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Comparing Mark Sanchez's Rookie Year to Geno Smith

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Although Geno Smith's rookie year is not over, I think it is worth comparing his rookie season, thus far, to Mark Sanchez's rookie year in 2009. In that season, the New York Jets went 9-7 and made a surprising run to the AFC Championship. First, let's note a few differences between the current team and the 2009 Jets as a whole:


Points Yards Pass Yards Rush Yards Points Yards Pass Yards Rush Yards
2009 21.8 (17th) 321.0 (20th) 148.8 (31st) 172.3 (1st) 14.8 (1st) 252.3 (1st) 153.7 (1st) 98.6 (8th)
2013 18.3 (31st) 324.8 (20th) 195.3 (29th) 129.5 (8th) 26.8 (27th) 324.0 (8th) 250.8 (23rd) 73.2 (1st)

Here are the fundamental differences: in 2009, the Jets had the best rushing attack in the league led by a phenomenal offensive line and excellent running backs, and had unquestionably the best defense in the league. So far in 2013, the Jets are closer to the middle of the pack in nearly every category. As you will see, they have relied far more heavily on the passing attack than the 2009 Jets. That gives you some context for the environments in which Sanchez and Smith have operated. All remaining stats, unless otherwise indicated, will be only looking at each of the quarterback's first ten starts.

Passing Rushing
Mark Sanchez 138 255 1,791 51.97 6.82 53 10 16 69.3 25 56 2.2 14 3
Geno Smith 166 295 2,100 56.30 7.12 69 8 16 65.1 37 172 4.6 16 3

At this point, the 2009 Jets were 4-6 and the 2013 Jets are 5-5. At the same time, the 2013 Jets have, on the whole, been relying more on Smith's arm than that of Sanchez. If you recall, Sanchez was kept on a short leash and the team relied more heavily on a dominant rushing attack. In fact, after Game 11 against the Carolina Panthers, the Jets instituted the now infamous color-coded wristband to reign in Sanchez and limit his mistakes. Besides his arm, Smith's legs have offered a far superior weapon than Sanchez's, as he has accumulated three times as many yards on just twelve more attempts. In nearly every category, Smith is statistically superior to Sanchez.

Game Logs

The next two charts show the game logs of Sanchez and Smith for the first ten games. The last column represents the rushing yards of the team, not just the quarterback, and the second to last column is the corresponding quarterback's overall ProFootballFocus grade.

Houston Texans (W 24-7) 18 31 272 58.1 1 1 84.3 -3.6 190
New England Patriots (W 16-9) 14 22 163 63.6 1 0 101.1 1.0 117
Tennessee Titans (W 24-17) 17 30 171 56.7 2 1 81.4 -0.9 83
New Orleans Saints (L 10-24) 14 27 138 51.9 0 3 27.0 -4.6 132
Miami Dolphins (L 27-31) 12 24 172 50.0 1 0 87.5 -0.4 138
Buffalo Bills (L 13-16) 10 29 119 34.5 0 5 8.3 -6.3 318
Oakland Raiders (W 38-0) 9 16 143 56.3 1 0 107.0 -2.9 316
Miami Dolphins (L 25-30) 20 35 265 57.1 2 0 100.3 -1.0 127
Jacksonville Jaguars (L 22-24) 16 30 212 53.3 1 2 59.3 0.8 110
New England Patriots (L 14-31) 8 21 136 38.1 1 4 37.1 -4.5 104

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (W 18-17) 24 38 256 63.2 1 1 80.6 -0.8 90
New England Patriots (L 10-13) 15 35 214 42.9 0 3 27.6 -1.6 129
Buffalo Bills (W 27-20) 16 29 331 55.2 2 2 89.9 3.6 182
Tennessee Titans (L 13-38) 23 34 289 67.6 1 2 79.2 -4.3 91
Atlanta Falcons (W 30-28) 16 20 199 80.0 3 0 147.2 1.5 118
Pittsburgh Steelers (L 6-19) 19 34 201 55.9 0 2 48.8 -3.5 83
New England Patriots (W 30-27) 17 33 233 51.5 1 1 71.9 -0.2 177
Cincinnati Bengals (L 9-49) 20 30 159 66.7 0 2 51.9 -6.2 93
New Orleans Saints (W 26-20) 8 19 115 42.1 0 0 62.4 -3.6 198
Buffalo Bills (L 14-37) 8 23 103 34.8 0 3 10.1 -8.2 134

