This week's New York Jets mailbag focuses on a couple of first-round quarterbacks, past and present:
I went back and read the post-draft reviews of Sanchez, and they were almost identical to those of Darnold. What exactly separates these players? High ceiling, limited experience, had some "it" qualities, and cool demeanor. Asking for a friend. #jetsmail— Daniel Shelton (@dtshelt) May 18, 2018
@RichCimini: This is a fair question, Daniel, because as I noted in a story on Day 2 of the draft, the Sam Darnold-Mark Sanchez comparisons run deep. One thing I forgot to mention in that story: Their signature wins at USC both came against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Talk about eerie.
So what separates them? Maybe nothing; it's too early to say Darnold will be better than Sanchez, the Jets' first-round pick in 2009. There are so many factors that have an impact on a quarterback's career, some of which are out of his control. For now, though, we can point to a few things that might lead to separation.
Despite his relative lack of experience, Darnold actually played more in college than Sanchez, who arrived with only 16 starts and 487 pass attempts on his resume. Darnold had 24 starts and 846 attempts.
Both players were turnover-prone in college, but a closer examination shows that Sanchez (one interception every 30.4 attempts) struggled with it more than Darnold (38.5). Sanchez never fixed that problem at the NFL level.
We also can look to some intangible reasons. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, responding to a question about the so-called USC quarterback curse, said recently that former college stars Sanchez and Matt Leinart "were overrated because they had so much around them. That’s when USC was rolling. Some of the best rosters in the history of college football were when those guys were there."
McShay doesn't believe that applies to Darnold, who lost wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and three offensive linemen to the NFL after the 2016 season. Darnold played with a weaker supporting cast in 2017, although I must say Ronald Jones was a heck of a running back for the Trojans.
From personal observation, I believe Darnold is a more instinctive player than Sanchez. I watched almost every USC game last fall, start to finish. When a play went off script, which happened more often than not, Darnold showed the ability to make something positive. That was always an issue with Sanchez, in my opinion.
That said, Sanchez showed promise early in his career, but the organization sabotaged him by changing offensive coordinators, surrounding him with head-case receivers such as Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress and later trading for Tim Tebow. (I still can't figure out the Tebow move.) If Sanchez had a chance to develop into the long-term answer, it was ruined by the organization's lack of support. Any shot at redemption was killed in 2013, when he got thrown into the fourth quarter of a preseason game and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
That was a couple of regimes ago, but maybe Todd Bowles & Co. can learn a lesson from past mistakes. If you have a young talent at quarterback, do everything you can to nurture him. If Darnold has a chance to develop in a stable environment, he will stick around a lot longer than Sanchez did.