Despite Injury, Geno Smith Odds-On Favorite to Start for the Jets

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Mark Sanchez pulled a Mark Sanchez when he was intercepted by Detroit Lions rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah on an attempted screen pass Friday night. When Ansah took it to the house for a touchdown, you could hear the collective frustration of fans in New Jersey all the way to my computer screen in California’s wine country.

“Not another season of this” and “it’s only August” are two likely terms that come to mind when thinking about how New York Jets fans felt after checking in on Sanchez’s performance in his initial preseason game of 2013.

Do you blame them?

After leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game in his first two NFL seasons, Sanchez has regressed a great deal since the start of 2011. He is tied with Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Josh Freeman with the most total turnovers from the quarterback position over the past two seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, Sanchez graded out as the second-worst starting quarterback in the NFL; only ahead of Brandon Weeden in Cleveland last season.

So when the Jets went out there and made Geno Smith a second-round pick in April’s draft, no one was really surprised. New general manager John Idzik needed to find someone who could lead this franchise into the future. Some, including myself, believed that Sanchez would have been shown the door prior to training camp if his guaranteed money for the 2013 season wasn’t so high. In reality, the Jets were planning for the future while anticipating that Smith would beat Sanchez out in the preseason.

This is exactly how it unfolded Friday against the Detroit Lions.

Ansah's interception was just the later example of mistakes by Sanchez.

Sanchez did complete 10-of-13 passes for 125 yards and a score, but it was that disastrous mistake that we all go back to. A quarterback, now in his fifth season, simply cannot make a mistake like that and expect to be considered starter caliber. He cannot allow a defensive end, who just started playing organized football a year ago, to make him look that bad on the football field. It are these types of mistakes that have come to define Sanchez’s career with the Jets. Being an enigma in Green Bay or Kansas City is one thing, being an enigma near The Big Apple is clearly a completely different ball game. At this point, it doesn’t seem that Sanchez has the thick skin to turn it around and help the Jets out of the doldrums they are currently in.

Enter into the equation Geno Smith, who was long considered the top quarterback prospect in the 2013 NFL draft. The West Virginia product fell all the way to the Jets on the second day of the draft, mostly due to concerns over pre-draft interviews and his character.

The talent is obviously there. It’s now all about Smith putting it together and showing that his raw athletic ability can translate to the NFL as a rookie. While Smith is certain to face a tremendous learning curve in 2013, Friday’s performance is a prime example of him bringing something extra to the table that Sanchez simply doesn’t have.

Prior to injuring his ankle and being forced from the game, Smith completed six-of-seven passes for 47 yards and didn’t make a single mistake. While all of Smith’s passes were of the high-percentage variety, he showed more in those seven attempts than we have seen from Sanchez in his last seven starts. It may sound harsh, but sometimes reality is.  It’s the old saying, “if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Apparently Sanchez just can’t handle that heat, especially if a rookie making his first NFL appearance performs better than him.

While the Jets failed to score in Smith’s two-plus possessions, he showed solid pocket awareness and was able to progress past his initial read multiple times. At this point in the evaluation process, it makes more sense to look at the form of a quarterback on the field instead of the numbers or points that he puts up. In this, Smith was light year’s ahead of his veteran counterpart.

Despite the ankle injury, it is being reported that Smith will make his scheduled start next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars at The Meadowlands this upcoming Saturday. This is just a continuation of a quarterback competition that already seems to favor the rookie quarterback. A strong performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in front of his home crowd will only further the idea that he should start Week 1.

After all, how much longer can we expect Jets’ fans to boo Sanchez before the brass in New York decides enough it enough? This team isn’t contending in 2013, and the Jets need to start looking to the future. Smith, not Sanchez, is a part of that future.

 

Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist at Bleacher Report.

Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of eDraft Sports Radio (which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director here at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle8:00-9:30 every Wednesday.