The acquisition of Tim Tebow by the New York Jets has led many to question the amount of faith the organization has in starting quarterback Mark Sanchez. Many fans and league analysts have come out and publicly stated that they do not feel as though Sanchez is the right quarterback for this team now or in the future. Some have even said that Tebow chose to come to the Jets because he believes he can take over as the starting quarterback at some point during the season. However, anyone who feels this way has clearly not taken the time to look at the facts.
There are no excuses to make for Sanchez and his inconsistent play in the final three weeks of the season last year. But those three weeks should not define Sanchez’s career thus for, nor should they write his future. If history tells us anything, it is that most, if not all, elite NFL quarterbacks take time to develop to that level. In observing Sanchez’s numbers through his first three seasons in comparison with the three previous Super Bowl winning quarterbacks in their first three years in the league, it is obvious that this kid has not only over achieved for his age, but more than likely has a future destined for greatness as well.
First, let’s look at games started. In his first three seasons with the Jets, Sanchez has started 47 out of 48 games (Remember, he missed the Tampa Bay game in 2009 after injuring his knee against the Bills in Toronto). Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Eli Manning started 28, 0, and 41 games, respectively. Now, it is hard to argue any numbers Rodgers had in his first three seasons due to the fact that he was sitting behind one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Brett Favre. However, this also means that Rodgers had ample time to learn, and his growing pains came about on the practice field, rather than under the spotlight of New York as Sanchez’s have. That being said, Rodgers’ and Sanchez’s numbers in the first three years of their careers cannot be compared because there is not a high enough sample of Rodgers’ production during that time.
So let’s focus on Brees and Manning. In Brees’ first three seasons, he completed 540 of his 909 pass attempts for a completion percentage of 59.4. During that span, he threw for 5,613 yards, 29 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. He also rushed for 1 touchdown over those three years. Other than an inflated completion percentage due to only 27 attempts in his rookie season, Brees’ numbers in his first three years show he was anything but a franchise quarterback. Even his own team didn’t believe he was the future, and selected Eli Manning with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft, before trading him to the Giants for Phillip Rivers. However, unlike with Sanchez, no one really seemed too concerned with how Brees’ feelings would be affected. Brees went on to have two breakout seasons in 2004 and 2005 before the Chargers let him walk as a free agent and sign with the Saints in 2006. We all know the rest.
Similarly, Eli Manning’s first three seasons were anything but extraordinary. The incumbent Super Bowl MVP completed 690 of 1,276 passes, while accumulating a 54.0 completion percentage, 8,049 yards, and 54 touchdowns. Manning also threw 44 interceptions during those three years. Again, not exactly numbers that scream elite NFL quarterback, and anyone that lives in New York knows that the majority of fans and writers alike were calling for Peyton’s little brother to be shipped out of town. So, how did Manning respond? By coming out the next season and pulling off the greatest upset in Super Bowl history. Now he is the Giants’ Golden Boy.
Finally, on to the Sanchise. In Sanchez’s first three seasons, he has completed 782 of his 1,414 pass attempts for a completion percentage of 55.3, more than a full point higher than Manning’s, and very close to Brees’s inflated 59.4. Sanchez has also thrown for 9,209 yards, 55 touchdowns, and 51 interceptions. Although his turnover rate is higher than the other two quarterbacks, his yards and touchdowns are higher as well. He’s also rushed for 12 touchdowns throughout those three seasons. In that same time frame, Sanchez has won four of six playoff games on the road, while neither Brees nor Manning could win one between the two of them.
So here we sit at this awkward point in Sanchez’s career. This is the point where Sanchez has done enough to win over the coherent fans, but has made one too many young mistakes to force the media and fair weather fans to call for his head. Whether people realize it or not, this happens everywhere. Brees was run out of town, and Manning was at the cusp of getting his pink slip as well. The non-believers in these two, now elite, NFL quarterbacks looked plenty foolish while Manning and Brees were busy breaking NFL records and winning Super Bowl rings.
So is Sanchez next? Although no one can predict the future, if history tells us anything, it is that most quarterbacks in this league need time to grow and develop. Sanchez’s early success makes him an easy target anytime he struggles the slightest bit. However, just remember that he is not the only one who faced downtimes early in his career. The best of them have and were able to overcome it, while coming out on top, laughing at their critics.