In 2012, Mark Sanchez had one of the worst seasons of any quarterback in the NFL as the Jets stumbled to a 6-10 record. Things needed to change, and they did. Some of that was front office stuff: Mike Tannenbaum was gone as GM, replaced by John Idzik. And Tony Sparano, the offensive coordinator whose gameplans left the Jets in an offensive mire, was replaced by Marty Morninwheg.
But there were also personnel decisions at the quarterback spot. The team added David Garrard in free agency, and then intrigued many by drafting top quarterback prospect Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. After that, Idzik said the team would have an open QB competition, with Smith proclaiming himself ready to compete for the Jets' starting gig.
With everybody's favorite backup-quarterback-slash-punt-protector out of the picture, there are five quarterbacks on the Jets' roster. We took an in-depth look at each, all the while cursing the gods that caused me to be born a Jets supporter.
The Jets' incumbent, few quarterbacks have received more criticism than Sanchez. Once the Sanchize after back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship game - seemingly mitigated by his inconsistent play rather than bolstered by it - Sanchez was a shell of the former No. 5 pick in 2012. He threw 13 touchdowns against 18 interceptions, fumbling the ball a career high nine times, completing just 54.3 percent of his passes. By any and all measures, Sanchez was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league in 2012, his play itself certainly not indicative of the ability to retain a starting spot.
However, the team is highly unlikely to cut him for financial reasons. The 26-year-old is owed $8.75 million this upcoming season, part of a contract that runs through 2016, an absolute albatross of a deal. The most recent news is that the team expects to keep him at least through preseason.
As long as Sanchez is cashing paychecks from the Jets, he'll be expected to at least compete for the starting job. The team has made too large of a financial commitment to him to receive absolutely nothing in football returns. But his 2012 salary won't guarantee a starting spot, especially since his awful 2012 season did not appear to be an outlier. We're now four years into Mark Sanchez' NFL career, and there doesn't appear to be a trend of upwards growth - in fact, he was worse this past season than he was as a rookie. That's not good, and although he'll be in the position battle at QB, he won't win it if he proves as incompetent as he was this past season.
Almost everybody expected Smith to be the top quarterback off the board in the 2013 NFL Draft - everybody except the Buffalo Bills, of course, who drafted E.J. Manuel in the first round. Thus, Smith fell, eventually dropping into the Jets' lap at No. 39.
There's good reason for that praise. When Smith was on his game, there was nobody in college football better than him in 2012. At West Virginia, Smith was the center of the Air Raid offense installed by Dana Holgersen, with the goal of quickly spreading the ball to speedsters from sideline to sideline - and the threat of the deep ball ever present. He threw for 4,205 yards his senior season, with 42 touchdowns and only six interceptions, completing 71.2 percent of passes. He was the perfect guy for it, too, as West Virginia blog The Smoking Musket wrote:
Geno Smith throws a beautiful deep ball and has adequate arm strength to make all the throws in the NFL. He has above average mobility, but runs to extend the play until someone comes open. He has above average speed for an NFL quarterback and showed the ability to extend drives with his feet when needed. He generally shows great poise under pressure and doesn’t give up on a play or the game until it’s over.
Although Smith's Mountaineers scored nearly 40 points a game, a pitiful defense allowed the team to finish 7-6. Smith's performances also had a few red flags: in a system based on making quick passes, many have doubted his decision-making ability if his first read isn't open. And although there were the 600-yard, eight-touchdown games, they were sprinkled in with outings like a 143-yard, two-interception day against Kansas State as his team got wrecked 55-14.
Second-round quarterbacks have a mixed success rate. Obviously there are superstars like Drew Brees and Brett Favre, and Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick turned 2011 second-round selections into NFL starting gigs, but there's also been failures - John Beck, Jimmy Clausen, Brian Brohm, the Jets' own Kellen Clemens, and a guy who preceded Smith at West Virginia in Pat White. With the exception of Brees and Favre, the ceiling for second-round quarterbacks looks to be a few years as a starter, with a decent amount of busts.
Can Smith push Sanchez for the starting spot? It seems likely. Smith's senior season at West Virginia blows anything Sanchez has ever accomplished out of the water, but if you compare their junior seasons - Sanchez' only year as a full-time starter at USC - they're close:
Smith, 2011: 346-526 (65.8 percent), 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns, seven interceptions
Sanchez, 2008: 241-366 (65.8 percent), 3,207 yards, 34 touchdowns, ten interceptions
Smith obviously threw a lot more, but the efficiency is similar. Smith will certainly be allowed to compete for the spot, and could edge out Sanchez - there certainly appears to be more upside with the rookie than the stagnating Sanchez.
It's tough to say what Garrard can bring to the Jets, as he hasn't played in an NFL game since 2010. He sat out 2011 after getting surgery on a herniated disk, and was cut by the Dolphins last season when arthroscopic knee surgery ended a battle between Garrard and rookie Ryan Tannehill for the team's starting spot - a battle Garrard appeared to be winning.
Just 6'1 and brutally slow, the East Carolina product has enough of an arm to make him a successful NFL Qb. He was generally suitable in five seasons as Jacksonville's primary starting quarterback - especially in an 18-touchdown, three-interception 2007 season when his squad went 11-5 - but that was a while ago. SB Nation's James Brady broke down whether or not Garrard could win the spot shortly before he signed with the Jets, but it was probably said best by John Butchko at Gang Green Nation:
I think it probably says it all that a 35 year old who has not played in a game since 2010 is one of the best free agent options for the Jets. That is where we are, however. If he is anything close to the player he used to be, Garrard should be able to beat out Mark Sanchez for the starting job and be able to avoid that catastrophic turnover that has doomed the Jets so frequently the last few years.
The question is whether he can play after building up rust and cobwebs on his arm for the past two years. The good news is that neither of his two surgeries dealt with his arm, but the bad news is that he's a 35-year-old who has had season-ending surgery in two straight years. If healthy and in rhythm, his past NFL stats seem to indicate that he's probably the best quarterback of the three, although he's the one with less of a future than any of the others.
McElroy went undefeated as a starter in high school in Texas, then undefeated his first year as a starter at Alabama. But the winning stopped his senior year - the Crimson Tide went 10-3 - and he was only a seventh-round pick in 2011.
With the Jets, he's seen time in two games, both times bypassing Tebow on the depth chart. His first outing was in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals, with Sanchez completely ineffective and the team trailing 3-0 late in the third quarter. He'd methodically drive the team down the field and eventually toss a one-yard touchdown to Jeff Cumberland, good enough for a 7-6 victory. A few weeks later, he'd replace Sanchez as the starter after the Jets had been eliminated from the playoffs, and that didn't go as well: he would be sacked 11 times and suffered a concussion that prevented him from playing in the season finale.
McElroy's flaws are obvious: he doesn't have much of a throwing arm, and although a piecemeal offensive line can take some of the blame for his 11 sacks, it was clear McElroy didn't feel comfortable making many of the passes the Jets wanted him to make, leading to him holding the ball and getting dropped. McElroy likely won't make the roster with three bigger names ahead of him. In a poll at Gang Green Nation, 54 percent of voters expressed indifference about McElroy's future, with Butchko suggesting a future in coaching for a player whose intelligence has been praised. He seems unlikely to dramatically grow as a player, so perhaps he'll head to another team searching for a backup.
Simms, son of Phil, brother of Chris, was cut by the Jets last fall before the end of training camp and signed again after the season. Barring a major transformation since last August, the Tennessee product shouldn't be expected to compete for a roster spot this time around with more quarterback candidates on the team's roster.
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