In 2009, the New York Jets fell in love with quarterback Mark Sanchez, a one-year wonder in college whom they drafted with the fifth pick after trading up. He delivered a few moments of promise, but eventually faded to mediocrity. Now he's playing for his fifth team, having gone from franchise savior to journeyman backup.
As another draft approaches, the Jets find themselves in the same situation. They're showing significant interest in Mitchell Trubisky, whose experience, statistics, height, weight and athletic measurables are eerily similar to those of Sanchez. Most notably, Trubisky started only 13 games at North Carolina, which will be the fewest by a first-round quarterback since -- wait for it -- Sanchez's 16 at USC.
And now I will explain why the challenge of developing Trubisky would be harder than it was with Sanchez.
Unlike the '09 Jets, the current team is ill-equipped to handle the inevitable growing pains of a greener-than-usual rookie quarterback. If Trubisky were the Week 1 starter, he'd struggle big-time behind a rebuilt offensive line and a supporting cast that lacks legitimate weapons.
There's no substitute for experience, but there's also risk in throwing an ill-prepared rookie into an adverse situation. The most glaring example occurred in 2002, when the expansion Houston Texans put No. 1 overall pick David Carr behind a patchwork line and ruined him with 76 sacks. That's not to say the Jets have expansion-level talent, but it wouldn't be the ideal environment to nurture a young talent. The way they're constructed, they're not fit for a rookie quarterback.
Back then, Sanchez walked into the ideal situation.
The Jets owned the league's top rushing attack and the best defense and surrounded Sanchez with a veteran lineup filled with pro's pros -- Tony Richardson, Alan Faneca, Thomas Jones, Damien Woody and Jerricho Cotchery, to name a few. Essentially, they were babysitters, making sure their kid quarterback didn't get in the way.
Sanchez tested their patience with 20 interceptions, but the Jets overcame his mistakes and reached the AFC Championship Game. Coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer never got enough credit for coaching around Sanchez, nearly making the Super Bowl with a turnover-prone rookie.
The 2017 Jets are in a different place -- a far different place -- than their '09 ancestors. Any rookie, whether it's Trubisky or the well-seasoned Deshaun Watson (35 starts), would have a hard time leading this outfit. They could try the "redshirt" approach, as they did with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, but what kind of message does it send if you pick a quarterback sixth overall and sit him on the bench with the other projects?
It would put them between a rookie and a hard place, almost a Catch-22.
Arizona Cardinals coach and noted quarterback guru Bruce Arians, speaking at last week's owners' meetings, called Trubisky "a really talented player. The growth potential is obviously there. The question is why wasn’t all that talent starting for the last three years? That's always bugging me."
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay echoed that sentiment, saying Trubisky's lack of experience is "scary." But he also praised his physical skill, especially his pocket presence and accuracy.
If the Jets draft Trubisky, it would be deja Sanchez, minus the supporting cast. They project mirror images.
Trubisky is 6-foot-2, 222 pounds; Sanchez's scouting-combine numbers were 6-foot-2, 225 pounds.
They posted the same broad jump (116 inches), almost the same time in the shuttle (Sanchez 4.21 seconds, Trubisky 4.25) and a similar three-cone time (Trubisky 6.87, Sanchez 7.06). Trubisky won the 40-yard dash (4.67 to 4.88), but Sanchez jumped higher (32.5 inches to 27.5 inches).
On the field, Sanchez threw 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in college, while Trubisky went 41 and 10.
Get the picture?