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Mark Sanchez's Future: What Makes a Late Bloomer Quarterback?


Given the disappointing trajectory of Mark Sanchez's career, it's only natural to seek solace in the idea that some quarterbacks are late bloomers. In the past decade I think there are three major quarterbacks to whom people point as late bloomers. Their careers started off anywhere from uneven to just plain terrible. Two of them are now Super Bowl champions. I am talking about Drew Brees, Eli Manning, and Alex Smith. Over the past two years, I have heard comparisons made to Mark Sanchez from these guys. I have also at times pointed to all three of them as signs of potential hope for Sanchez.

How much hope is there? I decided to take a look at their respective careers to see whether they had anything in common. I found one very striking similarity Brees, Manning, and Smith all displayed.

Player Completion percentage before age 25 Completion percentage in age 25-26 seasons Improvement
Drew Brees 59.4% 65.0% 5.6%
Eli Manning 51.6% 56.9% 5.3%
Alex Smith 54.4% 60.1% 5.7%

It all started to come together for these guys in their age 25 and 26 seasons. All three showed great improvement in their accuracy. Three guys all improved their completion percentages within 0.4% of each other at the same point in their lives.

This is particularly notable for Smith. As much credit as Jim Harbaugh gets for his development, Smith's 25 and 26 year old seasons were the two years before Harbaugh took over the 49ers. He was on a clear upward trajectory even before Harbaugh was coaching him.

I don't know how significant three players are. I hesitate to expand this list and go back further because the NFL as we know it with the rules favoring the passing game and limit what cornerbacks can do have been around for roughly a decade. It does provide for a hypothesis, though. Some players are slow learners, but things might need to click developmentally by age 25 and 26 if it is ever going to happen.

These three also got even better after turning 27.

Player Completion percentage at 27 and older Improvement from before 25 Improvement from 25-26
Drew Brees 67.1% 7.7% 2.1%
Eli Manning 61.3% 9.7% 4.4%
Alex Smith 64.3% 9.9% 4.2%

When it clicked, it clicked at the ages of 25 and 26. These guys then built on their success and got even better.

Mark Sanchez just completed his 26 year old season. How does he rate on this scale?

Player Completion percentage before age 25 Completion percentage in age 25-26 seasons Improvement
Mark Sanchez 54.4% 55.6% 1.2%

Our late bloomers improved between 5.3% and 5.7%. Sanchez's improvement was a scant 1.2% at the same ages.

You can decide whether three people make a notable trend, but this does kind of shoot a hole into the comparisons made between Sanchez and each of these guys. Developmentally, it does seem like things would have started to click for him by now even if he was a late bloomer.

Not that things were looking great for Sanchez, but these numbers do make his long odds look a bit worse.