NEW YORK -- Matthew Stafford got the No. 1 overall status and accompanying media face time at center stage of Radio City Music Hall (and, of course, all of that ridiculous guaranteed cash), but the real star of the 2009 NFL Draft was about 2,500 miles away.
When Jets fans are happy about their team's pick, they let you know it until the building shakes. When they're unhappy (which has been quite often through the years), they let you know it until your ears go numb.
They were happy about the Sanchez choice because after a series of offseason moves that saw their favorite team seemingly get a whole lot stronger on defense, they finally have legitimate hope that their offense also can make some major strides after the Brett Favre train wreck of a year ago.
Those Jet-jersey-wearing crazies actually were celebrating before Sanchez's name was ever announced by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Their enthusiasm was cranked up the moment they learned the Jets had traded with the Cleveland Browns to move from the 17th overall pick to No. 5 -- in exchange for a second-round choice, quarterback Brett Ratliff, safety Abram Elam, and defensive end Kenyon Coleman -- in order to select the star quarterback from USC there. The Browns would deal the Jets' original first-rounder twice more to move farther down and accumulate additional choices on the way to ultimately get Alex Mack, a center from California, at No. 21.
New Cleveland coach Eric Mangini, who guided the Jets the past three seasons, gave his former team a chance to land a franchise quarterback they likely had no prayer of getting at No. 17. And according to multiple league sources, the Sanchez selection is yet another example of how much more directly involved owner Woody Johnson has become in his team's football operations.
Johnson apparently became smitten with Sanchez when he accompanied Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum to see the former Trojan work out in Southern California while there for last month's NFL Annual Meeting. Johnson liked everything about Sanchez -- the way he threw the ball, his dynamic personality, and matinee-idol looks. He instantly saw someone who had what it took, as a player and a person, to go a long way toward helping with the increasingly difficult task of selling personal seat licenses to the Jets' new stadium, which opens in 2010.
At the end of last season, Johnson was convinced his team lacked fire and passion, which was why he replaced Mangini with the fiery Rex Ryan. Johnson also sees Sanchez bringing those qualities to the Jets.
Like Stafford, Sanchez is not expected to begin his rookie season as a starter. Both entered the draft as juniors, and Sanchez has only 16 games of collegiate experience compared with Stafford's three seasons. But unlike the Lions, who have Daunte Culpepper to hold the fort while waiting for Stafford to be ready to hit the field, the Jets don't have an accomplished short-term answer at quarterback. They have Kellen Clemens, whose greatest asset is that he has a thorough understanding of the scheme of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
However, Clemens' skills are ordinary and he is not much of a leader. It probably won't take much for Ryan to decide, either in the preseason or early in the regular season if the Jets are struggling, to insert Sanchez as a starter.
It isn't hard to see Sanchez being a good fit with Ryan. The biggest reason is that, like Ryan, his former coach at USC, Pete Carroll, is rooted in defense.
"It's an easy transition to me," Sanchez told NFL Network from Irvine, Calif., where he watched the draft with family and friends. "I'm used to having a defensive-minded coach. That's a quarterback's best friend. Keeping the other team off the scoreboard is important, and I'm excited about that."
Another reason Sanchez fits well with his new coach is because Ryan has experience working with a rookie quarterback. As the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator, his dominant defense provided excellent support while Joe Flacco was thrust into the lineup as a rookie QB last season. Ryan expects his defense to carry the load again and won't ask his quarterback to do a whole lot with his throwing arm, whether he is Clemens or Sanchez.
Mangini is likely to take a similar approach. And now, in addition to Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, he has Ratliff in the mix to run his offense. Make no mistake: Ratliff, who was the Jets' third-stringer last year behind Favre and Clemens, is not a mere throw-in. He should have a true chance to compete for the No. 1 job in Cleveland.
Ratliff had a tremendous preseason under Mangini last summer. He had the NFL's best passer rating of the exhibition season, for what that's worth. He also made himself easy for Mangini to sell to Browns owner Randy Lerner by having his best preseason game against the Browns, whom Ratliff burned for a couple of 70-yard touchdown passes.
Coleman is widely considered too stiff of an athlete to handle the frequent movement necessary to play in Ryan's version of the 3-4 defense, but he should be solid enough to make a contribution in Mangini's version. Elam is not viewed as being instinctive enough to play safety for Ryan. He also blew too many assignments for the liking of his new coach. However, his old coach thinks he's worthy of a fresh start in a new uniform.
Thanks to some aggressive maneuvering, Mangini and new Browns general manager George Kokinis were able to get Mack, the draft's top-rated center, and three of the next 31 picks. They used the first of three second-rounders on a hometown product, Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie, son of former Browns coach Terry Robiskie. At the very least, that gives the Browns a potential replacement for Donte' Stallworth, who is due to be arraigned on DUI manslaughter charges in Miami.
At the most, the Browns did plenty to help shake up the first round and generate plenty of electricity in Radio City Music Hall.