There's an old saying in NFL front offices that you can't truly judge a draft until two or three years down the road.
Makes plenty of sense because some guys flash early and then disappear. Other guys take a while to bloom.
But now that the statute of limitations on the 2009 draft has expired, let's go ahead and start the judging. That draft featured three quarterbacks in the first round -- Matthew Stafford at No. 1 overall to Detroit, Mark Sanchez at No. 5 to the New York Jets and Josh Freeman at No. 17 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sanchez flashed quickly, starting right away and taking the Jets to the AFC Championship Game, but a quarter of the way into his third season, one thing has become very clear.
The Jets are off to a 2-2 start and Sanchez has put up anemic numbers (six touchdowns, five interceptions and 1,005 passing yards).
“He's holding that team back now," said Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson, who previously worked in Cleveland's front office. “People say I'm a Sanchez hater now. But the funny thing is, I liked him the best of the three before that draft because I thought he had 'it.' When he went to the Jets, I stopped liking him so much because I don't think he has the physical ability to play in the kind of weather you get in New York."
But Sanchez had to be doing something right to get to those two AFC Championship Games, didn't he?
“Sanchez fell into a situation where he came to a team that had a good running game and good receivers," Softli said. “He just had to manage a game, and now things seem to have changed. I don't think he's a guy that can win on his own and win big. Can he develop into that? Probably yes. But he's not there yet."
Funny, but Stafford and Freeman, who started much more slowly, have soared right past Sanchez. Freeman, who showed lots of promise in a 2010 season that was his first as the full-time starter, has the Bucs sitting at 3-1 and tied with the New Orleans Saints for first place in the NFC South. Stafford, who dealt with injuries in his first two seasons, is healthy and that's a major reason the Lions are 4-0 for the first time since 1980.
So who's the best quarterback from the Class of 2009?
“You're splitting hairs on that one because they're both the kind of guys you want to build a franchise around," Williamson said. “There are probably six elite quarterbacks in the league right now and Stafford and Freeman can get there. I'd take them over guys like Michael Vick, Tony Romo and Eli Manning. I love them both, but I'd say Stafford right now. Stafford might throw the ball better than anyone in the league other than Aaron Rodgers. He's got velocity, he's on target and he can do it with people all over him. I take him because he's a little more pin-point than Freeman."
Softli's high on Stafford as well, but said he thinks Freeman is the best of the Class of 2009.
“Josh has freakish size and athletic ability," Softli said. “But, in the 15 years, I said in interviews and meetings with quarterback prospects, Sam Bradford was the smartest guy I ever saw and Josh was a very close second. I mean, Matt Ryan, Tim Tebow and Joe Flacco are in my top five in that department, but Josh and Sam were clearly above them. So much of playing quarterback is about intelligence. That's why I'm going with Freeman. He's got more fourth-quarter comebacks. He's also a runner, a great leader and he's remained healthy throughout. His will to win is absolutely exceptional."
Sounds like we might have to bend that rule of thumb a bit and give Stafford and Freeman a little more time to sort things out before claiming a winner from the Class of 2009.