12 things on Sam Darnold heading into his sophomore season…
1 – A critical area for improvement this season for Darnold is going to be how he handles halftime adjustments made by opposing defenses, particularly now that there is more film available on him. Last season Darnold’s completion percentage dropped from 61 in the first half to 54 in the second half and his YPA dropped from 7.3 to 6.6, while 11 of Darnold’s 15 interceptions in 2018 came in the second half of games. Part of the pressure also goes to Adam Gase for adjusting the team’s playcalling and offensive game planning. Last year Miami quarterbacks threw 5 more interceptions in the second half than the first half and 2 less touchdowns.
2 – What threshold of play does Darnold need to reach for the Jets to make the playoffs? It is a complicated answer but last season the average statistical line of the five playoff quarterbacks in the AFC who started all season was 4,503 yards, 35 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The offensive DVOA rankings of those five teams was 1st (Kansas City), 3rd (Los Angeles), 5th (New England), 10th (Indy) and 21st (Houston). It doesn’t seem crazy to say that Darnold needs to be 30+ touchdown, 3,750+ yard passer who does not have an increase in 2018 interception total (15) for the Jets to have a credible shot at the playoffs.
3 – Sam Darnold’s final four games projected over sixteen starts: 320/500 (64%), 3,724 yards, 24 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 7.4 YPA.
4 – Particularly down the stretch of the 2018 season, Darnold regularly found a way to make something out of nothing and thrive in difficult situations. One notably encouraging stat was his production on 3rd down when the Jets had between 1-10 yards to go. In those situations, Darnold racked up 6 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions with a 57 completion percentage and a YPA of 7.5.
5 – It is hard to overstate the talent boost Darnold received when you compare what he is working with now compared to what he had during his final four starts last season, by which point the Jets were without Quincy Enunwa, Bilal Powell, Brandon Shell and Isaiah Crowell.
- Primary RB: Elijah McGuire to Le’Veon Bell
- Backup RB: Trenton Cannon to Ty Montgomery
- WR2: Andre Roberts to Quincy Enunwa
- WR3: Jermaine Kearse to Jamison Crowder
- LG: Spencer Long to Kelechi Osemele
- RT: Brent Qvale to Brandon Shell
6 – I’d guess Gase will not be shy about utilizing Darnold with RPO looks and getting him outside of the pocket to take advantage of his athleticism. Ryan Tannehill had 145 yards rushing last season in only 11 starts. There is no reason Darnold can’t be around or slightly over 200 yards rushing next season (he had 138 yards last year) with more than the 1 rushing touchdown he put up last season.
7 – I don’t want to go full “QBWINZ” but if the Jets are going to get over .500 finally, they will need Darnold to be the best quarterback on the field more often than not. Here is a run down of the quarterbacks he is likely to face next season: Tom Brady (2x), Josh Rosen (2x), Josh Allen (2x), Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, Nick Foles, Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz.
To keep it simple, Darnold needs to be better than Allen and Rosen in the Jets divisional games, outplay the rookies (or ELI) on the schedule and rise above the middle of the road starters like Carr, Dalton and non Eagles Foles. If Darnold is going to make the leap from intriguing to great, instead of just intriguing to good, he’ll need to out-duel Brady at least once, Mayfield, Wentz and Roethlisberger.
8 – It is going to be interesting to see if Darnold truly turned a corner last year when it came to protecting the football, as it pertains to fumbles or if he will regress to the mean after only losing one all of last season. He lost 9 his final year at USC and while more conscious protection is undoubtably something he added to his game, only having one per fumble per season (for any quarterback!) likely is not sustainable. If he can keep that number to something 4 or less, there is no reason not to be content with his overall progress in this area.
9 – One man’s take on the most impressive moments/games from Darnold’s rookie season, which give every reason for every Jets to believe they have “the guy”
- Bouncing back from a game opening pick six versus Detroit in primetime, to play a composed but aggressive game en route to a dominant Jets victory.
- Effectively attacking down the field to Robby Anderson early in his career against a credible Denver defense.
- Everything related to the Houston Saturday night game: Basically being the best player on the field besides DeAndre Hopkins and JJ Watt when playing a playoff team with a bunch of offensive players who won’t be in the NFL in 2 years.
- Leading a game winning drive on the road against a very good Buffalo defense after getting injured and struggling earlier in the game.
10 – It is hard to know how serious Darnold’s injury was last season, which cost him 3 starts. If the Jets were in the mix, could he have played or were they being overly cautious? One thing is clear, Darnold’s growth is a prospective cure all to the roster shortcomings and the organizational chaos…him missing 3 games again would be catastrophic to the season (sorry Trevor Siemian).
11 – A reminder that half of the current starting quarterbacks in the NFL made the playoffs within their first two seasons of their rookie deal being signed: Brady, Ben, Dalton, Jackson, Luck, Watson, Foles, Flacco, Mahomes, Eli, Wentz, Dak, Trubisky, Ryan, Goff and Wilson.
12 – A guess at Darnold’s 2019 stat line on May 18th
- 15 starts. 3,550 yards, 31 TDs, 15 INTs, 2 rushing TDs, 3 fumbles, 61.0 completion percentage, 7.4 YPA