08/06/2009 3:14 PM ET
Can Jets predict their quarterbacks' future?
Is prognostication possible for signal-callers?
By Michael Salfino / SNY.tv
Mark Sanchez's college career could end up meaning little when it comes to determining his professional fate. (AP)

The ever-reliable TheJetsBlog.com alerted me earlier this week that the self-proclaimed "intelligent" analysts at Football Outsiders have weighed in on the Jets quarterback battle (via Jane McManus of LoHud.com). They are doubling down on Kellen Clemens -- and not just for this year, but overall.

No, FO's Bill Barnwell doesn't exactly say that Clemens will continue to be the better option than Mark Sanchez in the long term. But there's no other way to interpret his overarching quarterback projection system. That's not the system that said in 2007 that Tarvaris Jackson would be far more valuable in fantasy football than Tony Romo but rather the one that last year predicted that Brian Brohm would be better than Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. In fairness, we all make rotten predictions in this business and Brohm (the Packers' backup) hasn't gotten an opportunity yet. But the point is that this same system was lukewarm on Ryan and said that Flacco should be a second-day (not even a second-round) pick.

I don't bother projecting rookie quarterbacks before a regular-season snap except to say the odds of success are always worse than we think, for reasons we absolutely do not and probably will never know. The position is sui generis -- of its own kind. Decades of data tell us the college resume is irrelevant to preparing quarterbacks for the toughest job in professional sports.

But FO and Barnwell disagree. They maintain we can predict a college quarterback's professional future by simply looking at the number of starts and completion percentage in college. Oh, wait. The caveat is that the quarterback has to be selected in the first two rounds of the actual NFL draft.

Clemens had 32 starts and a 61-percent completion percentage. Sanchez's was 64 percent, but he only started 16 games so Clemens wins. But if Clemens had been selected about 10 picks later when he was drafted, and thus slid past the second round into the third, the FO system wouldn't have an opinion on him.

It seems pretty squirrelly to me to have a picking system that so completely relies on where NFL general managers actually pick their quarterback. I understand why FO did it -- if they didn't have the second-round caveat the vast majority of qualifiers would be proven NFL zeros. In stat parlance, this is called multiple endpoints; you just pick the arbitrary cutoff that best supports your theory. Also, why the archaic completion percentage rather than the far more reliable predictor of future ability in the pro rank: yards per pass attempt?

FO's Dave Lewin argued in defending the system last year that the second-round caveat exists "because of the assumption that NFL scouts can do their job with the right information." Well, those NFL scouts said that Sanchez was about $28 million more valuable than Clemens out of college. These are the exact same NFL scouts since the same team drafted both guys. So why don't we assume they can do their jobs and just give Sanchez the job?

We're also left to ponder the ruins of Clemens' 2007 season, when he threw 10 picks against five touchdowns in eight starts. McManus reported that Barnwell said Peyton Manning would have looked similarly bad if judged by his first eight games, too.

That's silly, though, because Clemens got his starts as a second-year player. Manning was a true rookie. Plus Manning, even with the handicap of not having a year to learn the system and get acclimated to NFL life, showed flashes of great ability during his first eight starts. We didn't even see any glimmers from Clemens. Jets fans know that even nothing pros like Browning Nagle and Glenn Foley had huge games early in their NFL careers to at least give you hope (which, of course, proved false).

Brian Bassett at TheJetsBlog.com keeps giving these Clemens stories life. He was dead-set against the Sanchez pick from the moment it was made. It does not seem like he's come around. But if Clemens is the Jets' future, I'm pretty sure I don't want to see it.

Could Clemens end up like Drew Brees, who evolved into a Pro Bowl-caliber player while keeping the seat warm in San Diego for Philip Rivers? Not only did Brees have more than 25 starts before Rivers was drafted, but Brees also had more touchdowns (nine) than picks (eight) in his first eight starts. Clemens, conversely, had twice as many picks as touchdowns playing in the same system as Brees under former Chargers' quarterbacks coach and current Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

There's always a chance that Barnwell is right, even if it's for the wrong reasons. Clemens might not only prove to be better this year but could end up being the top-10 NFL quarterback that Barnwell's system envisions. But the odds are long. And, remember, I'm a guy who wanted to give Clemens a chance much earlier in 2007. So I was looking really hard for positives, but saw only a journeyman type of backup.

Remember, too, that Clemens was getting lapped by Chad Pennington last summer before Brett Favre arrived. Perhaps Clemens had an epiphany since then, but I am a skeptic until I see it under the bright lights of the regular season. I'm unabashedly pulling for Sanchez because, like all writers, I want a story. And there's a high likelihood that Clemens' has already been written.

Michael Salfino is a nationally syndicated columnist and a regular contributor to SNY.tv.
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