Over the past four years, we've seen quarterback Mark Sanchez play out a roller coaster of a career. Drafted fifth overall in the 2009 draft, he was regarded very highly by some analysts, and especially by the New York Jets that traded with Cleveland to obtain him. Coming off a very impressive season at USC (3,207 yards passing, 34 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and a 12-1 record) , some people, including myself, thought this quarterback was going to be the catalyst that would turn this franchise around.
Finally, we would have someone that had an arm and knew how to win. And for the first two seasons of his NFL career, it certainly seemed like it was going to happen, back to back AFC title appearances were very promising. Although, I'd give most of the credit for those seasons to Rex Ryan, the defense, and the well established run game, Sanchez still had a part to play, even if it was just handing off the ball most of the time.
But then the last two years came by, and boy were those teams tough to watch.
Statistically, Sanchez did, in fact, get better up until 2012, but the team around him was declining, not in age, but maturity, desire, and respect for leadership. Most of that blame, though, falls on Rex Ryan and Tannenbaum. Sanchez was awful in 2012, but I can't force blame entirely on him. When your backup QB (Tebow) gets more press than you, yet your organization still claims you're "the guy", it has to mess with one's psyche. Even the great Joe Namath knew it was bad for Sanchez to bring Tebow to town.
"…he's not a gifted passer to begin with and running the ball is his forte, you're telling me he's going to be the active quarterback? This isn't complicated, but they're making it more complicated." -Newsday
More after the jump…
Complicated doesn't even begin to describe the mess that was the 2012 season.
Having to learn a new offense from the then-new offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, didn't help things either. Sparano was known for an open play book, so one would think Sanchez was going to be throwing a lot more. Well, his number one receiver Santonio Holmes went down early in the year to a season ending foot injury, and newly acquired rookie "deep threat," Stephen Hill was way more ineffective than anyone expected. After a two-touchdown game, Week 1, he recorded only one more TD for the remainder of the season, finishing with only 252 yards, while he constantly battled sickness and injury. So, when your best wide receiver option is Jeremy Kerley, even Peyton Manning would have struggled with this team.
Since drafting WVU QB Geno Smith in this years draft, Sanchez yet again has to earn his starting position in training camp for the upcoming season. This isn't necessarily a bad thing however, as competition will only make the starter push that much further to keep their starting spot. And this is different than the case of Tebow, in that people aren't expecting Geno to come in and take over, or at least people that watched him play at West Virginia, and realized 50% of his completions were screens to two dynamic slot receivers. Even Sanchez can throw a screen.
I firmly believe this is Mark's role to lose, and if he does, he may go by the wayside, like former USC quarterbacks that are now looked at as jokes (Matt Leinart, Matt Cassel, John Booty, etc.).
The only way for Mark Sanchez to avoid his career slipping, and ending up in Jacksonville or becoming a Cleveland Brown, is to play like he played at USC, or at least his first two years as a Jet. Granted, not much was expected of him, as OC Brian Schottenheimer mostly baby'd him into the offense—using a lot of play-action, short gain throws—but when the run game is established, you can get away with that. However the bottom line is, Sanchez has to step up. Not Week 3, not next week, not tomorrow, now.
Moments and opportunities like the one he's currently in, are what make-or-break a career. His back is against the wall, and now's the time that he needs to be a leader and lead his team back to respectability. Once, and if, his starting job is lost to Geno, I don't believe there is any going back while he is in NY, and that's regardless of Geno's play. The media has seen enough, as has the front office, Rex Ryan, and every coach still with the team. Become the quarterback that we sporadically see moments of greatness of on Sundays. Except actually be him, on a consistent level.
Even a few of his teammates really believe in him to be the guy this year. Veteran center Nick Mangold has said, "I haven't walked around with a pen and paper and taken a poll, but from the feeling I get, the locker room wants to win. Whoever gives us the best chance to do that, we want out there — and at this point, Mark gives us that best chance." -ESPN
Now, when the leader of your offensive line believes in you, the rest of the line will follow. They will protect you and give you the best chance they can to win.
It's now or never, #6. The window of opportunity is rapidly closing on Sanchez, who, unlike a lot of QBs in his position in the NFL, still has a shot of achieving greatness. You better make the most of it Mark, or we'll be seeing you playing in garbage time as a 3rd-string QB for Kansas City in the not to distant future.