Evaluation of NFL players remains an inexact science, even today. But even the most casual of NFL fans can tell when a player is grossly overrated by the media.
It’s no coincidence that most athletes that play for New York City-area teams enjoy a unique status with the media, both in that area and nationally as well. These athletes are always just a little more discussed, a little more celebrated than their counterparts in the rest of the country.
Even the parity-infested NFL is not immune to this, as two of its anointed New York heroes came up short in their respective games this weekend. But let’s go one at a time here.
There is little question in my mind that the most overrated player in today’s NFL is Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez gets a lot of attention in the media, not necessarily because of how he plays. Sanchez has posed for GQ photo shoots and appeared in TV commercials produced by the league. His good looks and Hispanic heritage make him a natural ambassador for pro football. That is to say, Sanchez would be the clear favorite if the National Football League was an all-male beauty pageant, as opposed to its current incarnation as a 21-week human collision festival.
How proficient at quarterback is Mark Sanchez? Pick any statistical category you like, and Sanchez will be somewhere between 10 and 18 names down each list. He’s a delightfully average quarterback who has played with a great defense and a defensive-minded head coach who has shielded him from the Big Apple spotlight, largely by having it cast upon himself.
Some have taken to referencing Sanchez’s term under center as an “experiment,” as if the fifth overall pick of the 2009 draft was selected for a trial run at the job and little else.
Sanchez famously left Southern Cal a year early against the wishes of then-head coach Pete Carroll, who told anyone that would listen that his quarterback wasn’t ready to play on Sundays. And he was a bit of a jerk about it. Sanchez left anyway and has made the playoffs in his first two NFL seasons. If the playoffs started this week, his Jets, at 5-4, would miss qualifying for the postseason by one game.
Sanchez has the tools to be in the NFL for a long time. Some fans, particularly those of Matthew Stafford and Ryan Fitzpatrick, might care to see and hear from more their quarterbacks—young up-and-comers playing well for surprising teams this season, might like to see the league award attention to guys that have, you know, earned it.
Another one of those guys would be Eli Manning. He orchestrated a game-winning touchdown drive on the grandest of stages nearly four years ago, and did it against a Patriots defense that hadn’t been beaten that season. True, Eli also enjoyed the benefits of a great defense, and he also had Plaxico Burress.
But...and this is worth repeating, he won the damn Super Bowl. Oh, and he was the Super Bowl MVP, too. Did Eli throw a ball out of a stadium to some woman who had to drop her groceries to catch it? I think not.
Overrated quarterbacks from the New York teams are nothing new. The most overrated quarterback of all time was a Jet, and Joe Namath is a cornerstone in the NFL’s history. He revolutionized the way athletes were approached by the media, famously sitting poolside for interviews in Miami before Super Bowl III. His guarantee of a win in that game came through. Namath didn’t throw any touchdown passes, nor did he even throw a pass in the fourth quarter.
Namath’s contributions to the game are many, but it so happens that his acts on the field were such a small part of that portrait. You wouldn’t expect a quarterback with more career interceptions than career touchdown passes to be in the Hall Of Fame, but Namath is, and one could just as easily argue that a Hall Of Fame without Namath isn’t a Hall of Fame at all.
And yet the cascading of Sanchez- and Eli- friendly PR will continue through the season, and probably longer. By my count, the Jets and Giants have played or will play a combined seven times on either Sunday or Monday night. That may not seem outrageous for two teams with winning records last season, but consider that five NFL teams won’t be on national television at all. The Titans, Cardinals, Bengals, Panthers and Bills got the prime-time shaft, so we could watch the same teams over and over again.
Granted, neither the Jets nor Giants is a box-office deadweight like the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ugh. Those guys just need to move to Los Angeles already.