New York Jets

Why Kellen Clemens, Not Mark Sanchez, Is the Best Choice to Start Jets' Opener

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 23:  Kellen Clemens #11 of the New York Jets smiles on the sidelines during a preseason NFL game against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands on August 23, 2008 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jim CernyContributor IMay 13, 2009

Before I even write a single word on this topic, let me just say that I get it. I do. I understand that trading up to select Mark Sanchez fifth overall in this year's NFL Draft was the right thing for the New York Jets to do—for the future, and quite possibly for the upcoming season.

But when the Jets open up in Houston on Sept. 13, they will be best served if Kellen Clemens is starting at quarterback, and not Sanchez.

For all those who will be quick to disagree and want to thrust the recent résumés of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan at me, let me explain that there is common sense and unemotional logic at play here.

One can only hope that new head coach Rex Ryan and offensive guru Brian Schottenheimer take the same approach as me, in the long-term best interests of the team.

Sanchez has all the makings of a star. He is intelligent, comes from a strong collegiate program at USC, possesses a tremendous work ethic, and has a powerful right arm.

Maybe most importantly, he wanted to be a Jet and was ecstatic when the club boldly moved up to draft him. He has embraced the challenge in New York and has quickly made you believe he will be a difference maker.

Just not yet.

Last year's success of both Flacco in Baltimore, where Rex Ryan served as an assistant coach, and Ryan in Atlanta clouds the memory banks and makes many football experts forget the long line of first-round QBs who suffered through painfully horrendous seasons when forced into starting roles as rookies. Even future Hall of Famers like John Elway and Troy Aikman had brutal rookie campaigns.

Perhaps Sanchez is smart enough, and talented enough, to pull off a reprise of what Flacco and Ryan did a year ago—and perhaps he has a good enough team surrounding him to do so.

But I still say the best-case scenario is that Sanchez has a strong camp, shows that he belongs as an NFL signal caller, but is outplayed by Clemens, and thus holds the clipboard while Clemens makes the start on Opening Day.

A strong competition between these two young quarterbacks, where each plays well, will only benefit the Jets, a team that has serious playoff aspirations after GM Mike Tannenbaum spent plenty of owner Woody Johnson's greenbacks the past two offseasons.

Let that competition continue into the regular season. Let Sanchez push the fourth-year Clemens, who himself has had only very limited playing time the past few seasons.

But if he plays well in camp, let's see what Clemens can do at the helm of this team. Let's see what knowledge he has soaked up from working with two very intelligent quarterbacks in Chad Pennington and Brett Favre over the past three years, and how he can combine that with his strong arm and quick feet.

A start on opening day does not guarantee the No. 1 position for Clemens the entire season. But if he can play well and allow Sanchez valuable weeks to study and practice his craft without the pressure of being forced into game action, the Jets will be better off, even if Sanchez eventually supplants him at some point this season.

Of course, all of this is predicated on Clemens—who has appeared in all of 14 regular season games, with only eight starts, in his career—continuing his strong offseason into camp and the preseason schedule. It won't do the Jets much good if both quarterbacks struggle in training camp and Clemens ends up the starter in Houston by default.

Clemens said the other day, "I fully expect to be under center opening day when we go down to Houston."

If that scenario does play out, the Jets, and Sanchez, will be better off for it, both in the present and, more importantly, in the future.

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