*In the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft, scheduled for April 25-26, BaltimoreRavens.com will take a look at the top collegiate prospects from each position group. *
Even though he has a playful demeanor that shows through a wide smile and laid-back California charm, USC quarterback Mark Sanchez wants professional teams to take note of his serious side.
The playfulness was obvious at the NFL Scouting Combine last month in Indianapolis.
Sanchez snuck into the press conference of Georgia's Matthew Stafford - his top competition for the draft's best signal caller - brandishing a video camera and even asked a question before he was caught.
He lightly flipped the football back and forth in his hands as he laughed with his fellow prospects on the field in Lucas Oil Stadium before firing passes at sprinting receivers.
But all kidding aside, the fact that Sanchez was even out there - when Stafford opted not to throw - spoke to the former Trojan's all-business approach.
"It's neither here or there to me whether [Stafford] throws or not. That's just me," Sanchez said at the time. "I gotta do it. I feel like I want to do it. I'm a competitive person. I want to win, and that's what I'm about. It would kill me not to throw. It's too fun."
Others seem to be listening.
"The thing I loved about Sanchez more than how he threw or what he threw was the fact that he did every drill," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock explained.
"What he's trying to say is, 'I'm not a prototypical, USC glamour boy. I'm here because I love to compete.'"
That stereotype largely comes from former Southern California standout Matt Leinart, a first-rounder in 2006 who is now toiling as Kurt Warner's backup for the Arizona Cardinals.
In fact, when Sanchez was asked about his relationship with Leinart and other USC alumni playing quarterback in the NFL, he aligned himself more with Cincinnati's Carson Palmer than the others.
"I've probably been closest with Carson about the whole process," Sanchez said. "But they each told me that it's a deeply personal decision. They told me their situation, how they were at the end of their junior year and what they decided to do."
Which is another perceived knock on Sanchez.
He's only started 16 games his entire career, with one season as the full-timer.
That year, Sanchez emerged as one of the best in the nation at his position. Sanchez finished as a finalist for the Manning and Davey O'Brien Awards in 2008 after completing 313 of 487 attempts (65.9 percent) for 3,207 yards, 34 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
And, the Mission Viejo, Calif., native points to his pedigree in USC's sophisticated program. Not only does head coach Pete Carroll run a pro-style offense, the Trojans' defense features multiple first-day draft picks.
"I think the best way to answer that is talk about the kind of experience I've had, against the top players around, most of them in the NFL, since my freshman year," he stated. "I started 16 games, played in practice every day against guys who are in the league and are going to be in the league - first-rounders and things like that.
"So, I think the experience I've had has been very valuable, and the type of atmosphere I've
played in. I've been in a big city, a large media market. We've played in the Rose Bowl, in nationally televised games."
Of course, throwing a few passes during Combine drills is not going simply catapult Sanchez past Stafford on draft boards. There are still multiple interviews and Pro Day workouts for both quarterbacks.
Sanchez, however, is confident that he's already ahead of his rivals.
"I'd better think that. And I think he should think that too," Sanchez said. "That's what we've got to think. As a competitor, that's all I want to do is be the best that I can be, and the best you can do in this draft is No. 1."