With the fifth pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, the New York Jets selected quarterback Mark Sanchez out of Southern California. In the eyes of Mike Tannenbaum and the rest of the New York Jets organization, Sanchez would become the face of the franchise and one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, leading the Jets back to greatness and picking up where Joe Namath left off.
Despite Sanchez’s success so far, reaching the AFC Championship Game two years in a row, it is too early to place him in the same category as guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger.
Sanchez is a young and upcoming quarterback, but he is not yet one of the NFL’s elite at the quarterback position.
It is no slight on Sanchez, but to be an elite quarterback means throwing for 4,000 yards in a season, having close to 30 touchdowns, being able to lead fourth quarter comebacks late in the game and carrying a team on your back. Good quarterbacks can take a team to the playoffs, but elite quarterbacks win Super Bowls.
Another accomplishment that elite quarterbacks often achieve is getting selected to the Pro Bowl. This is something that Sanchez has not yet been a part of. It is certainly an honor that would suggest whether or not a player is elite at their position.
One of the most frequent arguments that critics of Mark Sanchez give about whether or not he is elite is the fact that Sanchez has a good supporting cast. He has lots of weapons around him including Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller, LaDainian Tomlinson and Brad Smith.
It’s worth noticing that quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady perform well year in and year out no matter who is on their team. It was last year when we saw Peyton lead a depleted Colts team to the playoffs, making Blair White look like a Pro Bowler.
While certain aspects of a quarterback’s game are subject to opinion, stats don’t lie. In his two seasons as a professional, Sanchez threw for 2,444 with 12 touchdowns completing 53.8 percent of his passes in 2009, and 3,291 yards with 17 touchdowns completing around 54.8 percent of his passes in 2010. These are decent numbers, but not the numbers of an elite quarterback.
But even though he hasn’t thrown for 4,000 yards in any season, Sanchez has displayed one very important characteristic of a great quarterback. In just two professional seasons, Sanchez has an incredible seven career fourth quarter comebacks. Even more impressive is the fact that the Jets quarterback has also won four playoff games, all on the road, which is tied for most in NFL history.
Sanchez has clearly shown how clutch he can be, performing extremely well during the past two postseasons, but right now he is not THE guy for the Jets like Brady is for the Patriots and Manning is for the Colts.
While many Jets fans would like to think that the reason for the Jets’ success is because of Sanchez, deep down they know that the true reason is the defensive unit that Rex Ryan commands. Sanchez’s primary objective is to protect the ball, and to be an efficient quarterback. He is not asked to do too much, and thus he doesn’t have to be an elite quarterback this early in his career.
I must also remind everyone that he is just 24 years old. Skipping his senior year at USC, Sanchez was selected by the Jets and thrown right into the fire. Despite all of the pressure of being a quarterback in the media capital of the world, Sanchez has handled things extremely well.
His rookie season was a success, but certainly not a spectacular season. He then built on his rookie season, avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump, and continuing to win more games.
It’s not fair to consider him an elite player just yet, at only 24, but Sanchez will eventually reach that stature. He has shown glimpses of super-stardom and how clutch he can be throughout his brief NFL career.
He has the makeup of an elite quarterback, and the “it” factor that Brady, Manning and Brees have. He has tremendous potential in this league and he will only get better as long as he is a more consistent player.
When the Jets need him to be an elite quarterback, he will let loose and attempt the same amount of passes as Peyton, Brady, Rivers, Rodgers and Brees. But as long as New York has their ground-and-pound style of play, he will not be forced to become one of the NFL’s elite.
At this point in his career, all he cares about is winning games, and more importantly, winning Super Bowls. Whether or not he eventually becomes an elite quarterback can be debated, but there is no arguing that this player is a winning quarterback.
Let me finish with this question: What’s more important; being an elite quarterback or winning Super Bowls?
If it’s the latter, then Sanchez is close. One game away from the Super Bowl two years in a row, the recipe for success does not require Sanchez to be Namath-like.