There are different levels of winners every year in the first round of the NFL Draft, but you can't convince me that anyone hit the grand slam of the day quite like the New York Jets did on Saturday.
The reason is simple: Mark Sanchez. The Jets started the day with disarray at quarterback, and ended it with a bright future at the game's most pivotal position. Sanchez, the Southern Cal star who was the most buzzed-about name in the draft in the past two weeks, is the passer who many personnel evaluators feel will make the best pro of any quarterback in the 2009 draft. And I agree.
Georgia's Matthew Stafford might have gone first overall to Detroit, but Sanchez at No. 5 will be the quarterback who defines this draft class. Like Jay Cutler outshining both Vince Young and Matt Leinart in 2006, Aaron Rodgers being the better call in 2005 compared to Alex Smith, and No. 2 Donovan McNabb out-classing No. 1 Tim Couch in that famous quarterback class of 1999.
Some might say that the Jets gave up a boatload to move up 12 spots and pick Sanchez with the selection that previously belonged to the Cleveland Browns. Three players -- including second-year quarterback Brett Ratliff -- and two draft picks seems like a lot. But in reality, the Jets swapped first-rounders, gave up a second-round pick this year (No. 52 overall), and sent three players to Cleveland who are anything but difference-makers: defensive end Kenyon Coleman, defensive back Abram Elam and Ratliff.
It was probably a very shrewd deal for the Browns, and set them up nicely to trade down twice more in the first round and acquire a bevy of selections. But it was an out-and-out great move for the Jets, because in Sanchez, New York's quarterback problems went a long way toward being solved. Maybe not immediately, because the ex-Trojan is just a junior and could need a redshirt season of sorts as an NFL rookie. But soon, and likely for a long time.
Juxtapose what the Jets did last year at quarterback, giving up what amounted to be a third-round pick to Green Bay for one rollercoaster-like season of Brett Favre under center. I'll take investing in Sanchez's future any day, knowing that this 2009 draft-day trade could continue paying dividends for New York for the next decade.
Sanchez is a winner in all of this too, because if you're going to hit it big as an NFL quarterback, would you and your wallet rather do it in New York or Seattle? True, he would have had more time to develop with the Seahawks, who can ride Matt Hasselbeck's right arm for another couple years, and maybe that would have ended up making all the difference in Sanchez's career.
But who's to say that the Jets can't live with Kellen Clemens as a starting quarterback for a season, buying Sanchez the year he might need to acclimate to life in the NFL? With a stout defense and a running game, New York might not have to sacrifice its 2009 season in order to give Sanchez his best possible chance to succeed in 2010.
Nothing's a given when you're drafting a quarterback in the first round in the NFL. The best-laid plans very often don't work out (see Carr, David). But Sanchez was a gamble worth taking, and New York didn't let the price of doing business keep it from seizing the moment. For a team looking for its next savior at quarterback since the moment Joe Namath left for Los Angeles, Saturday was a very good day.
A quick dose of some other winners (and losers) from this year's draft:
-- Washington quarterback Jason Campbell is a winner, because the Redskins didn't get any trade for Sanchez done, meaning he gets to keep his starting job in D.C.
-- Detroit's Daunte Culpepper is a loser, because now he's just the Lions' bridge to the Stafford era.
-- Green Bay nose tackle Ryan Pickett is a loser, because the Packers took Boston College's B.J. Raji to play that position. Pickett might be asked to shift to end in Green Bay's new 3-4, but he's not going to be their long-term man in the middle any more.
-- Ratliff and Clemens are losers in the short term, because with Sanchez becoming a Jet, their best shot to start somewhere in the NFL this season might have just evaporated.
-- The 49ers were winners, because Michael Crabtree's late-draft season slump of sorts propelled him to No. 10 San Francisco. For a team that needed more firepower in its passing game, the 49ers couldn't have done better.
-- The Vikings were losers, because I think they're going rue the day they selected Florida receiver Percy Harvin, this draft's poster-child for character issues. It's not just the marijuana use in Harvin's background, it's the widespread reports that he's a bit of a punk who believes the world revolves around him.
• I'll give him this much: Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli has no aversion to risk, eh? Upon getting his first crack to run his own program in Kansas City, he hired a rookie head coach in Todd Haley, traded for a No. 1 quarterback (Matt Cassel) who has just 15 career starts under his belt, and he just selected LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson No. 3 overall, despite the fact that Jackson wasn't even viewed as a top 20 pick for much of the pre-draft scouting season.
