Player: Mark Sanchez
School: Southern Cal
Why He Fits: The Seahawks are believed to have a lot of interest in the USC quarterback from Mission Viejo, California. They have already met with Sanchez and had a strong showing at Southern Cal’s pro day. The interest is warranted, because current starter Matt Hasselbeck will be turning 34 later this year and has recently struggled to stay healthy. With the fourth overall pick, the Seahawks have a great opportunity to find a capable replacement for Hasselbeck as he nears the end of a successful career.
Sanchez, who declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft after his junior season, possesses one of the strongest arms in the 2009 class. He can accurately throw the deep ball and times his passes very effectively. At Southern Cal, Sanchez had the opportunity to work in a pro-style offense, and enjoys natural passing instincts that set him apart from other prospects.
Though Sanchez has exceptional passing skills, he also is athletic enough to move around and has good accuracy on the run. He is able to avoid pass rushers and moves well in the pocket, an asset that is necessary for any quarterback playing in Seattle right now. He is good at selling the play-action, which will be utilized much more under the new coaching regime.
While playing in the Pac-10 at USC, Sanchez had the opportunity to play in big games, demonstrating his mental fortitude and leadership. He usually stepped up to the challenge, playing his best football in important games on the big stage. In last season’s Rose Bowl against Penn State, he completed 80 percent of his passes, throwing for 413 yards and 4 touchdowns (and rushing for another).
With Matt Stafford likely off the board by the time the Seahawks select at fourth overall, Sanchez would be the best quarterback prospect available. He has drawn interest from several other teams picking after Seattle, and they may have to jump at the opportunity to grab the quarterback of the future. Some may argue that Sanchez, not Stafford, is the best quarterback available in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Why He Doesn’t: Though Sanchez enjoyed wild success at USC, he only started one full season. On top of that, he enters the draft as a junior, and Tim Ruskell prefers to draft seniors and players who’ve contributed throughout their college careers. With a surprising amount of elite talent around him in college, his success may be a mirage over his true ability, although he has impressed in individual workouts.
After an impressive 2006 spring as a redshirt freshman, Mark Sanchez was unable to win the starting job over the more experienced John David Booty. The next season, he was still unable to unseat the incumbent Booty, but performed well in three starts as an injury replacement, passing for 695 yards with 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Sanchez was finally given the chance to start his junior year (after Booty left), and made the most of the opportunity. Last season, his only as a starter, Sanchez threw for 3,207 yards while completing 65.8 percent of his passes, tallying 34 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Sanchez has to prove to skeptics that he is more than a one year wonder, and is not only attracting attention due to a rather weak quarterback class.
Sanchez has also experienced some injuries that may cause his durability to be a consideration. He suffered a knee injury during fall camps last season and was sidelined for a couple of weeks. Cleared to play right before the season started, he was very successful in the opener against Virginia.
Another red flag that may become a concern as the draft nears is Sanchez’s character. In the spring of 2006, Sanchez was arrested and charged with sexual assault. He was released from jail after one day, and temporarily suspended from the USC football team. After the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office announced no charges would be filed due to “lack of sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt”, Sanchez was reinstated but required to take a rape awareness course at USC. On a side note, Sanchez was still subject to discipline because he was drinking underage and possessed fake identification the night of his arrest. It has also been reported that Sanchez had been previously detained (but not arrested) by USC’s Department of Public Safety for allegedly breaking a window at a frat party. These incidents may bring his character into question, which presents a huge dilemma for Tim Ruskell; Ruskell puts a premium on character and maturity when evaluating players.
Bottom Line: While Sanchez is an intriguing prospect, Seattle with a healthy Matt Hasselbeck (and capable backup Seneca Wallace) is not in need of a quarterback – yet. I believe that Hasselbeck still has a couple of good years left in him, and is still capable of performing at an all-pro level with the right talent around him.
Although it would be foolish to not consider the future of the quarterback position, the Seahawks may be able to address more pressing needs in the first round of this year’s draft. Seattle should have a couple of years to groom a replacement, and several quarterbacks will be available in later rounds. If Seattle opts against drafting a potential replacement this year, the quarterback class next year is looking very strong.