Prior to last season, his second that ended with a Super Bowl victory, Eli Manning got a lot of flak for proclaiming that he was an "elite" quarterback. Of course, the Giants didn't just send out an advisory to all media telling them to assemble in their press conference room where Eli took to the podium and announced "Hey y'all, I just wanted to tell everyone that I'm an elite quarterback! Thanks!" Manning was asked on a radio show whether he thought he was "elite", and he said he was. Who the hell wouldn't? If someone asked me if I was an "elite" SBNation Regional Contributor, my answer would be "Sure, you betcha."
Such proclamations are usually set up by the media, (unless your name is Rex Ryan) and recently the other starting quarterback in town was asked a similar thing. During his media scrum, Mark Sanchez (sorry to all you fanboys of Lefty Jesus) was asked whether or not he thought he was a Top 10 quarterback in the NFL.
So what did Sanchez say?
"Sure, you have to think that. You have to play like that and as soon as you get on the field, you have to be the baddest guy out there. The toughest, the best, the most accurate and you have to want to win. I think we have a lot of guys like that, so that's good for us."
While it wasn't exactly a Stone Cold Steve Austin "Hell Yeah!", Sanchez didn't deny it. He did start his answer off with the word "sure". But all these types of questions from reporters really do is spark endless ridiculous debates; last year, every mistake from Eli Manning made him no longer elite, and every game winning drive restored the elite-ness. It waned back and forth, every week, and was really one of the more ridiculous sports debates ever. Well now the same thing could happen with Sanchez, where we're constantly ranking him among the NFL's quarterbacks every Monday or Tuesday morning.
Now I know what all of you virulent anti-Sanchez readers are thinking, and that's "HAHA Sanchez top 10 he's not even top 40 lol smh". Okay, fine. Ranking quarterbacks is stupidly subjective, but let's give it a shot. Here are the quarterbacks in the NFL right now that are on a different level than the rest of the pack:
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Tim Tebow (All guys who have won Super Bowls + Lefty Jesus...Hey I'm just angling for a job at ESPN, you guys)
Sanchez is obviously not on that level and nobody thinks he is. The real question is, does he fall somewhere in the next group? If you put him in this following group, does he jump off the page in a bad way?
The Next Level:
Philip Rivers, Matt Stafford, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Cam Newton, Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Michael Vick
Once again, this is such an arduous exercise because of its subjectivity, and it seemingly changes every week. Honestly, at this very moment, I probably would put Sanchez in that group above, but he'd be at the bottom of the barrel there, thus not ranking him as a Top 10 quarterback. Again at this moment. But it's not like Sanchez is totally out of place in that group. If you had to replace Sanchez on that list with any other NFL quarterback, who would it be? Ryan Fitzpatrick? Alex Smith? Matt Hasselbeck? Kevin Kolb? Carson Palmer? Sam Bradford? Before you say Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, you cannot put a rookie without an NFL snap in any discussion like this.
The more important question, really, is whether or not Sanchez can be in that discussion as the season goes on, not whether he belongs there now.
I'm of the opinion that Sanchez can be in that discussion with guys like Rivers, Ryan, Flacco (please), Cutler etc. I'm not one of those people who have taken what Sanchez has accomplished in the NFL in a short time and thrown it in the dumpster, and chosen to only remember the pick sixes. He has beaten Peyton Manning in his own building in a playoff game (where he engineered a game winning drive) and Tom Brady in his (where he threw three touchdowns). Tony Romo can't say that. Neither can Philip Rivers (who Sanchez also beat in his building in a playoff game). Has Sanchez put up the regular season numbers of those guys? No, he hasn't. But can he? What has he shown that the football watching public can definitely say "No, he can't!"?
Sanchez is entering a make or break year for him. The possibility does exist that he's not good enough to stay in that discussion, and if that's the case, we'll probably know that by the end of this season. But there's just as good a chance that he belongs with that second tier of guys too. But there's a gigantic problem at hand, which is that the Jets have done an absolutely horrific job of rounding out the roster to help Sanchez.
You can make a case that the Jets have the worst skill position talent and depth out of any of the mid-tier NFL teams. Just look at the support that the other guys in the "candidates for Top 10 quarterbacks list" have and compare them to the Jets. Sanchez is manning an offense that's supposed to rely heavily on a running game spearheaded by Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell. Good luck with that. He's throwing to an injured Santonio Holmes, the chronically-underused Dustin Keller, and a collection of rookies and unproven receivers. That's it. Add in the fact that the Jets brought in Lefty Jesus and all the ridiculousness associated with him, and Sanchez hasn't exactly been handled in the most favorable way.
But great quarterbacks can lift up fledgling talent around them. Are guys like Pierre Garcon, Jordy Nelson or Victor Cruz really all that great? Or are they great in their systems because they've played with great quarterbacks? There's a case to be made for the latter. If Sanchez has improved, if he ends up being someone worthy of the Top 10 discussion, then guys like Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley will put up great numbers, unless they really can't get open. But you can certainly argue that the Jets haven't given Sanchez a bevy of weapons to use at his disposal.
How the Jets fare this year will fall heavily on Sanchez. As much as Rex Ryan wants to Ground And Pound (hearing that phrase makes me want to mutilate a pack of baby seals with an Awesome Auger), looking at the modern NFL directs your attention to the quarterback, throwing the ball downfield and putting up high amounts of yards and points. As much as Ryan wants to believe it, the NFL today isn't about winning games 13-6. If the Jets are going to compete with the elite of the league, Sanchez will be the one putting them in the conversation.