TOJ New York Jets Film Breakdown – Sam Darnold’s 2017 Season

Joe Blewett with a film room breakdown of Sam Darnold’s 2017 season at USC…

This week’s film breakdown will focus on the New York Jets new quarterback, third overall pick Sam Darnold. Check out last week’s film breakdown on defensive end Leonard Williams right here.

At times during this review you will see Darnold trying to make the big play (which includes a perfect throw). Here he almost makes a great throw but just a little bit too much on it. Left side of the field a dig was wide open.

Here we see a standard slot formation on the field side. The outside WR clear out the outside corner who is in zone coverage. Good throw by Darnold to the wheel route as he throws it towards the sideline, away from defenders.

Good example here of how Darnolds mechanics aren’t flawless but still gets the ball where it needs to go. See the too much of a wide base, foreman dropping towards ground and the windmill throwing motion. But he fits the ball into the dig on the dagger concept. Nice zip on the ball too.

One of Darnold’s biggest problems is staring down WR’s and not moving the defense with his eyes. 3×1 gun set to the field side. Darnold stares down the route from the inside slot, the LB/S moves under the route and tips it. Leading to the INT, he tries to make the perfect throw too often.

We see the footwork become a problem as Darnold under throws the 9 route. Darnold’s feet are parallel to the sideline as he throws the ball and his lead foot is also pointed the the sideline. Ideally want feet in line with target with foot pointed where ball needs to go. Leads to the interception here.

USC runs a inside zone read-option from the pistol formation. Darnold keeps the ball as the DE crashes down on the RB. Darnolds legs/athleticism are a underrated part of his game. TD.

2×2 Gun set. The Y-TE runs a slice route on the top of the screen as a part of the drive concept. Darnold hits the TE in a tight window with some nice zip on the ball.

Example of Darnold making a full field read but again is forcing himself to make the perfect throw. Checks right, checks swing, checks left and then comes back right. As he comes back right d gets in his face. Set but is drifting away, underneath defender gets the INT.

Again we see Darnold reading the entire field but nobody is open. His internal clocks starts to tick, he starts to roll out right but sees the OLB coming so he cuts back inside. Continues to keep eyes downfield, finds WR, re-sets and makes the throw with the hit coming.

Darnold drifts back in the pocket as he is reading the field side 9 route on the sideline. Here we see the arm strength. Ball travels 55 yards and from Hash to near opposite sideline, good placement too.

Darnold’s best aspect of his game. Darnold rolls out to the right and reads the field. Make the ridiculous throw on the run to the over route. Ball placement doesn’t get any better then this.

Darnold drops back and reads the right side of the field, pulls the ball down and steps up in the pocket to avoid the rush. Reds the left side of the field as he drifts to the left. Finds the WR on the comeback, nice location on the ball.

Initial pocket climb is good. But Darnold stares down the 9 route on the field side drawing an extra defender. He then throws the ball while driving right without his feet set, when he had the opportunity to reset. Again forcing himself to make the perfect throw. INT.

USC in a 2×2 gun set with the tight inverted slot formation on the boundary. D in a mix of both man and zone. Darnold stands tall in the pocket and delivers the perfect throw over the DBS head and away from the DB approaching from inside. Not the best footwork but good enough.

3×1 gun set. RB runs a snake/wheel route out of the backfield. Darnold watches the seam route from the Y-TE that gets picked up by the LB in the hook zone. Darnold then fires it high and away from the LB to the snake route. Nice zip into a tight window.

Another ridiculous throw on the run. USC 3×1 gun set, Darnold looks to the field side smoke route but goes away from it. Climbs the pocket and throws a laser in the only spot it could have been caught by the WR. Out of the range of the out stretched arm of the DB.

One of the INTS that wasn’t Darnold’s fault at all. Puts the ball in front of the WR, right where it should be. Hits the WR right in the hands but he drops it, leading to the INT.

Darnold again showing the legs. Drops back and doesn’t see anything open. He decides to pull the ball down and run for the 1st down.

Bad throw from Darnold here as he air mails this ball right into a INT. More importantly he needs to read this play better/make the throw faster. As the DB blitzes on the top of the screen. The TE in the slot is wide open with plenty of room for the 1st down. Darnold is late on the throw.

2×2 gun set. Darnold has pressure from his left immediately, Darnold avoids it by stepping up in the pocket. He then makes one of those “it factor” throws as he jumps and floats the ball over the LB to the RB on the snake route.

USC in a 3×1 gun set to the boundary side. Darnold takes the snap and re-adjust himself as he sees potential pressure coming from the a-gap. Re-sets his feet and throws the ball to the X-WR on the field side running the post. Perfect location on the ball,  above the Db’s head.

This is one of Darnolds worst plays of the season. Rolls out right and the pressure is coming off the right side. Gets away nicely but forces this throw big time. Needs to throws this ball with much more power and lead the WR down the sideline. Lucky that this wasn’t an INT.

