COMMENTARY | Too often in the NFL the face of a franchise is a quarterback, a wide receiver or a running back. It does keep things simple. We can follow basic things like touchdowns and have plenty of highlights of the player holding the ball. But more often than we like to admit, the team leaders and even the most vital players are at other positions.
With cornerback Darrelle Revis gone from the New York Jets (traded to Tampa Bay), and with quarterback Mark Sanchez not fully living up to "Sanchize"-level expectations, center Nick Mangold deserves to be the face of the Jets franchise.
Who Is Nick Mangold?
Nick Mangold has been the starting center and an offensive powerhouse for the Jets these past seven seasons since being drafted with the 29th pick of the first round in 2006. With so few statistics actually tracked for centers, it is hard to point to any numerical representation of how great he has been. His four Pro Bowl appearances help, but even those do not do him justice since he easily could have been in six Pro Bowls.
It is nearly always underestimated how much of the Jets' playoff success in 2009 and 2010 was due to Mangold. While the defense often gets much of the credit, and at the time a significant amount of accolades went to Sanchez, the team's elite offensive line kept them in every game. Mangold was a source of consistency, leadership and constant high quality of play.
This was summarized succinctly by defensive tackle Vince Wilkfork of the rival New England Patriots, who after several head-to-head matchups called Mangold simply "the best" (to go along with further high praise).
The obvious competition for face of the Jets right now would be either Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith. There is a national obsession with quarterbacks at the moment. Thus, while both of these quarterbacks are unproven, they will likely be two of the main faces.
The other top candidate for face of the franchise should be defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Though he is only entering his third year, Wilkerson did an incredible job of stepping up as the team's most elite defensive player after the loss of Revis early in the 2012 season.
The difference that breaks any tie that might exist there is Mangold's necessity in managing the offense and the team as a whole. On the one hand, he orchestrates everything on offense, beyond only the offensive line, as heavily evidenced by how the offense fell apart after his injury in Week 2 of 2011. On the other hand, Mangold has stepped up as a leader for the entire team who is a constant source of equanimity, respect and humility in the locker room.
Recently, Mangold has been helping with the team's spirits as they prepare for the 2013 season. He has given his own praise to Wilkerson, saying recently (via Mike Vornukov of The Star-Ledger), "The guy on defense I'm really excited about is Mo Wilkerson."
If I were to make a prediction, I would not guess that this will be Mangold's year to be the face of the Jets. More likely than not it will be another year where he quietly performs as the best center in the NFL. For whatever set of reasons, national attention has never been paid to Mangold. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be.
Adam Waksman is a Yahoo! contributor in sports. He also covers the New York Jets for Bleacher Report, where he is a Featured Columnist and award-winning blogger.
You can follow Adam on Twitter here.
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