There are a few things to point out here. Smith has thrown more than 200 yards five times and had 30+ attempts six times, Sanchez had thrown more than 200 yards three times and had 30+ attempts four times. While the 2009 Jets only ran for less than 100 yards once, the 2013 Jets did not reach that marker four times.

In the first ten games, Smith has attempted 43 passes of 20+ yards, and has completed 20 of them as the third most accurate quarterback in the league (for deep passes). In contrast, Sanchez attempted 44 passes of 20+ yards during his entire rookie season and completed just 13 of them, making him the 13th most accurate quarterback in the league.

Supporting Cast

Sanchez started his career throwing to the likes of Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, David Clowney, Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith, and Wallace Wright. His tight ends included Dustin Keller, Ben Hartsock, and Matthew Mulligan. His running backs were Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Shonn Greene, and Danny Woodhead, with Tony Richardson as a lead blocker. Sanchez's offensive line was D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore, and Damien Woody.

Smith has been throwing to Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, Santonio Holmes, David Nelson, Clyde Gates, Greg Salas, Ben Obomanu, Michael Campbell, Ryan Spadola, and Josh Cribbs. His tight ends include Jeff Cumberland, Kellen Winslow, Zach Sudfeld, and Konrad Reuland. His running backs include Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Mike Goodson, and Alex Green, with Tommy Bohanon as a lead blocker. Smith's offensive line is D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Brian Winters/Vlad Ducasse, Nick Mangold, Willie Colon, and Austin Howard.

While neither quarterback really had an exceptional receiving corps., it's worth mentioning how injured Smith's have been. Hill, Kerley, Holmes, Cumberland, Winslow, Ivory, and Goodson have all been injured at one point or another.

Whereas Sanchez's offensive line earned an average ProFootballFocus overall grade of 25.34, Smith's offensive line has averaged a grade of -5.48. Although many question PFF's grading system, it gives a good comparison in this case to show the stark difference. Of note, Smith has been "under pressure" 147 times in 347 total drop backs over ten games. In his entire rookie season, Sanchez was only "under pressure" for 96 snaps out of 406 total drop backs.


Simply put, Smith is putting up better statistics and performances with a worse supporting cast. While Sanchez was asked to do very little and still put up awful numbers, Smith has been asked to do considerably more and he has put up far better numbers, along with a better record. Sanchez was carried by the best rushing attack in the league, while Smith has all too often been asked to put the team on his back.

Yet, almost every Jets fan was far more patient with Sanchez than they are currently being with Smith. If Sanchez was given four years, with many arguing for another year after no signs of improvement, why does it seem like so many are calling for Smith's head after just ten games? I think quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson have spoiled football fans, just like Darrelle Revis spoiled the Jets as to quality cornerback play. Fans now expect immediate results when most quarterbacks simply aren't ready on arrival. Among current starting quarterbacks, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Alex Smith all improved tremendously from their first year in the league to where they currently are, and most have far superior wide receivers. They didn't start as rock stars, which is what many people seem to expect now-a-days.

Here's my not-so-bold prediction: if Geno Smith has a good week against the Baltimore Ravens, the comment section will be filled with people praising him as the future. Then if he has another bad week, they'll be ready to start Matt Simms.

Here's the honest truth: We haven't seen enough to know what Smith will be in his career. I am not saying Smith is a guaranteed star or that he won't be a bust, but the fact is, he's being asked to do a lot with very little, and ten games is simply not enough to evaluate him.