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What Should We Expect From Mark Sanchez in 2010?

Everyone knows how much the Jets have invested in Mark Sanchez. Not only did they trade draft selections to pick him and plan on paying a king’s ransom in salary, but they have entrusted him to lead a team to a Super Bowl in just his second year as a pro. Much of the success of the 2010 season will hinge on Sanchez’ 28 million dollar arm. The Jets are not a “ground and pound” team anymore. They brought in two big time receivers and a running back with excellent credentials in the passing game. We already looked at the fact that its unlikely the Jets defense will play as well as they did last season, which puts all the pressure on Sanchez to lead an explosive offense and justify this selection to the rest of the NFL.

Just what should we expect to see from Sanchez in 2010? Once again using the incredible database located at Pro Football Reference, I compiled the starting statistics of every true rookie QB since 1980 to try to find some reference points for Sanchez in 2010. Why the 1980 cut off? There was a clear change in the way teams viewed the position and the performance of the players during the 1980’s. Prior to that the rookie performances were usually abysmal and teams seemed more willing to wait to play their guys. The second cut off is that the QB in question needed at least 100 pass attempts to qualify for the list. Usually 100 attempts meant they played a quarter of a season which is more than enough to get their feet wet in the NFL.

Finally, the primary stat I used to trend the QB’s was the infamous “QB rating”. Yes it’s a flawed number, but with such varied attempts in a rookie year it is really the only stat that can somewhat put the players in context year to year. It also holds more weight for a young player than veteran QB as it is more an indication of being mistake prone and a bad decision maker than actually being a really good player. Rookies that improve from year 1 to year 2 in the QB rating are showing that they are becoming better decision makers on the field and understanding the game

Lets get the bad thoughts out of the way first. Can Sanchez be worse in 2010 than he was in 2009? If he is worse what does that mean for his future?

Of all rookie players about 25% of them statistically regressed in their second season. The only rookies to show no improvement from year 1 to year 2 were:

Mike McMahon
Scott Brunner
Vinny Testaverde
Matt Leinart
Warren Moon
Shaun King
Matt Ryan
Heath Shuler
Akili Smith
Don Majikowski
Jim McMahon
Jay Cutler
Charlie Frye
Jeff George

Both Cutler and Ryan were coming off great statistical rookie years and even with their decline still had QB ratings above 80 in their second season, so they should be removed from the list. Calling Moon a rookie might also be a stretch since he played for so many years prior to joining the NFL, so lets take him off as well. So that more or less means there is about a 20% chance for Sanchez to fall downward in 2010.

If his stats do fall its unlikely you will ever see any chance to really earn a return on the investment. When you look at that list the only real success story is Testaverde, who took a long time before he ever developed into a respectable QB and did so long after he left the team that drafted him. Jim McMahon did win a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears and lasted forever in the NFL but never really developed as a starter. So if Sanchez actually regresses this year it is likely that he will never make his mark with the Jets and most likely will end up flaming out of the NFL.

Second Question. What would be the realistic expectation for Sanchez?

Well if 25% of the rookies who actually played in their second year regressed it means that most likely Sanchez will improve in 2010. Sanchez finished with a QB rating of 63.0 last season so lets look at players who were between a 60 and 70 QB rating who showed improvements the following season. The list has 18 players that run the gamut from stars like Donovan McNabb to busts like Kyle Boller. Of those players the average improvement was 15.53% on the prior years rating with a median value of 13.4% improvement. So if Sanchez proves to be at least average in his second year we should see his QB rating improve to a respectable range between 71 and 73.

Statistically the average player in that range saw their completions go up by 32% per game with just a 21% increase in attempts. Touchdowns per attempt rose by 15%, and interceptions per attempt decreased by 24%. If Sanchez does perform on the average for his category we can expect a statline to be around 210 yards per game with a 58% completion percentage and somewhere around 18 touchdowns to 19 interceptions.

Will that be enough to remove the bust label? Probably not, but it should be enough to quiet the significant criticism that would come from a horrendous season where he regresses. It might be good enough to make the playoffs again as well. At the very least it brings him into 2011 without the controversy of bringing in a veteran to breath down his back if he falters early on.

So what would be the best scenario for Sanchez?

Since 1980 there have been 15 rookie starters that went on to multiple Pro Bowl careers. Three of them, Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia, and Jim Kelly, are probably a stretch to consider rookies due to playing time in other leagues, so lets call it 12. There is a good chance that the list will be added onto as Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, and Ben Roethlisberger already have a Pro Bowl each underneath their belts and Manning and Roethlisberger have combined for three Super Bowl rings. Assuming two of them do join that list that would give the rookie starter about a 20% chance of being considered an upper level QB for his career.

The one trend among most of these Qbs is a massive improvements in QB rating. For anyone that listens to the Boomer and Carton radio program on WFAN in NY, they will often hear Esiason talk about how the fans will be so impressed with Sanchez because this is when you grow as a player, allow the game to slow down and “get it” on the field. When he speaks that way its because he is speaking from experience and he sees parallels between he and Sanchez. Esiason’s QB rating spiked over 48% in his second year in the NFL, jumping from a 62.9 to a 93.2.

If you filter out the rookies who were so bad they simply did not belong in the NFL (think Ryan Leaf) and look for a QB rating improvement of over 17%, you end up with 8 of the 12 multi time pro bowl players. Chandler did not play in year 2 and Testaverde actually got worse so those guys would have been impossible to spot. Really the two big missed names are Drew Bledsoe and Dan Marino. In Marino’s case, and this also hold true for Roethlisberger if he reaches this status, he was so good as a rookie that there just was not that kind of room for improvement. If you are nailing close to a 100 rating as a rookie odds are you are going to be pretty good.

Here is the list of names, in order of improvement, that had a greater than 17% improvement in their QB rating:

Boomer Esiason
John Elway
Eli Manning
Michael Vick
Donovan McNabb
Kerry Collins
Peyton Manning
Trent Edwards
Bernie Kosar
Troy Aikman
Rodney Peete
Billie Joe Tolliver
Neil Lomax

That’s not too bad a list. That is 8 multi time pro bowlers and 10 one time pro bowlers in a total out of 13 names. It hits all the true rookies who went on or will go on to the Hall of Fame other than Marino. The bust level players like Peete and Tolliver are all toward the lower end of the improvement level, so for Sanchez the bigger the jump the better.

The average jump in QB rating of these players was about 29%. If Sanchez can accomplish that feat he would be somewhere in the low 80’s, which is going to be considered above average, especially considering where he came from. Sanchez actually posted a higher completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdowns per attempt than that group of players did. Where he faltered was that his interceptions were comparatively very high and he was often careless with the way he handled the football.

If Sanchez does make the jump into this category, and for what the Jets have planned this year this is the jump the team expects, the numbers will probably excite the fan base and give the Jets a good chance at reaching their Super Bowl dream. The Sanchez statline, based on the average improvement of this grouping, would read something like

235 YPG, 60% Comp. %, 21 Tds and 18 INTs.

If Sanchez can make that kind of leap in his second season, the team is finally going to be set for the long haul and finally reach that long term level of success that they have struggled to find over the course of the last 30 years. Keep your fingers crossed.

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