The preseason may not count, but it does matter. The most important aspect of these next four weeks will be the development of the young players on this team, particularly this year’s draft picks. Joe Malfa grades their performances against the Falcons.
1st Round Pick QB Sam Darnold — A
The Jets fan in me that has been classically conditioned to expect the worst was afraid Darnold’s debut would be a letdown. That inner pessimist was sadly mistaken, and my outer optimist was ecstatic.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves — it was the first week of the preseason and he only saw action against the backups. That doesn’t mean we can’t get excited at all though, because Darnold looked like a polished veteran.
EVERY Sam Darnold passing play from last night.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 11, 2018
The Jets were kind enough to consolidate all 18 of Darnold’s throws into one video. He finished the night 13/18 for 96 yards and a touchdown. There were three throws in particular that stood out as far as showing how far along he is in his development.
The first came on his first series. On 3rd and 7, he sensed where the rush was coming from, stepped up and to his right to avoid the blitz, and threw a dart to Neal Sterling for the first down. That’s pocket awareness that you usually do no see this early from a rookie.
The next was the touchdown pass. Forget about the play itself for a second — what really impressed me was the way Darnold bounced back from Charles Johnson dropping an easy touchdown and negating another with a (questionable) offensive pass interference penalty. You like to see rookies with a short term memory, and Darnold displayed no negative body language during that period. On the play itself, he again sensed the pressure on 3rd and long, stepped up in the pocket, rolled to his right and zipped one to Johnson at the front pylon for the score. Awareness, poise, strength, mobility, and accuracy — that play had it all. This touchdown was the cherry on top of a perfectly executed two-minute drill.
There wasn’t much to take out of Darnold’s performance in the second half because the game got sloppy and the Jets ran the ball a lot, but he made one very nice throw — the last of the three that stood out in this game. He rolled to his left on play action and squared his shoulders perfectly to deliver a throw right on the money. It’s a throw we see the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson make all the time, and it’s encouraging to see Darnold capable of these things already.
There’s still a month to go, but I think the starting job is Darnold’s to lose. Brace yourselves fans — the Jets may finally have that franchise quarterback.
3rd Round Pick DT Nathan Shepherd — A
It was going to be hard to outdo Darnold on this night, but Shepherd gave it a run. On the Falcons’ second play from scrimmage, Shepherd ditched his blockers and clobbered Tevin Coleman. It didn’t take very long for ‘Canadian Thanos’ to showcase his power.
He finished the night with just two tackles, but he flashed in other ways. Twice I noticed him break through the line to hurry the quarterback and he also drew two or three blockers on multiple occasions. If he can produce consistently and eat up more than one blocker with his size and strength, it will open things up for Leonard Williams and the Jets’ pass-rushers.
4th Round Pick TE Chris Herndon and 6th Round Pick CB Parry Nickerson — N/A
Todd Bowles has been oddly quiet with injuries. It was surprising to see neither of these players dress. We didn’t find out until after the game that both are dealing with some minor ailments, but the hope is they do not miss any future game time. Tight end and cornerback are two of the most competitive battles in camp at the moment. Missing time will not help either of their causes.
6th Round Pick DT Folorunso Fatukasi — B
Fatukasi flashed a couple of times in what was otherwise a very uneventful second half. He registered two tackles, a sack, and would have had another if he got the quarterback by the jersey or shoulder pad instead of the face mask. The defensive line — particularly up the middle — is deep so Fatukasi won’t see much of the field unless there is an injury or two. It is nice to know the Jets may have found a solid depth player at this position though just in case.
6th Round Pick RB Trenton Cannon — B
Cannon would have gotten an ‘A’ if the evaluation was based solely on his play at running back and as a kick returner, but his issue with fielding punts drops him to a ‘B.’
The 6th round pick showed off his speed and quickness on a few runs, planting his foot in the ground and bursting through some very small holes. With his speed, all he needs is that inch of space to make something happen. Twice it seemed as if he was going to break off a big play but the Falcons did just enough to trip him up. The Jets might have gotten another late round gem. Mike Maccagnan has struggled in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, but he has hit some home runs in the late rounds and with undrafted free agents.