USC motions the RB into a 3×2 empty gun set. The inverted slot formation on the boundary side has the lot WR run a vertical route. The outside WR runs a snag but drifts to find a soft spot in the zone. Throws it on a rope between the diving DB but before the other DB, great throw.

3×1 gun set. CAL in a cover 1 look with LB’s in zone underneath, slot field side WR runs a seam . Darnold throws the ball short because of bad footwork. Feet aren’t in line and plant foot takes his momentum to outside not driving to WR. Darnold also stares down bringing FS over, who in a position to make a play on the ball if Darnold lead the WR more.

RPO. Slant coming from the boundary side. Nice ball placement from Darnold as he leads the WR and ball is out of the reach of the LB.

Darnold takes the snap, drops back and does a full field scan but he sees nothing worth throwing. Looks like he is about the pull the ball down and scramble but sees the OLB in position to make the tackle. Darnold cuts back and finds the open WR for the 1st down.

Darnold takes the snap and has immediate pressure up the a-gap. Shows some serious athleticism/creativity and power scrambling for the first down. Don’t overlook Darnold’s scrambling ability.

USC in a 2×2 gun set. Washington St in a cover 3 robber. The field side WR runs a deep out and this is where we see Darnold’s release/footwork hurt him. Plant foot takes his momentum outside not towards target/ feet not aligned. Wind-up takes an extra split second, which matters.

Near INT here for Darnold on the fade route on the boundary side. If Darnold is going to bullet it low towards the sideline he needs to do it earlier when the WR is working the DB upfield not when the DB re-establishes himself. At this point he needs to go high and back corner.

Another one of Darnolds clear strengths is placement of his balls on the sideline. USC runs play action from the pistol. Darnold rolls right, finds his target and hitches towards him, feet in line, front toe pointed and drive off back foot. Ball location is excellent.

USC in a gun set as the LB/S blitzes through the a-gap putting immediate pressure on Darnold. Darnold needs to hit this drag from the slot with plenty of room. He also carries the ball way too loosely in the pocket frequently. Needs to have the ball tight to chest and  with two hands on it always.

Motion to a 3×2 empty set to the field side, boundary slot runs a corner. Nice touch on this ball. WR needs to out stretch his arms to get it and plenty far away from the trailing DB.

2×2 gun, inverted slot on the boundary side. Smash concept (high-low read) on the boundary side. The slot runs a corner route, Darnold not only leads him to the sideline but also upfield to give the DB even less of a chance to make a play. Again excellent placement from Darnold.

Should have been another INT here. USC runs a smash concept on the field side. Darnold stares down the corner route the entire time, the curl/flat CB reads him and drops back for what should be an INT. Darnold also throws the ball while fading towards the sideline. Ball comes up short of where it needs to be.

Darnold take the snap from the gun. Checks the single high safety, hitches towards target, drives off back foot, good foot placement and puts the ball in the perfect spot on the 9 route.

USC runs a sprint out to the field side. The slot WR runs a speed out. Darnold has supreme confidence in his ball placement (too much at times) and multiple throws in this review show why, including this one. Darnold floats the ball right over the LB’s head.

Some backyard football as Darnold rolls out to the right, dodges multiple tacklers. Then rolls all the way back to the right, still keeps his eyes downfield and finds an open WR. Would need to throw this ball away in the NFL , but a good play to capture some athleticism.

1st and 10, USC runs a flat-7 concept on the boundary side. Darnold forces the throw to the corner as the flat is open. Again would have to be a perfect throw to float it over the CBs head. Ball is thrown short (mechanics driving towards sideline feet not aligned).

This would have been a pick 6, one of Darnolds worst plays of his 2017 season. USC in a 2×2 gun set, Outside WR on bottom of the screen runs a curl. Not sure if Darnold thought the CB was in a soft zone and was going to backpedal or if he just didnt see him at all. Also seems at if Darnold anticipated the WR was going to run an out route, but regardless its a terrible play.

Another one of Darnold’s bad ints. Sprints out right after the snap from the gun. WR to the bottom of the screen in the bunch runs a hitch and then tries to drift into a soft spot. Darnold throws the ball right to the DB/LB. Needs to throw this more outside, no need on 2nd down.

USC motions into a 4×1 empty gun. Darnold reads the left side of the field but doesn’t see anything he likes. Comes back to the right side where the WR is running the 9. Darnold waste no time, planting/throwing the ball immediately with nice location. Would like to see more drive off the back foot.

3×1 gun set to the boundary . The RB runs a wheel route to the field side. Darnold takes the snap and sees the blitzing LB up the a-gap and anticipates interior pressure, so he rolls out to the left. Sees the RB with position on the defender so throws while rolling right. Really tough throw to make and Darnold makes it while on the move.

Darnold rolls out right as the play is designed and has a half field read. As Darnold is rolling he is about to throw but decides otherwise as pressure is coming from the b-gap. Darnold pulls down and shows athleticism, keeps eyes downfield and makes the throw to the open WR.

