January 09, 2010
"The facts are so strong against this decision. After analyzing all the information, the truth is there -- he should've stayed for another year. Mark's chance to increase his value and become the top player in college football next year would have been worth $10 million-$20 million or more -- likely more. One more year of running a team is almost priceless, so he lost the chance to fully prepare himself and become the very best he could be before going to the NFL. That's why there's a 62 percent failure rate for underclassmen quarterbacks."
That's what USC head coach Pete Carroll said after Mark Sanchez(notes), his 2008 quarterback, declared for the NFL draft after his junior season nearly one year ago. Carroll may have had valid concerns in his own mind -- after all, he had seen quarterbacks Carson Palmer(notes), Matt Leinart(notes), and John David Booty(notes) return for their senior campaigns -- but Sanchez was determined to take his 16 college starts and buck the trend. Carroll's original assessment was that Sanchez would be a second round-draft pick, but the New York Jets didn't get that memo. They traded up with the Cleveland Browns to select Sanchez with the fifth overall pick. It was an ideal situation for Sanchez -- much like Matt Ryan(notes) and Joe Flacco(notes), the stars of the 2008 draft class, he would be augmenting a run-heavy, power-blocking offense instead of being asked to carry too much weight right off the bat.
While he suffered some rookie jitters after a hot start, throwing four interceptions against the Patriots in Week 11 and three against the Falcons in Week 15, Sanchez pulled it together under the extremely conservative play-calling of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in the last two regular-season games. He didn't throw any touchdowns, but he didn't give the ball away, either. That gave him an even keel and a good setup for the performance he put up in New York's 24-14 wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Afterward, the giddy rookie could barely stifle a laugh while poking fun at the news that Caroll could be headed to the NFL himself.
"I just wanted everybody to know I completely disagree with his decision," Sanchez said. "Statistics show that it's not a good choice."
Sanchez went 12 for 15 for 182 yards and a touchdown. Not huge numbers, but mistake-proof enough to become the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game on the road (Flacco was the first to do so last season). Sanchez ignored the pressure and the freezing temperatures and played very well. In particular, his ability to sell play action (a highlight of his play all season) was the key to one of two big pass plays to tight end Dustin Keller(notes). With 10:19 left in the game, Sanchez faked to the back and rolled left as the Bengals' entire front seven went with the misdirection. Sanchez proved that he's more than ready for the NFL, despite the occasionally bumpy road taken.
And who's got everybody wondering about the wisdom of his move to the NFL now? Raising questions about his suitability for the pro game? That would be coach Carroll, reportedly putting his 33-31 record in the NFL on display for the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 and beyond.
Perhaps Sanchez could give him some useful advice about the transition ... than again, maybe not!
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