Jets fans were told the team is going to suck and that they were going to get the first overall pick back in 2017. Most early draft boards had Sam Darnold as the best quarterback coming out of college, Mel Kiper was no exception. Analysts were talking about his arm strength, mentality, ability to move around in the pocket and having the potential to go number 1 overall.
Kiper said “I think Darnold has a chance to be special, and I believe in his talent long term. Darnold has a big frame (6-4, 225), makes quick decisions and is an accurate, natural passer…the third-year sophomore is an exciting prospect who could go No. 1 overall in next April’s draft.”
That’s all Jets fans needed to hear. They were supposed to throw away one season, get the number one overall pick and get their franchise quarterback, the first one since Broadway Joe Namath.
But Josh McCown had a different idea. The Jets went on to win 5 games and slotted themselves into the 6th pick, almost missing out on a top 3 QB. General manager Mike Maccagnan sent the 6th pick, two second round picks and a 2019 second round pick to the Colts to move up to the 3rd pick.
When the Browns picked Baker Mayfield with the first overall, Jets fans got excited. They were going to get Sam Darnold, and they got USC’s Sam Darnold. It was kind of fitting since the last QB they took in the first round was none other than USC QB Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez. We all know how that turned out.
Hopefully this QB could take them to the Super Bowl, a place they haven’t been since Super Bowl III. The Jets had seen an up and down first two seasons with Darnold and now with an improved roster, he needs to take a big step in 2020.
Darnold as a rookie played pretty much how most expected him to. He showed some flashes and some growing pains. In 13 games his rookie year, Darnold completed 57.7 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,865 yard, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Not a great rookie year but he came on strong at the end of the year. In his last four games, he completed an average of 63.9 percent of his passes, threw for 931 yards and he had a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio.
It looked as if Darnold was poised to come out and make a big leap in year two. Tony Romo even said, “I really think Sam is going to be one of the great quarterbacks in the National Football League. I think he’s got a chance, before he finishes his career, at some point to possibly be the top guy. Tom Brady’s gonna be done one day. I think when he goes away, it’s going to be Aaron Rodgers — he’s gonna be the guy until he’s done. But that next phase, there’s a chance. I see certain traits in Sam Darnold that are rare.”
With that kind of endorsement, year two should have been a lot better. But it wasn’t. Darnold definitely made improvements last year but not as many as he could have. The Jets hired a new offensive-minded head coach in Adam “Crazy Eyes” Gase, added two new wide receivers in Jamison Crowder and Demaryius Thomas and even signed Le’Veon Bell.
They still did not have an offensive line; they were ranked 31st in 2019. All this and you saw only slight improvements in Darnold’s game. He did come down with mono in Week 2 and missed 3 games. In 13 games he completed an average of 61.9 percent of his passes for 3, 024 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His biggest improvement was leading the team to a 7-6 record as a starter, compared to 4-9 the season prior.
The numbers didn’t satisfy some and excuses kept piling up, criticizing the offensive line and wide receiver corp. So what did first-year general manager Joe Douglas do? He revamps the offensive line, replacing 4 of the 5 offensive linemen and finishing the job with drafting left tackle Mekhi Becton.
The Jets also addressed the wideout room this offseason. They signed Breshard Perriman, who caught 17 passes for 349 yards and four scores in the last three weeks of the season when teammates Mike Evans and Chris Godwin went down with injury. They also drafted Denzel Mims in the round two of the draft with the 59th pick. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds.
Darnold has the protection and weapons he needs to succeed. A big year from him coupled with a solid defensive performance could put the team in playoff contention. I have them going 9-7 or 10-6.
His biggest hurdle is making the leap to franchise quarterback. Darnold needs to improve his decision making. He could also have a more well-rounded game.
If Darnold doesn’t improve more this year, next year is the do-or-die season. If not, the Jets will be breaking the bank for a below average QB.
BANNER: New York Jets QB Sam Darnold under center in a Nov. 7th game against the Washington Redskins. PHOTO CREDIT: Alexander Jonesi/Flickr