Should Mark Sanchez Start Over Sam Bradford?

Philadelphia has yet to decide on its starting quarterback officially. Bradford has been impressing, but should Sanchez start Week 1?

The Philadelphia Eagles have had some of the most eventful offseasons in recent memory.

Yes, this includes the 2012 season when glorified backup Vince Young was prematurely calling the Eagles a dynasty.  

One of the more controversial offseason moves head coach Chip Kelly made was trading 2013 phenom and 2014 crash-back-to-earther Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for quarterback Sam Bradford

Implicit in the move seemed a lack of faith in the services of Mark Sanchez, who performed admirably in Chip Kelly's system after Foles was injured midway through the 2014 season. 

But the quarterback for Week 1 has not yet been announced, though Bradford is assumed to have the edge because of the rave reviews he's getting. But what do the numbers say about who should get the job come kickoff?

To determine this I've analyzed the career production of both Bradford and Sanchez using numberFire's signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). The short of NEP is that it quantifies the number of points contributed to a team's overall score in terms of performance above expectation. NEP is a better gauge of production than simple statistics such as number of touchdowns and yards thrown because it measures a player's performance by accounting for down-and distance scenarios and other football variables. 

You can learn more about NEP here in our glossary.

Now that you're up to speed, let's look at the career numbers of both Bradford and Sanchez to see who should be given the keys to the offense.

Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford came into the league with accolades galore as the first pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. He was hailed as a football machine and an incredibly accurate passer. But his first three seasons in the league consisted of being stuck on a offensively talentless Rams team (sans Steven Jackson), and his 2013 and 2014 campaigns were both cut short by successive ACL injuries.

Bradford’s career thus far has been, to put it lightly, disappointing. And the numbers bear that out.

Year Passes Passing NEP Passing NEP per Drop Back Passing Successes Passing Success Rate
2010 624 -29.04 -0.05 269 43.11%
2011 393 -70.05 -0.18 148 37.66%
2012 586 10.10 0.02 265 45.22%
2013 277 -1.02 0.00 128 46.21%
Career 1880 -90.01 -0.05 810 43.09%

Collectively, over the course of his career, Bradford’s efforts have resulted in a loss of 90 points below expectation. Bradford’s first and second seasons in the league contributed over 100% of that total, as he finally crept into net positive contributor territory in 2012 before sliding back again in 2013.

Bradford’s been anything but efficient in his career as well. Bradford has essentially lost his team a point for every 20 times he dropped back to pass -- and that includes getting sacked and fumbling the ball away. Moreover, Bradford’s Passing Success Rate, the percentage of plays that have added positively to his team's expected point total, has never exceeded the league average for starting quarterbacks, suggesting he hasn't been effective overall at sustaining drives.  

Granted, Bradford’s early career woes weigh heavily on his overall career totals. And in Bradford’s extremely woeful 2011 sophomore season, he was playing behind the one of the worst pass blocking offensive line in the game, so his face was in the dirt all the time.

But Bradford’s never had a season in which he was even a league-average quarterback. That's not too promising a track record to call upon for a former number one pick and the presumed starter of a high-caliber offense.

Mark Sanchez

So how does Mark Sanchez’s career production stack up to Bradford’s in comparison? Even worse, that is, until he got his shot last season when Foles got injured.

Year Team Passes Passing NEP Passing NEP per Drop Back Passing Successes Passing Success Rate
2009 Jets 389 -68.36 -0.18 154 39.59%
2010 Jets 534 4.81 0.01 230 43.07%
2011 Jets 581 -59.37 -0.10 245 42.17%
2012 Jets 487 -65.98 -0.14 204 41.89%
2014 Eagles 332 49.51 0.15 164 49.40%
2323 -139.39 -0.06 997 42.92%

Sanchez’s career until 2014 could have been described, without much debate, as a lost cause. In three of his four seasons with the Jets, Sanchez effectively lost his team at least 59 points on intended passing plays.

His efficiency was also worse than Bradford’s, posting three seasons in which he contributed a -0.10 Passing NEP per drop back or worse, which is the equivalent of losing the Jets a point every 10 times he dropped back. Yeah, that’s gross.

And even though Bradford had an insanely ineffective 2011 season in terms of Passing Success Rate, Sanchez's number during his career with the Jets (41.84%) falls short of Bradford's career rate (43.09%) with the Rams, suggesting that, with both stuck in ineffective offenses, Bradford has been more successful at moving the expected point chains.

But Chip Kelly’s offense revitalized Sanchez’s stock in 2014. Sanchez actually posted the 11th best Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs in 2014. His Passing Success Rate was 10th-best. 

Still, even with a career year in 2014 included, Sanchez’s career totals in terms of Passing Success Rate and efficiency each fall a hair short of Bradford’s career numbers.

Either Sanchez's 2014 awoke a dormant talent, or Chip Kelly's offense is that quarterback friendly. My money's on the latter.

The Verdict

The conventional wisdom suggests that this battle is Bradford’s to lose, and that's probably the smart bet. Bradford stands to have a career renaissance entering Chip Kelly’s system, which is an incredibly quarterback-friendly offense as evidenced by Sanchez’s 2014 revival.

And when comparing career statistics prior to Sanchez’s arrival in Philly, when both he and Bradford were stuck in uncreative offenses in New York and St. Louis respectively, the edge goes to Bradford, albeit slightly. 

But if Bradford proves to be a dud in this high-octane offense in a make-or-break year for his career, Kelly can call on Sanchez who’s proven that he can handle the reins in Philadelphia when given to him.