By most accounts, Mark Sanchez will be the second quarterback drafted this April behind Matt Stafford. The circumstances are similar to those another USC quarterback, Matt Leinart, faced three years ago.
In the months leading up to the 2006 draft, conventional wisdom had Leinart and Vince Young as the top draft-eligible quarterbacks and two NFL teams in search of a face for their franchise would be very happy with either player. As it turned out, both the Titans (they selected Young third overall) and the Cardinals (they grabbed Leinart with the 10th pick) have yet to see the return on their investment. Kerry Collins started 15 games in '08 and led Tennessee to a 13-win season, and Kurt Warner took Arizona to the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, Young and Leinart watched from the sidelines, their immediate futures unclear. And it's this -- the unfulfilled expectations coupled with ancillary distractions -- that Sanchez hopes to avoid. Particularly given the parallels he shares with Leinart.
"What teams want from a franchise quarterback is, after God and family, football better be next," said Mike Mayock, scouting expert for the NFL Network. "You'd better have a passion for the game of football. . . . I want [Baltimore's Joe] Flacco and [Atlanta's Matt] Ryan, two kids that the day after they had a playoff loss this year were both back in the tape room breaking down tape trying to figure out why. "I don't want some guy out running the streets chasing starlets. I'm not saying that it's a USC quarterback thing. I'm saying that Matt Leinart may have had a reputation which worked against him and may have borne out a little bit."
Lesson learned, apparently. Sanchez, who reluctantly talked to the Los Angeles Times because he wants to avoid the spotlight prior to the combine, did offer this: "There's Hollywood, there's downtown L.A., there's fun places to go for a young college kid. But at the same time, what's most important to me is being a good football player. I think I learned a lot of that from a guy like Carson Palmer and a lot from J.D. [John David Booty] as well. They've both been hard workers."
No mention of Leinart, but, again, that's the point: avoid the media glare for the away-from-the-game reasons and let the football stuff take care of itself.
Ultimately, "chasing starlets" doesn't matter if you're winning. Unfortunately, Leinart hasn't been able to do that in limited opportunities. And walking a PR tightrope six months before the season begins doesn't guarantee Sanchez any on-field success, either. But if he's taken earlier in the first round because of it, it does mean more money, which no matter your station on the depth chart, is always nice.