FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Aaron Rodgers and Mark Sanchez have followed the same set of imposing footprints to starting jobs in the NFL.
They're both from California, played in the Pac-10, share the same agent and were first-round draft picks a few years apart. They're also the only quarterbacks -- for now -- who can say they replaced Brett Favre.
That's a unique bond that ties them together -- even if they don't know each other all that well.
"I've just seen him at a few events and watched him play quite a bit in the Pac-10," said Sanchez, the New York Jets' quarterback from USC. "He's a great guy, from what I know hanging out with him a couple of times. He's definitely, I think, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league."
Rodgers, who played at Cal, took over in Green Bay in 2008 -- three years after being the 24th overall draft pick -- after Favre's retirement and then bitter divorce from the Packers. Sanchez became the Jets' quarterback a year later, after Favre stopped in New York for one disappointing season before briefly retiring again and then signing with Minnesota.
Both have become franchise quarterbacks with bright futures, far removed from Favre's huge shadow. Rodgers is one of the league's most dangerous passers, and Sanchez has improved greatly following a shaky rookie season.
They will play against each other for the first time Sunday, when the Packers visit New Meadowlands Stadium.
"He's always been a great guy," Sanchez said of Rodgers. "So I'm excited to see him play."
They first met six years ago when Sanchez was a senior in high school and Rodgers was entering his junior season in Berkeley.
"We were at a quarterback camp in Southern California, and when I saw him then," Rodgers said, "I knew he had a lot of talent."
Rodgers was drafted by the Packers that spring as the successor to Favre, but he had to wait patiently on the sideline for a few years. The two weren't particularly close, and Rodgers had the challenge of replacing a player who had established a legacy as a winner and fan favorite.
He helped everyone move on from Favre by becoming the first player in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter. Rodgers also joined San Francisco's Steve Young (1998) last season as the only quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns and rush for 300 yards and five scores in the same season.
"He's definitely one of the best and he's doing a heck of a job," Sanchez said. "He gets the ball to his receivers quick, is very accurate on the run and he's a really good leader for that team."
Rodgers is among the league leaders again this season with 12 touchdown throws and 1,841 yards passing.
"Like my kid said, he's one of the top quarterbacks in fantasy football, so I appreciate that," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "There's a reason. The kid can run it, he's accurate with the football. He's probably the most accurate quarterback in the league on the move, and that's saying something."
And he's only getting started.
"He has a standard of play that he's established here as a quarterback," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "What's exciting is that he can play at a higher level."
"I pull for Mark, and I'm happy with the way he has progressed," Rodgers said. "It's fun to watch him and watch the way he plays. He has a great arm and makes some tough throws."
Sanchez sat for a few years at USC before becoming the full-time starter as a redshirt junior. Despite his lack of experience, he declared himself eligible for the draft last year. The Jets, looking to replace Favre, traded up to grab him with the fifth overall pick.
"He's shown flashes where he can make plays ever since I went to school with him," said Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, Sanchez's former USC teammate. "He's more than capable. I think he's going to be a very good quarterback in this league for years to come. Hopefully, not soon, though."
After all, the Packers (4-3) are hoping to continue the momentum of beating Favre and the Vikings last week and establish themselves as one of the NFC's elite teams. But then there's the Jets (5-1), who are coming off a bye-week break riding a five-game winning streak -- including a victory of their own against Favre -- and trying to stake a claim as the best team in the entire league.
"I'm happy with our play so far," Sanchez said. "We have a good test ahead of us, so we're excited about that challenge."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press