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Players Didn't Gravitate to Josh Freeman in College

In Peter King's latest Monday Morning Quarterback column he divulges some information from Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan and the search for a quarterback the Jets undertook in 2009. The Jets wanted to draft a quarterback who could lead their franchise for years to come, and they had narrowed down the choice to USC's Mark Sanchez and Kansas State's Josh Freeman. So why did they choose Mark Sanchez? It wasn't because either QB was more impressive in private interviews, as Ryan notes that both were very good and "blew the doors off" them when asked about X's and O's. As one talent evaluator said per Pat Yasinskas: "I sat down with Ryan, Flacco, Freeman and Bradford," one talent evaluator said. "Those are four of the smartest quarterbacks I've ever interviewed coming out of college. You could cue up the film to a certain play, and they'd walk you right through every step of it for the entire offense."

Instead, the Jets chose Mark Sanchez based largely on one thing: the fact that more people showed up to work out with Sanchez at his pro day than did for Freeman at Kansas State's pro day. The Jets sensed a certain amount of respect for Sanchez that they didn't sense for Freeman. There could be a lot of reasons for that difference in respect the Jets felt, and I'm not going to dive into it. And in all fairness, Mark Sanchez has led fairly public  training camps these past two offseasons in his home town, gathering most of his teammates. Josh Freeman has done the same thing, but has not been very public about it and the extent of his workouts seems more limited to skill position players than the whole team. But Raheem Morris knew something about Josh Freeman that no other NFL coach knew: he knew how hard he would work, how players reacted to him in games, and his leadership skills. Raheem knew all this because he was the defensive coordinator for Kansas State in Freeman's rookie year. He didn't need to go by the amount of people that showed up at a Pro Day workout. 

The Jets may or may not have been wrong about Sanchez and Freeman's leadership qualities at the time, but Josh Freeman has grown leaps and bounds since he first got to the NFL. He is now the unquestioned leader of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he's also arguably the best young quarterback in the NFL. In terms of on-field play, there's very little doubt in my mind that he's much better than Mark Sanchez. There isn't a single statistical category I can find anywhere where Mark Sanchez beats Josh Freeman. In fact, Freeman is miles ahead of Mark Sanchez already, and that doesn't even include Sanchez's league-leading 15 dropped interceptions.

Of course, there's one area where Sanchez has done better than Josh Freeman over his short career: winning. Mark Sanchez and the Jets got to the AFC Championship game twice in two years, while Josh Freeman and the Bucs have yet to make the playoffs. In the eyes of some people, this automatically makes Mark Sanchez a better QB - words like 'clutch' and 'winner' are thrown around to justify ignoring the statistics. But football is a team game first and foremost, and Sanchez has had the best team surrounding him of any of the young quarterbacks in the league. The Jets have had a stellar defense in both his seasons, and they've had efficient running games to support Mark Sanchez. But with all that support, Sanchez has been the limiting factor for the Jets. In fact, the Jets have often tried to minimize Sanchez's impact on the game: Sanchez has thrown just 28 passes per game, compared to Freeman's 31 passes per game. Moreover, Sanchez is frequently taking out of the game in favor of Brad Smith or wildcat plays, although the Bucs did run a few of those themselves. But more than that, Mark Sanchez has prevented the Jets from winning games on many occasions, and he's carried the team only sporadically. On the other hand, if it wasn't for Josh Freeman, the Bucs may have gone 3-13 again this season and might have gone 0-16 the season before. 

So, Rex Ryan will never admit this as long as he's a head coach, but do you think he regrets the choice? I'm pretty sure he does.