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Thursday, August 19, 2010
Mark Sanchez in enviable position

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Bradford, Sanchez & Stafford
Sam Bradford, left, and Matthew Stafford, far right, have big-time talent. What they don't have is Mark Sanchez's supporting cast.

Like Brett Favre, I skipped Mankato, Minn., and Vikings training camp. Seeing the Vikings without Favre wouldn't have been worth the travel investment.

Instead, it was fun visiting three players among the next wave of potential franchise quarterbacks: Matthew Stafford of the Lions, Mark Sanchez of the Jets and Sam Bradford of the Rams. Sanchez might be the least talented of the trio, but it's easy to see why he will be the most successful early in his career.

The Jets are loaded on offense.

Like Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers in 2004, Sanchez came to the right team at the right time. For years, the Steelers were making playoff runs with a running game, a great defense and a strong-willed coach in Bill Cowher. When Tommy Maddox went down with an injury, Roethlisberger stepped in and helped carry the team to a 15-1 record and a trip to the AFC title game.

Roethlisberger was asked to throw 21 passes a game because the Steelers could run the ball well. A 66 percent thrower that season, Roethlisberger completed 14 passes per game and has now grown into one of the game's top five quarterbacks.

Sanchez can't match Roethlisberger's size or throwing skills, but he should actually put up better stats than Big Ben this year. The reason is the surrounding cast. Newcomers Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson add a 50-plus-reception wideout and an accomplished pass-catching running back to a receiving corps that also has Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Dustin Keller.

As you know if you follow me, I give a lot of credence to the "Theory of 50," although it also works if you call it the "Theory of 48.'' The theory states that if you combine the number of completions with the number of rushing attempts per game, a good offense will come out with a total of 48 to 50. A great offense will have 52 or more.

The 2009 Jets offense might not have been great, but Sanchez averaged 13 completions a game and the Jets had 38 rushing attempts a game. They went to the AFC Championship Game.

With five potential 50-plus-catch options, Sanchez could easily add five completions per game to his totals. Edwards and Holmes are on one-year contracts. Tomlinson is an aging running back going year-to-year. The Jets plan to run the ball every bit as much as they did a year ago, and it would be a surprise if Sanchez doesn't complete more than 60 percent of his passes this season.

He's worked on his throwing to the left, a mechanical problem that plagued him in 2009. One of the subtle keys to his development this season is the use of motion packages. Sanchez was too raw and inexperienced to make the calls to put receivers in motion last year. Now, he can use Edwards as a flanker, put him in motion and hit him in stride with throws he couldn't execute last season.

"Sometimes, it's just a matter of sending you in and say, 'Just go play,''' Sanchez said in camp. "I think that comes with learning the system and feeling comfortable. You also need to let things go. You just need to get to the next play if you have a bad run play or an interception or incompletion. You just need to let it go. You can analyze the error but don't have paralysis by analysis.''

Sanchez threw an interception for a touchdown early in Monday night's Jets-Giants preseason game. He put that mistake behind him and moved the offense well for the next few series, showing his growth.

Stafford has a stronger arm than Sanchez, but it will take him a couple more seasons to come close to being as successful. As the first pick in the 2009 draft, he landed on a Detroit Lions team that went 0-16 the year before.

As a rookie, he was doomed from the start. Stafford completed 20 passes a game, but he was usually playing from behind and was constantly pressured. His completion percentage was 53.3. He threw 20 interceptions and only 13 touchdowns.

The Lions did get Stafford some help. Tight end Tony Scheffler should pull some coverage away from wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and Nate Burleson is a threat at split end that wasn't there last season.

Stafford would drop back and not have many places to go with the ball last season.

"We should be able to get a little more single coverage on guys this year,'' Stafford said. "Last year, teams would double Calvin Johnson and have two guys on Brandon Pettigrew and we struggled to find an answer as a third. We also have a back [Jahvid Best] who can be a home run hitter. That should help.''

As he reviewed the film, Stafford was amazed by how boxed in the offense was. Not only did teams put a cornerback and a safety on Johnson, but they would buzz a linebacker near him to completely make it impossible for a pass to be thrown to him. It's amazing Johnson caught 67 passes for 984 yards with that type of attention.

Bradford doesn't have a Calvin Johnson-type receiver. He does have one of the best runners in game in Steven Jackson, but the receiving corps is pretty anonymous. Donnie Avery offers some quickness from the flanker position, but he has averaged only 50 catches for 632 yards in his first two seasons. Laurent Robinson is an intriguing split end, but he has only 55 catches in three seasons. There really isn't a solid pass-catching tight end.

Bradford has excellent accuracy and touch on his throws. But too often, Rams receivers aren't open enough to be targeted. He's also playing behind a suspect offensive line.

Bradford and Stafford don't show any signs of jealousy, but they sure wouldn't mind being in Sanchez's shoes behind center.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.