FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Mark Sanchez was voted the second most overrated NFL player in a recent SI player roll and ranked third in ESPN’s latest article breaking down the league’s worst contracts.

No matter your position on the Jets much-maligned fourth-year starter, it’s hard to deny these two cold hard facts.

  • His 2012 lackluster numbers (53.2 completion %, 9:7 TD:INT ratio, 74.6 QB rating, 207.6 pass YPG) match his floundering career numbers (55 completion %, 8:7.25 TD:INT ratio, 73.4 QB rating, 197.4 pass YPG).
  • On a team that came in to the season with unproven playmakers, Sanchez has been without all his top targets together. Through seven games, Sanchez has played with Keller, Kerley and Santonio Holmes once — Week 1 vs Buffalo.

With Kerley’s emergence in Holmes’ absence and Keller now fully healthy after a hamstring injury, Sanchez’s 53.2 completion percentage may rise in the coming weeks given how he’s performed thus far with them playing.

In three games with Kerley and Keller both playing, Sanchez is completing 66% of his passes, has a 2:1 TD-INT ratio and 107.5 QB rating. Conversely, in four games without both targets he’s completing 43.4% of his passes, has a 1:2 TD-INT ratio and a 54.8 QB rating.

If it’s true that numbers never lie, then the continuity built between the three is instrumental to the success of Sanchez. Part of that continuity is the trust Sanchez has in those two — particularly Keller — to deliver when called upon.

“[Keller is] one of my best friends off the field, one of the best guys to play with [and] a great teammate. He studies his butt off and he makes big catches for us always. He’s been my guy for four years and we just have to keep feeding him,” Sanchez said.

Since 2010 Keller has been targeted in 22.7% of Sanchez’s 1,136 attempts with 22.4% of his passes being completed to the tight end from Purdue. His three-year totals (259 targets, 143 receptions, 69.2 reception % *courtesy with Sanchez has shown that Keller is his most trusted and productive playmaker.

“I think Dustin is that, like where [Wes] Welker has been there for all those years with [Tom] Brady. It’s a match-up problem. There’s consistency there. That’s what I think we have with him. He is that guy. He has been successful with Mark for a number of years [and] was our top receiver last year, so getting him back clearly makes a difference,” Rex Ryan said Friday.

The return of Dustin Keller has been one of the big reasons for Mark Sanchez's recent success. ( Photo).

Ryan would elaborate on Keller saying it’s his combination of size and speed that is hard defend. He referenced defense’s playing in “quarters” — putting two guys on his assignment; one to chip him at the line and the other to follow him in coverage.

The extra attention that will now have to be devoted to Keller opens up the field for Kerley, who’s felt like he’s been wide open all season.

In seven games this season Kerley has already surpassed his 14-game totals of last year regarding yards and touchdowns. His 62.5 reception percentage leads the team and he’s seen the number of his targets increase two-fold since Week 5 versus Indianapolis — a promotion Kerley has made hard for defender’s to ignore.

“I’d say more engaged than last year. I definitely feel my role is getting a little bigger — being asked to do a little bit more. So, I’m definitely stepping up more in that aspect. … [Mark and I are] getting better communication and [I’m] squeezing the ball when it’s around me. Anytime the ball is in my area I try to do a lot of emphasis on attacking the ball and going to get it, that’s what I built on,” Kerley said.

Mark seconded their improved communication, but went in to detail on how Kerley has avoided the sophomore slump.

“His recognition of defenses has gotten better. That’s one of the first things you see with an improving receiver, he knows what specific routes [he has to run]. He always has known what route to run against a specific coverage, but if you can’t see it right away, you have to play slower and then you don’t run as fast. You’re thinking too much. Now, the game is really coming to him. He’s trying to be one of the fastest mental players out there,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez won’t entertain the question of the difficulties working without his number one receiver, instead crediting those who have stepped up in Holmes’ absence.

“That’s not right for the guys that we have. I think they’re all capable of being in that role and they’ve all shown it from time to time. I think it’s an explosive group. I think they’ve shown that. The reason the ball is going around is because all of them have the ability to get open.”

A group that starts with Keller and Kerley.
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