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Mark Sanchez: Comparing Performance- Yards Per Completion
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Mark Sanchez: Comparing Performance- Yards Per Completion

The next stat I want to look at is YPC. One of the major issues everyone had with Sanchez last season was his failure to drive the ball down the field and hit any big plays.  As you can see from his graph below, Sanchez began pretty high against the Houston Texans as a rookie and remained above average or thereabouts for most of his rookie year and then hitting a period of a pretty steady decline over his last 15 games. 

That would seem to indicate that all the complaints about poor decision making and the lack of arm are relatively valid and maybe a big cause for concern.  Lets compare him with the other big name players since 2001 who were saw significant time as rookies.  Please note that these graphs are based on 8 game moving averages to better see trends in play, with period 1 actually being equivalent to the 8th game as a pro.

2009 Draft Class: Matt Stafford and Josh Freeman

With the exception of Sanchez’ really bad period between year 1 and 2, he basically tracks identical with Freeman over the equivalent timeframes. What surprised me the most was Stafford.  When I think of Stafford I see all the yards and think of a guy who really flings the ball all over the field.  He certainly had his share of big bombs to Calvin Johnson, but overall he has not been someone to really push the ball.  I think I forget how easy a schedule Detroit has had the last few seasons and how that can sometimes inflate the numbers as well.  It better explains the very high completion percentage and maybe the fact that Stafford is a smarter QB right now than some of the other younger players were at a similar time. 

2008 Draft Class: Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco

Similar to the Freeman curve, Matt Ryan is almost identical to Sanchez.  Joe Flacco was nearly identical for the first 39 games before spiking up in those last few games.   Ryan has had some big weapons in Atlanta and “Matty Ice” was never looked at as a guy who doesn’t throw the ball down the field.  Some of it is competition based on how the AFC South turned into a track meet with the Saints while the Panthers and Buccaneers had no defenses to speak of.  Still it would look like the start of maybe some type of trend as we make our way through the QB lists. It should be noted that starting shortly after this period that Ryan completely reversed his fortunes to reach his current high which is over 15%.  Flacco maintained that level for a long time as well before falling apart at the end of this season and ending up below average. 

2006 Draft: Vince Young and Jay Cutler

Cutler, who showed off a cannon in Denver, began his decline before the trade to Chicago and then fell apart in Chicago. Again the progression here is very similar to that of Sanchez. He tracks slightly higher but also began higher.  Young’s first 37 games were also similar to those of Sanchez’ before he jumped up in those last 9 games saw a pretty big rise, which came at the end of his Tennessee tenure where he was moving out of favor with the organization.  Cutler did eventually begin to bounce back this season before his injury while Young continues to throw deep whenever he plays. 

2005 Draft: Alex Smith

This is another near identical trend to that of Sanchez.  Smith saw some growth, plummeted down and then ran on a relatively negative slope thereafter.  Tying this into the completion percentage overview the real low numbers for Smith, and also for Young and Ryan above, tied in with those periods of growth in the percentage, which certainly makes sense.  Safer passes lead to less yards and less incompletions.  That didn’t correlate so much with Sanchez.  Smith did over the last season or so seem to settle into that average category. 

2004 Draft: Eli Manning and .Ben Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger I think is different than almost every QB on this list as I go back to that point about being managed.   When people think of managed they often think of Chad Pennington, which isn’t always the case.  In Roethlisberger’s case he didn’t throw the ball often and was instructed to be safe, but he was often given the green light to take shots down the field with the football.  I think it’s a great philosophy that teams don’t utilize.  A team like the Steelers eventually understood that you cant take Jerome Bettis 3 yard carries and a bunch of small passes and score points the way the NFL was changing.  One mistake kills a drive.  Roethlisberger goes into launch mode on rare occasions to catch teams off guard and make those big plays that win a game.  That’s a topic for a different time though.

Manning surprised me.  I always remembered Manning flinging the football around, but this progression is again identical to that of Sanchez.  I think the real difference is that Manning would have 1 or 2 big bombs a game that blur the vision of what is really going on, which was a guy that still wasn’t getting anywhere.  Eli’s big change came late during year 4 where the Giants seemed to try to play more into his strengths let him throw deeper routes as they fought to stay alive for the playoffs.  With the exception of 1 really poor stretch, he’s been tremendous in this category and it completely makes up for the poor accuracy. He and Roethlisberger have proven to be two of the best deeper passers in the league.

2003 Draft: Byron Leftwich and Kyle Boller

Now this is the Kyle Boller I remember and I guess it explains just why he was as accurate as Sanchez at times!  Boller did have one big spike towards the end of trying to stay in the NFL, but quickly sloped downward again and actually finished up around a -13% as he ended his career. Leftwich seemed to fluctuate a bit more than the others but that downward trend was pretty evident towards the end as well

2002 Draft: David Carr and Joey Harrington

Looking at how bad Joey Harrington was really makes you understand how he (and Boller) ended up out of the NFL so quickly and why Harrington is considered one of the biggest busts of all time.  When you have a low completion percentage and your YPC also stinks there is absolutely no upside to the player.  The QB position becomes a complete liability with no reward possible.  David Carr at least showed some potential, similar to Sanchez, which is why he is still backing up in the NFL.  The trend again is pretty apparent for that dropoff in year 3 with the downward trend.  Unlike Manning, Ryan, and the others, Carr bombed out in his final time as a starter.  His coach clearly could not take the low completion percentage.  He finished out at a -21.7% and never saw any chances to throw the ball down the field

Some Final Thoughts

In looking this over the poor YPC from Sanchez looks to be nothing more than a normal progression for a young player.  Almost everyone went through this and many bounced back.  Sanchez started from a pretty high spot, as one of only 7 to begin the career in positive territory, so there is something at least there.  Now I do think Sanchez works harder for his YPC than some others, which shows in the percentage category, in that he isn’t taking enough dumpoffs and doesn’t throw the ball down the field anymore, both either by design, his own ineptitude or a combination of both, and it leaves the fan watching at home nothing to be excited about.  Again it is about the Jets finding a steady balance in the play selection for him.  Last year he ranked close to last in percentage of attempts thrown around the line of scrimmage (Mike Vick had the most) and in the bottom third in big play chances (Tebow had the most).  It is hard for a QB who struggles with his accuracy to not be in one of those two extremes.  You either have to sacrifice big yards for completions or sacrifice those small completions for big yards.  The Jets did neither which is a big reason why they struggled. 

Matt Moore ranked second to Tebow in the big play passes category and just a bit above Sanchez in the small play passes (Tebow rankes 2 spots below Sanchez), which might give some insight into what Tony Sparano wants.  When Sparano was introduced as a new OC he specifically mentioned that he likes to throw the ball down the field and those numbers seem to back that up.  It’s a conservative gameplan in terms of run/pass selection, but the instruction of what to do with the ball is closer to that of the Roethlisberger plan than the Pennington style we were used to in New York.  Whether they will use Sanchez or Tebow in that role is the question as Tebow’s mix last year fits in far better than Sanchez’.  

But for those of us writing Sanchez off because he wasn’t gaining enough yards on his throws last season it seems like a pretty pointless argument.  Almost everybody went through it and the successful ones seemed to fight through it and bounce somewhat back late in year 4. But one of the dangers for Sanchez’ career is the perception that he can’t pick up big yards. Going back to Carr I think it’s a surprise that he never got another chance, but the way they killed him on the way out in Houston and then scapegoated him pretty much ended all hopes of starting.  That is something that could eventually hurt Sanchez if he struggles early this season and the Jets bail on him.

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