The New York Jets drafted Geno Smith with the 39th pick Friday night and that sound you heard was the sharpening of knives as media types prepare to dine on what remains of Mark Sanchez. Then they'll turn to Geno Smith.
Sanchez never really had a chance. He started so high, there was nowhere to go but down. The Jets traded up and took Sanchez with the fifth spot in the 2009 draft. He and fellow rookie Rex Ryan took what was already a fairly loaded team on a playoff run that ended in a loss to the Colts in the AFC championship game. A remarkable feat for a rookie quarterback—no matter how poised.
But there were problems. Problems an infatuated media overlooked in order to paint a picture, and he would pay dearly for this. Turns out Sanchez wasn't poised, he was fortunate. And it pissed everyone off.
Following the 2010 season, the Jets again made it to the AFC championship game. This time, they were dominated in the first half by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the deciding blow came when Sanchez was hit by Ike Taylor late in the second quarter, lost the ball and gave up a defensive touchdown, portending a dark future. The Jets mounted a comeback in the second quarter but it was not enough.
The following years, the team deteriorated around Sanchez, and the mistakes that were always there were no longer masked. His completion percentage—which was never good— remained almost identical his entire career, and he never threw more interceptions than he did his rookie season. Sanchez didn't change, yet the Jets scuffled. Interception after back-breaking quick-slant interception was returned for a touchdown because the Jets had neither the talent at skill positions nor the muscle on the line to attempt anything but intermediate passes.
It was just like watching the Chad Pennington Jets, who were afraid to expose Chad's arm to anything longer than 15 yards. Everyone knew it, including the opposition. If the defense knows the plan, it doesn't matter how well you execute it, they will catch up. Chad did it well, but it didn't matter, he was still exposed by defenses who dared the Jets to do anything but pass short. The final Sanchez years are a photographic negative of Pennington's: a physically capable quarterback poorly executing a gameplan every single defender knew was coming.
The Sanchez narrative quickly turned from promising, if still raw, young quarterback to when's he going to figure it out? All it took was one hugely anticipated season in 2011 ending disastrously. Then Tim Tebow showed up and an increasingly talent-thin team with virtually no roster depth rumbled through another lost season. And now, another new quarterback, Geno Smith, has arrived.
The draft is a crapshoot, but unless Geno Smith guides the Jets to the Super Bowl, conveniently played at MetLife stadium this year, he is entering a world designed to fail. Whether he or the Jets intend it, he has already assumed the title of savior for this franchise—which is not unlike the defense against dark arts position at Hogwarts—not five years after Sanchez did just the same.
The saying in football is that there's no more popular guy on the team than the backup quarterback. It's typically portrayed as a fan mentality, but look at Saturday's front page of the Daily News up there. Nothing moves the needle like a quarterback-driven story and the Jets have been an enabling partner in this business since Brett Favre.
Even Geno Smith, ceremonial ground-breaker of his own grave, got in on the act. He's already guaranteed a playoff appearance next year.