Over at Jets Over The Pond, Matt Goldstein (full disclosure here: Matt's my cousin, and I love him even if he is a Jets fan) compares the shambling husk of Mark Sanchez to Panthers QB Cam Newton. While neither of them has lived up to the expectations laid upon them by a hyper-rabid media and both have been dinged for occasionally acting like young men with gobs of money whose whims have been catered to since they were old enough to slow dance with a girl in the late stages of a bar mitzvah reception, they've taken radically different paths to their current level of Not Being The Next Tom Brady.
Newton, as you may recall, came out of college as the #1 overall pick, a generational athlete who could run and throw over defenders at will. Despite the weirdly personal hatchet job draftnik Nolan Nawrocki threw at him, the Panthers still took Newton first and handed over the keys to the family sedan immediately. Unfortunately, said sedan came with one wide receiver (Steve Smith), a pair of alternatingly injured running backs, a porous o-line, and a defense that hasn't been able to keep its middle linebacker on the field for an entire season since Dan Morgan was in short pants. His first year, Newton saw this and tried to do it all himself, with statistically staggering results. His second year, he was coached to play more within the system, which is great except that playing within the system only works if the system has functional moving parts.
Which the Panthers, you might have noticed, do not.
So that leaves Newton in an untenable position: rely on his raw athleticism, knowing that doing so will eventually get him pummeled into chutney, or play within a system that doesn't have the pieces he needs to utilize his gifts. It's a bad situation, but one that was waiting for him when he was drafted.
Sanchez, on the other hand, was the prototypical QB coming out of USC, coming onto a veteran team with aging but still viable weapons. Working within that, he was able to function well enough to get his team to the AFC Championship Game twice. At which point, of course, the Rex Ryan regime and its enablers set about fundamentally dismantling the elements that allowed Sanchez to succeed. When you start with LaDanian Tomlinson and end up handing off to Bilal Powell, something's wrong. Add in a side of Tebow, a coach who can't keep his foot out of his mouth or hold a line on who his QB is, a clown show at offensive coordinator and a ravenous New York media eager for bloody red meat, and you get the ingredients for a slaughter. After 3 years, Sanchez' development path looked eerily similar to Eli Manning's, but rather than take that angle, the press went for anonymous quotes within the locker room, and calls for Sanchez' head on a stick.
And of course, 2012, with added Tebow controversy, was a disaster. Newton's never had a chance to develop; Sanchez was taken apart piece by piece by the people who should have had his back.
Where we stand now, the results are superficially similar. Both QBs are "disappointments", but they're at different points on their arcs. Sanchez seems to be on an irreversible downward trajectory, aided and abetted by his coach, coordinators, and GMs. Newton may yet emerge, if he gets a little talent around him; no one's systematically tried to destroy him yet. But they're not the same. They never were, and they never were going to be.