• Just wondering, but what does Pete Carroll have to say now that his guy Sanchez went fifth overall to the Jets? On the day that Sanchez announced for the NFL, the USC head coach was pretty adamant that the move was a mistake, and that Sanchez wasn't ready for the league.
Guess the league didn't agree.• I've been meaning all week to get someone to explain to me how Denver head coach Josh McDaniels missed the Broncos private workout with Mark Sanchez due to a migraine? I mean, didn't McDaniels get rid of his worst headache about three weeks ago, when he traded Cutler to Chicago?
• Funny how quickly perceptions can change in the NFL. On Friday I listened as Tony Gonzalez called his trade to Atlanta "a dream come true.'' Not all that long ago, maybe 15 months or so, no one in the NFL would have called joining the Falcons a "dream'' scenario.In the depths of the Michael Vick/Bobby Petrino debacles of 2007, Atlanta was almost the last place in the NFL anyone wanted to be. Isn't that right, DeAngelo Hall?• Uh, oh. I think the old SI cover jinx might have gotten USC linebacker Rey Maualuga. Didn't we just feature the Trojans' three star linebackers, proclaiming them all first-round picks? Two out of three ain't bad.
On the bright side, going 38th overall to Cincinnati means Maualuga gets reunited with ex-USC fellow linebacker Keith Rivers, a 2008 first-round pick.
• I love it. Miami, the original Wildcat Formation team, takes West Virginia's Pat White, the best Wildcat prospect in this year's draft. I wonder how Ronnie Brown feels about the competition?• For a while there on Saturday, it was one heck of a race between Cleveland and New England to see who could actually make it through the entire first two rounds without picking a player. As usual, the Patriots win every contest they put their minds to.
• If you're the Oakland Raiders, it must be so frustrating to know you're the smartest team in the league, but not have your won-loss record show it. Other than having an undeserved superiority complex, how else do you explain taking the less than polished Darrius Heyward-Bey at No. 7, a good 20 spots or so higher than most clubs had him rated?• Good call, New Orleans. Malcolm Jenkins was the smart move for a team just a couple of defensive improvements away from strong Super Bowl contention. No matter how much they liked Chris "Beanie'' Wells, needing more offense isn't the Saints' issue.• The Vikings can boast all they want about taking character-risk prospects off their draft board, but the first-round selection of Harvin shoots down any notion that they're sensitive to the player conduct issue that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made the centerpiece of his tenure.
Harvin was a win-now at all costs type of pick, and the folks in Minnesota's front office know it.
• The jury may still be a long way out on Stafford, but the Lions just got a whole lot better with Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew and Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas coming on board with Detroit's picks at No. 20 and 33. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has told anyone who will listen that his team needs to get bigger and more physical. Pettigrew and Delmas are great steps in that direction.
• I like Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, but wasn't it a bit of a redundant move for the Eagles to take the receiver-return man, after drafting receiver-return man DeSean Jackson out of Cal in the second round last year?
• Wow, two first-round centers taken in Cal's Alex Mack (No. 21 by Cleveland) and Louisville's Eric Wood (No. 28 by Buffalo). Anyone see that coming? The one team I thought would take a center, No. 32 Pittsburgh, didn't.
• Baltimore loved both Maualuga and Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt, but given the chance to land the draft's fourth-best offensive tackle (Mississippi's Michael Oher) at No. 23, it understandably pounced on the opportunity to trade up three spots. The pick should be one of the steals of the first round.
• Some might have been surprised to see Connecticut running back Donald Brown taken ahead of the more publicized Wells, but I wasn't. Early on this draft season, one veteran personnel man told me that Brown would end up being the second highest running back taken, behind only Georgia's Knowshon Moreno.
Moreno went 12th to Denver. Brown went 27th to Indianapolis, a great spot for him in that he'll be sharing work with Joseph Addai. And Wells went 31st to the Arizona, where I had him in my final mock draft.
• The Patriots picking Oregon safety Patrick Chung with the second selection of the second round probably slams the door once and for all on any shot that Rodney Harrison returns to New England. Shed no tears for Rodney. He got every ounce of longevity out of his body and his career.