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Let the Debate Begin

The Jets will have a major decision in the next few months, how quickly to bring Mark Sanchez along. Some first round quarterbacks start from day one. Some enter the starting lineup after their rookie season has begun. Others sit their entire first season. The biggest factor in deciding the starter in Houston will be how quickly Sanchez picks up the system and the pro game. If all things are equal, the Jets will hand him the keys right away and get the new face of the franchise onto the field as quickly as possible. While we are still months away from having the information to make an informed decision, this is the current tale of the tape.

Reasons to start Kellen Clemens:

The Jets owe it to themselves to at least find out what Clemens can do. They drafted him three years ago with the intention of making him the franchise quarterback and never gave him a shot. While Sanchez will be the starter by 2010 in any likely scenario, it is worth trying to see whether Kellen has any value. If he plays well, the team can apply the franchise tag and deal him for a high Draft pick after the season.

By itself, this is not much of a reason, but there are other related rationales for making Clemens the Week 1 starter. He probably gives the Jets the best chance to win. He has studied the NFL game for three years. He has eight games under his belt against the speed of NFL defenses. He has spent three years studying Brian Schottenheimer's offense. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco succeeded as rookies, but they are exceptions that prove the rule rookies do not win in the NFL. Most go through growing pains if asked to start right away. The lifestyle, preparation, and competition are major adjustments from college. Asking a player to make all of these transitions and to play the most important position on the field is in many instances too much. Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers, and Phillip Rivers benefitted from sitting and observing the NFL game for long stretches early in their careers.

The expectations on Sanchez are unfair. He is supposed to be the savior of the franchise. Many are expecting too much too soon. Jets fans are very demanding. They have anointed Mark as the messiah, but they will turn on him quickly if he does not produce right off the bat. Look at the way the fan base turned on other anointed favorites from Brett Favre to Kellen Clemens to Eric Mangini to Chad Pennington. Throwing him into the fire would put enormous pressure on him. He might not be ready to handle it. The number of starts a player makes in college has been a good indicator of success as an NFL quarterback. It makes sense. College is the equivalent of baseball's minor leagues. Guys with more game experience have had more time to develop and refine their games. Throwing Sanchez in with sky high expectations while he is still this green is a recipe for disaster.

Reasons to start Mark Sanchez:

Yes, there would be high expectations, but that comes with the territory. Sanchez was a top five pick. He has embraced the challenge of becoming a franchise quarterback. Being a great player is all about overcoming challenges. If he is as good as he is supposed to be, he will be productive.

This is not the typical situation. Many of the factors are in place that helped Flacco find success. Sanchez will not have to carry the load. The Jets will lean on their defense like the Ravens did. There is a lot of defensive talent on the roster and a coach who gets the most out of his players. Sanchez will also have an excellent running game like Flacco did. The Jets have a big offensive line, the best fullback in football, and a terrific three headed monster at running back. The eight man fronts he will see will make life relatively easy on Sanchez.

Both seem like pretty compelling arguments. For the moment, I am inclined to think the Clemens argument is stronger, but I reserve the right to change my mind based on what Sanchez shows in camp and the preseason.

Where do you stand?