Sitting Sam Darnold in Year One: Lower Half Mechanics & Decision Making

Joseph Ferraiola makes the case for sitting Sam Darnold in year one…

In many ways the 2018 NFL Draft was a critical one for the New York Jets. Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan made a bold decision in mid-March to trade up from the 6th overall selection to the 3rd overall selection that was previously occupied by the Indianapolis Colts. Maccagnan sent Indianapolis the 6th overall pick in addition to the 37th, 49th and a future 2019 2nd round pick to move up three spots in the process.

Without including the 2019 2nd round pick into the equation, the Jets lost 340 points of draft value according to the somewhat outdated Jimmy Johnson Draft Chart. Somewhat outdated because the chart has been used as more of a starting point to begin trade talks rather than teams rigidly adhering to the values stated. Yet, in an interview on The Rich Eisen Show, Maccagnan revealed that we can essentially throw any type of draft chart out the window when the plan is to trade up for the QB position.

“… we obviously paid a pretty good price, above market price for the pick when you look at trade charts, but of course when you’re dealing with quarterback those trade charts are kind of skewed – they kinda go out the window…” – Jets GM Mike Maccagnan on The Rich Eisen Show

Trading up to only the 3rd selection is risky as teams usually want to be certain they’re going to get their guy at the QB position. By moving up to the 3rd overall selection the Jets brass had to be content with three of their top ranked QBs in this class. Fortunately for the Jets the Cleveland Browns selected Oklahoma QB, Baker Mayfield 1st overall and the New York Giants took Penn State RB, Saquon Barkley leaving them the opportunity to select USC QB, Sam Darnold.

While Darnold was certainly the headline selection of the 2018 NFL Draft he’s not a lock to provide immediate impact as the Jets starting QB. The Jets have a strong QB room with veterans like Josh McCown and free agent signing Teddy Bridgewater. McCown and Bridgewater are currently more equipped to earn the starting position out of training camp.

That is mainly because of Darnold’s lack of experience playing the QB position. He’s only been playing QB since his sophomore year in High School and he still needs to develop a lot of the mechanical aspects of playing the position to reach his full potential. I ultimately graded Darnold as my QB2 behind Josh Rosen, but I make note that while he possesses extraordinary inherent traits, he also has to clean up important aspects of playing the QB position.

My main takeaways from my evaluation on Darnold was that he’s a uniquely talented QB prospect given his upper tier arm talent and anticipation ability, but his lower half mechanics and decision making could prevent him from becoming a top tier NFL QB if he’s not given the time to work on these important aspects of the position. These issues in his game are certain to lead to frustrating interceptions throughout his career if not addressed.

One play that sums up my concerns with Darnold is this interception thrown against Notre Dame last season. On this play Darnold displays his decision making issues and poor footwork when attempting to throw into a tight window.

On 1st and 10 inside Notre Dame territory, USC is lined up in 11 personnel while down 21-0 midway through the second quarter. The Trojans are in need of a quick score to attempt to make the game competitive with the second half looming. Darnold receives the snap and begins the read the left side of the field. He has a high-low read where if the CB crashes down to play the flat he throws the corner route and if the CB sits underneath in his zone he throws the flat.

 

However, Darnold doesn’t make the right decision. He looks at the CB and then to the flat receiver. At this point the right decision is to throw the flat and take what’s given, but he decides to force a throw into coverage to the corner route with the CB playing underneath and the safety over the top. The result of the play is an interception for the Notre Dame defense.

While the decision making on this play is not ideal, it’s the poor decision making in combination with his awkward footwork on the throw which creates the turnover. Darnold’s throw on this play lacks the requisite velocity to fit the ball into a tight window on the sideline between the underneath CB and safety over the top. This is in large part because of his poor weight transfer as his base is almost completely parallel as he begins to step into his throw.

Not properly transferring his weight and “stepping in the bucket” can lead to a lack of velocity and create interceptions by allowing CBs to cut underneath intermediate/deep throws like outs and corners for example.

For example, on this play against Washington State Darnold throws the intermediate out from the far hash. Yet, the play results in an interception because he once against steps into the bucket and doesn’t properly transfer his weight resulting in a lack of velocity and allowing the CB to cut off the throw for an interception.

With how much faster NFL CBs are it’s hard to envision Darnold getting away with decisions and lower half mechanics as showcased on these two plays.

The good news for Darnold is that he can fix his footwork mechanics and he’s already in the process of doing so as evidenced by his pre-draft workouts with Jordan Palmer. Yet, no matter how Darnold looks mechanically during OTAs, he’ll need more than one off-season to fix this flaw. The change needs to become second nature as QBs tend to revert back to poor mechanics in stress situations in live games if they haven’t properly trained their muscles to react in the manner they’re aiming for. The only way to ensure success is repetition and an entire season of reps on the sideline should help Darnold see significant results which will permeate throughout his overall game.

While I don’t believe Darnold is doomed if he starts in year one – I do think rushing him out on the field with a good QB room in place to allow the rookie time to work on his footwork wouldn’t be in the best interest of the player and the team in the long-term. The Jets should be patient and maximize Darnold’s potential rather than throwing him into the fire.

Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com