Friday, April 10, 2009

NFL Draft Junkie: Sanchez over Stafford

mark20sanchez I have another few confessions to make ( Dave Grohl – Eat your heart out).

I confess that Rudy Jaramillo may, in fact, be pretty good at his job.

I confess that Terrell Owens was surely not the ONLY reason that the Cowboys tanked this year.

And, I confess that on this day, April 10, 2009, I am willing to declare that Mark Sanchez will be a better pro than Matthew Stafford.

Before you try to storm the castle with your torches, calm down.

15 Days to go until the Detroit Lions make Matt Stafford their pick, and I think they will be pretty pleased.

I really think Stafford is a great kid with a huge arm. And, truth be told, I like his chances to be decent.

But, I think Sanchez will be better.

The gripes against Mark Sanchez are mostly based on his 16 college starts. In most cases, I totally understand the concerns about that, but going 14-2 at USC is still pretty fair. His two losses were at Oregon and at Oregon State. Those are traditionally tough places for anyone to get wins. In fact, the last time USC got a win in the state of Oregon, it was 2005 – a season in which they were perfect until Texas and Vince Young got a hold of them.

I would of course prefer that he had the same amount of starts that Stafford had (34), and I also wish he had the arm Stafford has. But, overall, I think his arm is plenty strong. ESPN’s scouts broke it down like this on the accuracy of Sanchez:
Sanchez's deep ball tends to float on occasion and Stafford makes harder throws (deep outs, comebacks, etc.) more accurately. But Sanchez is more consistently accurate in the short-to-intermediate zones particularly between the numbers. He displays very good touch. Gets the ball out quickly and throws a 'catchable' ball on quick-hitters. Knows how to drop the ball in between linebackers and safeties. Rarely misses an open target.

And then on the arm strength:
Arm strength is adequate but not great. He can make all the necessary throws in the NFL but he needs to be good with his timing on certain throws vertically and outside the numbers. Gets good zip on intermediate throws, especially over the middle. But can't drive it vertically like Stafford and his deep outs take a bit too long to arrive.

When you look at this following video of ALL of Sanchez’s passing plays (not highlights, but every pass play) in the Rose Bowl against Penn State, I think you will see he can make those NFL throws pretty well:

What I particularly like is his ability to throw on the move and buy time in the pocket. He seems to be a fine athlete where it counts for a QB. He really loves rolling to his right.

Here is Stafford and ALL of his pass plays against Georgia Tech for equal time:

Man, what a cannon. I was not crazy about the back-foot interception, but I think the 5 Touchdowns will forgive that.

I like Sanchez more than Stafford because of the eye-ball test, too. I must tell you that I perhaps picked the wrong games to watch Stafford this year, but his performance against Alabama and Florida, the two games I was locked in to his work left me wanting more. Much more. In fact, I thought of Jeff George a few times – cannon arm and a loss. I agree that he is good. But, I feel Sanchez might be safer. Good and at worst, still fine. Stafford could be somewhere between awesome and Jeff George.

But, I think the biggest reason I like Sanchez over Stafford is just good old fashioned decision making. When I watched them both play the position at an extremely high college level, I felt comfortable more often with the decisions that Sanchez would make when the blitz was on or during a crucial drive. Again, this is not a route, but by a small margin, advantage Sanchez.

One particular study I really enjoyed a few years ago discussed the two stats that are quite applicable from the college stat sheet as we project ahead to the pro game. According to David Lewin of Football they are:
My research of highly drafted quarterbacks since 1996 found that two college statistics adequately predict future NFL performance: games started and completion percentage. In fact, where a quarterback is selected in the draft has virtually no bearing on his NFL success. Games started and completion percentage are far better than the scouts at determining how good a player will be.

Over the past 12 years, teams have repeatedly drafted players who haven't shown the ability to consistently complete passes at the college level, and these players have consistently failed. For some reason, scouts expected players such as Kyle Boller (48 percent), Jim Druckenmiller (54 percent) and Ryan Leaf (54 percent) to suddenly figure out how to complete passes once they hit the NFL. Having a high completion percentage (60 percent or higher) is no guarantee of success, especially if it was done in a small number of games in a fluky system (Tim Couch being a strong example), but it is a prerequisite for it.

As to why games started should be an indicator of NFL success, there is a fairly obvious explanation -- good players start games. No one knows a player better than his coach, and if a coach decides he's good enough to start as a freshman, that's a good sign. Playing time also provides experience, which is crucial to the development of a young quarterback.

However, there is a more complex reason why games started is an important indicator. In general, NFL scouts do an excellent job of talent evaluation when they have enough information. The more film that exists of a player, the easier it is to find weaknesses. When scouts don't get sufficient information, they place too much weight on "measurables" and off-field workouts, and make mistakes like Couch, Leaf or Akili Smith.

Sometimes, when a player starts a lot of games, scouts have enough film to figure out that he is truly a "system quarterback," and not an NFL prospect. That's why Kliff Kingsbury and Chris Leak were not drafted high despite strong college numbers. Because of the assumption that scouts can do their job with the right information, these projections apply only to quarterbacks chosen in the first two rounds.

We have already studied the number of starts – 16 for Sanchez and 34 for Stafford. The other stat is completion percentage and here the stats show: 64% for Sanchez and 57% for Stafford. However, I wonder if I can trust that comparison simply because Stafford threw 987 passes, Sanchez 487. And Stafford did it in the SEC – much of it from his freshman year, and Sanchez watched JD Booty mostly until his junior year when he finally took the job.

Speaking of Booty…and Matt Leinart…and Carson Palmer…and Matt Cassel, perhaps we should consider the NFL preparation of playing at USC, while running a pro-style offense, and while practicing in that environment where the NFL seems to be priority #1 for Pete Carroll and his troops. With all due respect to DJ Shockley and David Greene – I am not sure I trust Georgia as being a QB pipeline (since Fran Tarkenton, anyway). Not saying it matters too much what college you went to, but in the case of Sanchez, it appears the 4 QB's before him are all in the NFL and a few of them are doing pretty well.

I think when it is all said and done, they will both go in the top 10 of the draft. Then we can have our debates on whether this is Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in 1996 or Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer in 1993 when there was one clear great QB and one spare. Or, maybe it will be the year (2004) when Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all went in the Top 11 and all became franchise QB’s.

I like our local hero, Matthew Stafford. But, my eyeballs tell me that if I was on the clock, and I needed a QB – then give me Mark Sanchez.

Of course, you may recall that I also thought Emeka Okafor was the right pick over Dwight Howard. So, perhaps, forget about this whole rant. This is certainly no exact science.

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