Trying to figure who will win this quarterback competition is like guessing the weather a month out. Even if you think you have an idea, you don’t really have a perfect picture. I can draw a picture based on historical data of Sanchez, Garrard, and McElroy, but not Geno Smith.
My first assumption is that Geno Smith won’t play in 2013. I base this on the fact that Rex Ryan is pro- Sanchez, and Marty Mornhinweg does not have a track record of starting rookies over veterans. Therefore, unless Geno Smith blows away mini camps, and has an 80% completion percentage against first string defenses, I will go on record as saying he will ride the bench and learn the ropes as the 3rd string QB. That’s right not 1, not 2, but 3rd string.
David Garrard historically is a 61% passer, some years a little above, some a little below. However, he has a trend his last 3 seasons of starting. He had 7, 14, and 11 fumbles his last 3 seasons as a starter with the Jags, add to that he had 13, 10, and 15 interceptions those last 3 seasons. That is an average of 23+ turnovers a season in his best years. Sanchez’s average his past 3 seasons has been 27 combined fumbles and interceptions. Sanchez averaged 22 TD’s per year the past 3 years, Garrard averaged about the same losing out by about 2 touchdowns overall in a 3 year span. If the thinking is that Garrard can come in as a proven veteran with more accuracy, and better ball security, he’s not going to win this battle. Add to that he is 35, while Sanchez is 26 and you see where I’m going. It’s unlikely Garrard wins any QB competition.
Mark Sanchez had 2 positive years, followed by 2 down years. His third year, however, he accounted for 32 touchdowns. While many are quick to point out his double-digit turnovers, I would also be quick to point out the 32 touchdowns which was 11th most out of 32 starting quarterbacks in 2011. The 2012 season was more of an aberration than a norm, thanks to the injuries. There was no continuity, which made it impossible to build on the bright spots of 2011. Career wise he’s a 55% completion rate, but because of his slow rate of improvement I would expect this number to creep up to roughly 60% in a more QB friendly offense.
Last but not least is the dark horse Greg McElroy. If I had to bet today, Greg McElroy has the most to gain from this competition. He’s a born winner. He won in high school, he won in college. He had a 70+ % completion rate his final year of college at Alabama. He’s entering his 3rd season, he started one game last year and got a taste. In that one game he had 200+ yards passing, and a 60% completion rate. This offense is going to be all about running, and completing a lot of short and intermediate passes.
If I had to make that bet today, McElroy will be the most impressive in the quarterback completion, but he still won’t start. I see Sanchez doing just enough to show improvement, and even though he won’t statistically beat out McElroy, he will start. McElroy will be the back up QB, having shown enough, that he can start and push Sanchez. Geno Smith and David Garrard will be a distant 3rd and 4th respectively, which means Garrard gets cut. Sanchez starts, McElroy 2nd string, Geno Smith sits and learns for a year and possibly more depending on the season.
It is no secret that I am a big Sanchez supporter. It’s because I look at the picture as a whole and not just the downfalls or slide and decline. I see the forest and not just the trees and that’s why I can still say with confidence that I think Mark Sanchez CAN and WILL be a starting QB in the NFL in coming years. The problems Sanchez has now are many of the same he had in college and coming out of it. The argument that he declared early and shouldn’t have, that he should have listened to Pete Carroll and stayed in school are going to follow Mark around for as long as the infamous play from Thanksgiving night that I refuse to name will. With only 16 games (and Rose Bowl MVP) under his belt at the time the Jets moved up to #5 to draft him, people really shouldn’t be surprised that the Jets staff that has NEVER coached up a QB wasn’t able to help Sanchez overcome the deficits that followed him from USC. He was known to panic a bit in the pocket, to stare down his receivers.