August 26, 2009
Mark Sanchez(notes), the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, will be the opening day starter for the New York Jets. Rex Ryan told his quarterbacks this morning that Sanchez was the guy, ending the ongoing battle with Kellen Clemens(notes).
Two things, I believe, helped make the decision easy for Rex Ryan. One, Kellen Clemens, entering his fourth year in the league, never really distinguished himself, which, as a player entering his fourth year in the league, he totally should have.
Also, the NFL is a league full of great big copycatters, and the success of Matt Ryan(notes) and Joe Flacco(notes) as rookies last year probably helped pave the way for future rookies to start. Flacco and Ryan both went 11-5 and each made the playoffs.
It might be worth noting, though, that neither Flacco or Ryan faced expectations like this. Ryan's Falcons were expected to be one of the worst teams in football, before Mike Smith(notes) and Ryan showed up and shocked the nation. Flacco wasn't expected to be a stud, either. He wasn't a top 10 pick, he came out of a small school, and only had to replace the immortal Kyle Boller(notes). The Ravens went into that season thinking, "We're not going to get much from our quarterback anyway, so it might as well be a young guy."
So while Ryan and Flacco might have helped clear the path for Sanchez, they also helped toss him in the pressure cooker. The Jets expect to make the playoffs, and given the depth in the AFC, particularly in the AFC East, 11-5 might be what it takes to get there. Is it unreasonable to expect Sanchez to go 11-5 as a rookie? Yes. It's unreasonable to expect that of any daisy-fresh rookie, despite the success of Flacco and Ryan.
But that's where the Jets are. Rex Ryan has talked big since taking the job, saying at his introductory press conference, "We're going to the White House." He's set the bar high, and he's got the people of New York expecting big things. That's his style, and that's fine. There's nothing wrong with being that cocky, if you think it's best for your football team.
A side effect, though, is that he's taken his rookie quarterback and amped up the spotlight and pressure on him. For a young guy already dealing with the intense media scrutiny of New York, that's a lot to put on his shoulders.
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