Way back in May we laid out the case why the New York Jets should not be hesitant to start Sam Darnold in week 1 of his rookie season. With the opener against Detroit about one month away, the team appears to be on a trajectory to having him do just that. How did Darnold end up the favorite to start at this point and why is it the correct course of action?
After the Jets selected Darnold, there was a regularly repeated sentiment that the team should not rush him and that he was perfectly set up to sit behind either Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater. There was doubt that Todd Bowles would hand the reigns over to a 21 year old rookie and concern that the team’s supporting cast was not conducive to helping Darnold’s development.
The Twitter length argument against playing Darnold goes something like: He is going to killed behind the Jets offensive line, he won’t be ready to start 3 games in 10 days to begin the year, what is the rush and let’s not turn him into another Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith. Todd Bowles will never play a rookie under center and the supporting cast is too weak right now.
This argument has gradually been drown out by the reality that Bowles doesn’t have a proven aversion to playing rookies or younger players and that the Jets supporting cast is not as downtrodden as being advertised. More emphatically, the Jets are not being shy with the media about their optimism on Darnold being under center week 1.
After watching the Jets and talking to coaches and players after this Green and White practice scrimmage it is very clear…rookie QB Sam Darnold is adjusting to the NFL quicker than expected and his poise in the huddle is the bright spot. More on @SportsCenter at 11
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) August 5, 2018
— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) August 7, 2018
After watching McCown and Bridgewater through three camp practices, zero reason Sam Darnold can’t win this QB competition. That was in jeopardy if holdout went another week.
Not now. #Jets
— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) July 30, 2018
The path from McCown or Bridgewater being the favorite to start week 1 to Darnold being the favorite has not been complicated. Darnold had an impressive spring, demonstrating a better than expected grasp of the playbook. During his three day absence from training camp, neither McCown or Bridgewater distinguished themselves enough to make Darnold’s absence be detrimental to his pursuit of the starting job. Since arriving, Darnold has performed at roughly the same level, if not slightly better, than both veterans. The Jets are not interested in loading up McCown with training camp or preseason reps, which is going to give Darnold that much more playing time. Bridgewater is the main quarterback he will be splitting reps with and it is common knowledge the Jets would like to find a way to trade him for draft collateral, considering what they gave up for Darnold and since Bridgewater is on a one year contract that enhances in overall cost if he sticks on the roster this season.
To be clear, training camp performance is a factor but nowhere near as important as the preseason which does not start until this Friday. Darnold is going to win or lose this job based on how he plays against Atlanta, Washington and the Giants (nobody cares about the fourth preseason game). Yet as it stands now, there is no reason to anticipate he will not perform comparably or better than the veteran quarterbacks and if he does, a tie or close to a tie goes to the rookie.
Jets fans who are concerned about Darnold getting hit or having a rough patch in the schedule are delaying the inevitable. NFL quarterbacks get hit. Part of Darnold’s job description is learning how to protect himself and having “rough” patches in the schedule. He needs to know how to play three games in ten days and fortunately for the Jets their three opponents in this stretch were all not playoff teams last season. If Darnold doesn’t have his growing pains now, he will have them later in the season or next year. The process of him playing through them should not be delayed out of a fear of him facing the realities of the NFL.
Considering their cap space and roster construction, the goal is to be a contender in 2019 and for as many years as possible when Darnold is under his rookie contract. The more ready he is for next season, the better. He gets ready by playing as much as possible this year. A 6 or 7 win season with McCown or Bridgewater is useless. A 6 or 7 win season with Darnold is a success if he develops throughout the year.
Todd Bowles appears to get it. The front office appears to get it. Everybody who follows this team should be ready to get it when they see Darnold earlier than was initially anticipated by many.
Jets coach Todd Bowles would not commit to playing veteran QB Josh McCown in their preseason opener Friday night. It probably makes more sense to get an extended look at Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold anyway.
— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoSNY) August 6, 2018
There will be growing pains in year one but the Jets road out of apathetic purgatory is traveled with Darnold under center…sooner rather than later.
Photo Credit: David Aitken