets a lot of flak for his inaccuracy and poor completion percentage, and rightfully so—he ranked 30th in the NFL in completion percentage at 54.3.
However, when throwing between the numbers, Sanchez shows good anticipation and ball placement, evidenced by this long completion to Jeremy Kerley in the seam.
Initially, Kerely appears to be locked in single coverage, but Sanchez recognizes the coverage and anticipates Kerley breaking open. The lone deep safety is providing help to Santonio Holmes, giving Kerley plenty of room to work with deep—just one example of how crippling the loss of Santonio Holmes was to the offense.
Sanchez releases the ball while Kerley is covered, but Kerley gains separation just in time:
Mark's ball hits Kerley in stride and allows him to get yards after that catch. If Kerley had better top-end speed (the biggest weakness of his game), he would have scored a touchdown.
The Bad: Accuracy, Decision Making
While Sanchez is a serviceable player when throwing in the middle of the field, he struggles mightily with his accuracy when throwing closer to the sidelines.
Here, Sanchez has Holmes wide-open near the sideline with room to run, but he misses him badly:
One of the reasons why Sanchez struggles throwing outside of the numbers is because he lacks elite arm strength that can beat baiting defenders. He is also late with his decision-making, giving defenders extra time to adjust and make plays on the ball.
This interception in a Week 10 game against the Seahawks was one of the worst plays of his career (yes, outdoing the butt-fumble) and is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with Sanchez as a player.
The Jets actually get the look they want, with Stephen Hill wide-open in the end zone. The nearest defender is no closer than five yards to Hill, and he has terrific pass protection with plenty of room to step into the throw. Sanchez actually looks directly at Hill, but for reasons unknown, he moves on to his next progression:
He then makes a split-second decision to hurl a ball at Dustin Keller. Notice how his feet are flat, as he does not take the time to step into his throw:
The ball sails, and Richard Sherman is able to easily make the interception and save the touchdown:
This play shows everything wrong with Sanchez, from poor footwork, a lack of confident decision-making and below-average arm strength outside the numbers.
As bad as Sanchez was in 2012, he had the worst supporting cast of skill position players around him and poor offensive coaching—plus, he was forced to deal with Tebowmania in the New York market.
Now battling for his job and working with an experienced quarterback guru in Marty Mornhinweg, perhaps Sanchez will have a chance to get back to being the serviceable player he was in 2010.
Despite being the most seasoned veteran on the team, Garrard is largely an unknown commodity, because he has not played in a regular season game since the 2010 season. He spend the 2011 season on his couch after being cut by the Jaguars and was injured in training camp before he was set to start for the Dolphins in 2012.
The Good: Arm Strength, Experience
While he has undoubtedly lost some of his speed and athleticism over the years, Garrard has always been a quarterback who was more than capable of making plays with his legs.
Garrard is no Ben Roethlisberger in terms of being able to shake off tacklers and extend plays, but he has a thick build that makes him tougher to bring down than most quarterbacks.
Garrard has a strong arm and can stretch the field more so than someone like Mark Sanchez. When given room to throw, he can be very effective throwing deep down the field:
However, as with any player who has been out of the league for an extended period of time, there is no telling exactly how well Garrard can still run or throw the football.
More so than anything tangible he brings to the table as a quarterback, Garrard will be a calming veteran presence at the position, which the team has not had since Chad Pennington. Now labeled as a "circus" organization, perhaps starting a low-key, unexciting veteran like Garrard will be the best way to push the reset button on the franchise.
The Bad: Accuracy, Decision-Making
While Garrard is capable of making big plays, he is not the most accurate thrower when put under duress and has a tendency to hold on to the ball for too long, which makes him a poor fit for Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense.
Garrard had his best success working behind a strong running game that utilized a lot of play action, taking advantage of his deep throws—essentially the opposite of what the Jets will run in 2013.
Furthermore, Garrard tends to struggle with his accuracy when making intermediate-to-long throws. He can also be prone to poor decision-making and tends to hold onto the ball a bit too long in the pocket, as he was the eighth-most sacked quarterback of 2010 with 33.
As much as Garrard brings to the table in terms of his experience and leadership, he would be an awkward scheme fit in Marty Mornhinweg's offense.
So, Who Wins?
Ultimately, in a win-or-else season, Rex Ryan is going to play the player who he believes will help the Jets win in the immediate future. The Jets may be rebuilding, but Rex cannot afford to undergo yet another season with the up-and-downs that come along with playing a young quarterback.
Clearly, Geno Smith has the most potential out of all three quarterbacks and fans are going to want to see him play. However, Ryan may have made a mistake by throwing Sanchez (who is strikingly similar to Geno Smith as a prospect) into the fire too quickly as a rookie, as Sanchez never was able to grow into the quarterback the Jets hoped he would be.
Unless Geno is obviously the best quarterback in training camp, the winner of the starting quarterback job will likely be either Mark Sanchez or David Garrard.
For Sanchez, this is the first time in which he will walk through the doors of the Jets' spaceship-like facility as anything but the assumed starter at quarterback since his rookie season.
The difference is, there was excitement and optimism in the summer air of 2009 for the young USC product. Now, Sanchez is damaged goods, and the organization has all but run out of patience for his inability to produce on a consistent basis.
While the Sanchez era is on the brink of termination, this is a chance for Sanchez to start clean with no expectations. He will be working with a quarterback guru, Marty Mornhinweg, for the first time in his career, and in an offense that suits his skill set.
On the other hand, this is David Garrard's last chance to prove that he can make an NFL roster. Garrard had a solid if unspectacular career in Jacksonville and would be a calming veteran presence for an organization that is starved for normalcy. At the age of 35, he commands a level of respect as an established player who beat the odds as a fourth-round pick, which is something neither Sanchez or Smith could possibly replicate.
No matter who winds up winning, this three-way battle is sure to be one of the most compelling offseason storylines to watch.