Latino football star will be top pick in draft

Mark Sanchez could go places
But where the former USC quarterback lands in the NFL draft Saturday is anybody's guess.
By Sam Farmer, LA Times, April 21, 2009

Even though USC quarterback Mark Sanchez probably won't be the first player selected Saturday in the NFL draft, he could have the biggest influence on the opening round.

With so many teams in the market for a quarterback -- Jacksonville, San Francisco, Denver, Washington, the New York Jets and Tampa Bay among them -- Sanchez could inspire one of them to trade into the top five to pick him.

It looks as if the Detroit Lions will select Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 pick, and they might even announce it's a done deal before the draft, the way Houston did with top pick Mario Williams a few years ago.

Then, the real jockeying could start. Would Denver package picks to move up into position, or wait at No. 12 in hopes of getting Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman? (The quarterback talent drops off sharply after the top three.) The exorbitant price of a top-five selection might be uncomfortably steep for Denver's Pat Bowlen, who isn't as cash-rich as some other owners. If Stafford and Sanchez go quickly, however, Freeman might not make it out of the top 10.

Does Washington trade up from 13? How about the Jets from 17, or Tampa Bay from 19?

"I'm hearing everything," Sanchez said Monday. "I try to stay out of it, but eventually you'll hear every scenario. . . . People think I have some inside scoop, but I don't. It's going to be a wild day."

Even though he's accustomed to being in the spotlight, having played college ball in the nation's No. 2 media market, the scrutiny and attention now border on the absurd. After Sanchez had a dinner meeting in Washington over the weekend with the Redskins, the restaurant issued a news release listing what he ate -- 16-ounce veal chop and a pasta trio -- and noted he "definitely cleaned his plate."

The question now is, which teams are studying Sanchez on the menu?

Keep in mind, with the incredible money spent at the top of the draft, it's extremely uncommon for teams to trade up into that rarefied air, especially in a superstar-free year like this, when the 15th pick could be just as good, or better, than the fifth.

The Lions would love to trade down, for instance, but they know that the last No. 1 team to do so before the draft was San Diego in 2001, when the Atlanta Falcons just had to have Michael Vick.

Rest assured, every team in the top five has been working the phones to move down at the right price and collect more picks in a more economical part of the first round. So far, the deals just aren't there.

Back to Sanchez. Say the Lions select Stafford and St. Louis picks an offensive tackle second -- Baylor's Jason Smith or Virginia's Eugene Monroe -- then the widespread assumption is Seattle at No. 4 would be the next team possibly on the lookout for a quarterback. The Seahawks, who were out in force studying Sanchez at USC's pro day, have considered his learning at the elbow of Matt Hasselbeck for the next year or two.

But what about the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 3?

Yes, it's a longshot for a team that just traded for Matt Cassel, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that Kansas City would draft Sanchez with the thought of trading him or Cassel to move down at the right price.

That would take Denver out of the mix -- it's highly unlikely the Chiefs would make a quarterback trade within the division -- but pre-arranging a first-round pick swap with, say, San Francisco, Washington or Tampa Bay, a deal that also might involve a veteran player, isn't the craziest notion.

After all, Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli -- the guy who landed Cassel and Pro Bowl linebacker Mike Vrabel for a second-round pick -- is one of the shrewdest personnel minds in football, something clearly demonstrated when he helped assemble those championship New England teams.

For now, all of that is fun speculation -- Sanchez said he hasn't talked to the Chiefs since the scouting combine -- but it underscores just how unpredictable this draft will be. Sanchez doesn't have a clue of where this ride will stop, and neither do the many teams eyeing him.

Sanchez has made trips to Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington. Members of the Denver coaching staff are reportedly coming to Los Angeles today to work him out. Cleveland, Seattle, Jacksonville and the Jets also made trips to Southern California to see him.

"Every time you're studying somebody's playbook you're like, 'Man, I hope I'm not studying this for no reason. I hope I actually get to use it.' "

At the NFL Network on Monday, during a break from a dizzying day of interviews and speculation, his older brother and advisor, Nick, sank into a chair and exhaled deeply.

Is he having fun?

"Fun?" his brother said with a weary smile. "Maybe someday I'll look back on this that way. Now, I just want to know."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Comments