New York Jets Deep Dive – How To Assess Sam Darnold in 2020

Greg Armstrong with a deep dive on how New York Jets fans should assess Sam Darnold in 2020

Maybe it’s because of the quarantine, maybe it’s because of not having any sports for the last three months or maybe it’s just being noticed more because of the first two but the heat is being turned up on Sam Darnold as he enters his third year. It’s certainly warranted; we’ve seen a good bunch of flashes from Darnold that make you buy all of his future stock of being a top 10-12 QB in the league. Then we see some mind boggling throws and stretches where thoughts creep in of wanting to move on sooner rather than later.

However you feel about Darnold (and let me be clear, I’m all in on him moving forward), the third year is usually when you get the best barometer of what your QB is going to be moving forward. This is a unique situation however. Darnold is playing for a bad coach and has a roster around him that isn’t quite up to par with QBs who were drafted in the same class as him.

Baker Mayfield: Great weapons around him on offense, good defense, new head coach who can’t possibly be worse than what Freddie Kitchens was last season.

Josh Allen: Weapons who perfectly fit his style of play, Bills went out and got an elite receiver in Stefon Diggs, offensive coordinator who perfectly tailors the offense to Allens skillset.

Lamar Jackson: He won the MVP. Let me repeat that last sentence. He was the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.

Looking strictly at the situations of those three and Darnold, it’s safe to say Darnolds situation is comfortably last in who has the best chance to succeed in their third year. However, I’m willing to say Darnolds skillset is in the running for best out of all of those guys (Lamar has the best, relax). So what exactly should we be judging Darnold on this year to assess whether he’s the guy of the future?

Stat Line

This one is a fun one. I recently saw an article from Brian Costello where he outlined what he thought the stat line Darnold should have after his third year:

Okay, those are certainly better than what we’ve seen from Darnold so far. But a simple search on Pro Football Reference of quarterbacks who have hit that criteria in a single season yielded some staggering results:

Not a single quarterback in the history of the NFL has had that type of stat line for a season. Not Brady, not Mahomes, not Peyton and not whoever your favorite quarterback is. Not a single one.

So if that’s the narrative that’s going to be pushed from now until September, then it’s setting Darnold up for failure before he even takes the field. Asking someone to make NFL history to prove that he belongs is ludicrous.

In reality, you want to see his completion percentage increase, the interceptions decrease and the touchdowns increase. Passing yards are whatever I don’t necessarily care about those that much. The fumbles also need to decrease but I think that will be solved moreso by an improvement on the offensive line more than by his own doing.

Wins

This is the one that’s overrated and is just as valuable as Pro Bowl appearances in determining whether a player is good or not. There’s too much that goes into a football game to just pin a win on the QB. A ball bouncing one way or the other if the QB is on the bench shouldn’t determine whether he personally gets a win or not.

I’ve been having this conversation with some Jets fans recently about what to judge Darnold on. The Jets have a considerably tougher schedule on paper right now (whether fans are in attendance or not) than they did last season. Let’s say the Jets go somewhere between 4-12 and 6-10 this next season, a step back record wise from last season. Due to the talent & coaching discrepancy the Jets face are going to face against most of their opponents this season, what if the Jets are in most of these games in the 4th quarter (within 10 points we’ll say) because of Sam but end up going 5-11. Would that be a bad season? I personally don’t think so.

The way the roster has been constructed by Joe Douglas indicates that the record shouldn’t be the barometer for who stays and who goes, and that extends even further than Sam Darnold. Anyone who watched the Jets last year can see that the 7-9 record they ended up with was a mirage. The defense is more than likely going to regress. But, if Darnold plays well and the Jets lose these games against superior opponents because they’re simply just not better overall? It’s not fair to put the blame on Darnold for a bad record.

Tying The Quarterback To The Coach

These two aspects need to evaluated separately. It’s quite obvious that Darnold regressed in some of his technical aspects in going from Jeremy Bates to Adam Gase and the elite challenge flag thrower Dowell Loggains. It’s also obvious that Adam Gase is going to be the coach for at least the ’20-’21 season barring anything unforeseen.

Gase and Darnold shouldn’t be tied together. Period stop. Now it is going to be tough to separate on a surface level. If Darnold does well then Gase has done well right? Not necessarily. I have a feeling Darnold is going to be good regardless of who is coaching. I genuinely believe, in my heart of hearts that Darnold can at least survive with any coach. We saw it with Todd Bowles and a much less talented roster. Now, Gase has the opportunity to elevate Sams game to a different tier. I’m assuming Douglas and Gase have collaborated on the draft picks and free agent signings this offseason. This is constructing the team that Gase can hypothetically win with.

But what if…they don’t win. What if they go 4-12? But again, Sam plays well and they’re in these games but Gase’s close game record completely goes out the door and they lose to better opponents in the fourth quarter? Look, a lot can happen in an NFL season and a lot can happen in a particular game where it’s hard to put the blame or praise on one particular person. I get that. And I also get the card can be completely turned around.  But I don’t think it’s fair, at this point in time, to lump Darnold and Gase together based on wins and losses. Who are you more willing to bet on being good this season? The answer should be Darnold.

Does He Make The Guys Around Him Better?

Love this argument. Brady is usually the guy brought up when it comes to this because he didn’t have the “WR1” or that elite receiver that most great QBs have. However, the Patriots put guys on that roster that fit exactly what the Patriots wanted to do. Is Julian Edelman considered a WR1? No. Was Danny Amendola considered a WR1 when he was with the Patriots? No. We could go on and on about this. But these guys played multiple seasons with Brady and eventually they were all on the same page because of their skillset and their ability to thrive in that system.

Who are the Jets bringing back for Sam? Chris Herndon has been hurt/suspended for a good bit of his career. Jamison Crowder is a good slot receiver and deserves more credit than he gets. I love the Denzel Mims pick but it’s still a rookie receiver no matter how many videos from a June workout in Miami come out. Lev Bell is great when he’s split out wide but we didn’t see enough of it last season to predict any substantial spike in that role this upcoming season. It’s a rag tag group, for a lack of a better term.

Now, this isn’t making excuses for Darnold. He’s in his third year and I expect him to be better. But the talent around him is enough to make you  take a long, hard look about whether this is a Darnold thing or is it more of a result of the guys around him just not being that good in this point of their careers.

Bottom Line

Grading Darnold this season is going to be a tough task as of now. The workout videos are fun and are great content during a slow period but there are a lot of variables (more than the other three quarterbacks mentioned previously in this piece). The way I would (and most likely will) grade Darnold this season is by watching it through non biased lenses. Are they in these games versus superiors opponents because of Darnold? Is the Jets record indicative of what Darnolds doing or is it more on the coaching and talent deficiency compared to their opponents? Do the numbers align with what I’m seeing on a weekly basis or are they misconstrued because of what’s around him?

It’s not fair to box Darnold into a corner with “he needs to hit this singular stat” or “he needs to do this thing” to determine whether or not he’s the guy moving forward. This is a unique situation where the coach is probably not going to be here longer than this upcoming season. Douglas is looking towards the 2021 season and should evaluate Darnold as such.

Don’t link Darnold to Gase in regards to job security. Don’t put a stat threshold on Darnold in June/July to further your narrative. Look at what’s right in front of you through non biased glasses and see that this is a unique situation. If Sams the guy, then we’ll see a big step forward this season. If not, then it’s another three or four more years of hoping and praying the football gods reward Jets fans for the years of misery they’ve endured.