By Steve Silverman
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Mark Sanchez is loaded with confidence as the Jets approach the midpoint of the preseason.

That’s a good thing, but his confidence has little to do with his reality as a lower-level NFL quarterback at this point in his career.

Looking good in early and mid-August is indicative of good health and a solid effort to get in shape and get stronger in the offseason; it has nothing to do with how he will perform in the fourth quarter of key games.

Sanchez resolutely answered a question about whether he could join the NFL’s top 10 quarterbacks this season and he readily answered that he could, but that would be a major jump for a quarterback who lacks accuracy.

Sanchez is much sharper than the distracting Tim Tebow, but a quarterback who completes just 52.2 percent of his passes in a league where 60 percent is considered adequate has a long way to go.

The top five quarterbacks in the league are completely out of reach for Sanchez. He’ll never be at the same level as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Eli Manning (that has to hurt Jets fans), Drew Brees or Peyton Manning.

(Peyton Manning’s spot in the top five could be in jeopardy because of his health. However, if he has overcome his neck injury and can remain healthy for a full season, he belongs in that class of quarterbacks.)

Quarterbacks like Philip Rivers of the Chargers and Cam Newton appear to be out of reach as well. Rivers made a ton of mistakes last year but his track record indicates he will bounce back this year. Newton had an explosive rookie season with 4,051 passing yards and 21 TD passes along with 14 rushing touchdowns. That seems like a good jumping off point for this year and his numbers could be even better.

So if Sanchez wants to make an assault on the Top 10, he’s going to have to play as well or better than Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan and Tony Romo. That’s unlikely because each one of those quarterbacks have significant advantages over Sanchez at this point.

Roethlisberger’s biggest edges are his confidence and physical strength. Roethlisberger has quarterbacked the Steelers to two Super Bowl championships. While the Steelers are not AFC favorites this year, a good start by Roethlisberger and a typical year by the defense could leave them as formidable contenders. Few quarterbacks can take a hit like Roethlisberger, remain upright and make a play.

Stafford is a gifted passer who has all the classic characteristics that you want in a quarterback. He has size, arm strength, a quick release and accuracy. Stafford played all 16 games and he’s on his way to becoming an elite NFL quarterback.

Cutler has been downgraded in the past for not being a team player, but that’s basically just the assessment of outsiders who see a smirk on his face and figure that he’s a jerk. He’s not. Well, maybe he is, but his teammates like and respect him. He has unquestionable arm strength and a first-class target in wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Schaub is one of the most accurate passers in the league when he is healthy. The Texans made the playoffs even though he got hurt last year but could be a Super Bowl team this year if Schaub can stay upright for 16 games. Schaub will also surprise opposing defenses with his arm strength.

Listen: WFAN’s Boomer Esiason says Schaub reminds him of himself.

Ryan asserted himself in his rookie year with the Falcons and he has performed consistently during his four years in the NFL. He has excellent field vision, finds the open receiver and delivers the ball with accuracy. However, he needs to show he can win in the postseason, something that he has not been able to do to this point in his career.

Romo is nearing the end of his time with the Dallas Cowboys because his team fails so often in the clutch. Owner Jerry Jones knows it’s not all Romo’s fault, but he is the quarterback of this franchise and he is ultimately going to be held responsible. If the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs this year and win at least one postseason game, look for a change at quarterback.

Romo’s best asset is that he throws the most catchable ball in the league. He puts it right where his receivers want it and it settles into their hands as if it was a morning pillow. He just needs a bit more consistency.

Sanchez is not a top 10 quarterback. If he can make the top 15, it would be a major step up for the Jets.

Do you think Mark Sanchez will join the list of the Top 15 quarterbacks in the NFL? Let us know where you think he will rank at the end of the season.

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