Motion to empty. Boundary side slot WR runs a vertical double move and gets past the outside CB. Darnold reads it and puts the in a good location and with good zip to avoid the safety closing in. Darnold still has that slight lead foot misstep. But he overcomes shaky mechanics.

Darnold makes a good read on the read-option as the DE crashes down. Also does a good job selling the inside handoff as he fully extends his arms and holds the ball in the RB’s stomach for awhile. Then takes off right and picks up nearly 40 yards. Darold has some legs.

This is just absurd. 2×2 gun set. Bottom of the screen USC has their WRS stacked. Cant see the full routes but looks like a Mills concept. Darnold fires the ball in between 3 defenders to the WR running the post. Great velocity on this ball and ridiculous accuracy.

2×2 gun set. Darnold takes the snap and looks to the swing but pulls it back as the LB in on it. Rolls right to avoid the pressure from the b-gap. Breaks two tackles while continuing to keep eyes down field. Finds a WR across the field, just misses, shows strength and some balls.

USC fakes a inside zone-split. Darnold rolls out right as he has a (ready?) switch-wolf-sail concept on the top of the screen (3 level read). Defense is in a cover 2 zone. Darnold keys on the CB in the curl-flat zone, when he commits to the out, Darold fires to the corner.

Looks small but this is just damn smart QB play. Play-action, reads the wheel from the H-back then snaps to the deep over. Sees he has the deep over but the great part is the ball placement. The Boundary CB has outside leverage so where does Darnold put the ball? The inside to give the CB even less of a chance to make a play on the ball.

Darnold takes the 3 step drop from the gun/loads up to throw it to the post. Here we see some of that footwork hurting again. Notice how Darnolds lead foot isn’t driving towards where he wants the ball, how his feet aren’t aligned to where he wants the ball, and doesn’t drive off of his back foot. Hurts the location of the ball as its behind his WR, not leading the WR.

USC runs a mesh concept that turns into a levels concept with the whip route from the WR at the bottom of the screen with a reduced split. Darnold steps up in the pocket to avoid the outside pressure but then re-thinks as its clogged and fades backwards making the perfect throw (high and away from the defender).

Some solid location on this throw to the fade from Darnold. High and right above the CB’s head who isn’t looking back to the ball.

4×1 empty gun to the field side. Darnold isolates the 9 route pre snap and knows he is going there. CB has decent position with inside leverage. Darnold notices that inside leverage so he throws the ball high and behind.

Mix of zone and man here from the defense. Darnold takes the snap and checks the single high safety. Then again, goes back to the 9 route up the left sideline (top of screen). CB has decent position again so Darnold throws it high back shoulder.

2×2 gun. Darnold looks left, then reads the middle of the field. Sees the window to throw to the seam route from the slot WR and throws a bullet. Not a super tight window but it was closing fast. Darnold consistently shows strong rotation in shoulders.

2×2 gun. Darnold has a RPO (run-pass option). Doesn’t decide to hand the ball off, checks the bottom of the screen but doesn’t like it. Then decides to pull the ball down as he runs it in for a 24 yard TD run. Again showing his legs.

4×1 empty to the field side. Darnold reads the swing route then the left side of the field but sees nothing he likes. Comes back to his right and likes the soft coverage from the CB on the comeback. Darnold throws the ball as the WR is cutting. Good velocity and location here.

4×1 empty to the field side. Darnold drops back ad then rolls out to the right as he sees the flash of blue coming through the b-gap. D start to close in on Darnold, Darnold looks right, nothing, then looks left. Gets his feet under him and makes a great throw. Also shows how he is willing to stand tall and deliver the ball when he knows a hit is coming.


2×2 gun. Saw too much of this from Darnold as he doesn’t trust his eyes. Double clutches twice, then forces the ball into traffic. Might have actually been a catch if the WR didn’t trip but regardless he shouldn’t have risked it. WR in slot on same side was open on short dig.

Darnold is super impressive on the run. Darnold drops back but holds it as nothing is worth throwing. Pressure comes from edge so Darnold manipulates his body as he steps up in the pocket to avoid rush then scrambles left to avoid more pressure. Makes the perfect throw on the run.

USC runs a reverse and Darnold comes out as the lead blocker. Shows some grit as he throws his shoulder into a defender (actually knocking him on his ass).

Good example of Darnold standing tall/willing to take a hit and still deliver the ball. Darnold hits the deep over route (could have been slightly better location) as he sees the big hit coming.

2×2 gun. USC runs a deep mesh concept. Darnold drops the ball in between a few defenders in a tight window.

Didn’t happen too often but Darnold did have some over throws on vertical routes. Nice step up in the pocket here from Darnold but he has time to re-set feet and make this throw. Instead throws it without any good base.

USC runs a play action and Darnold gets immediate pressure from the b-gap so he rolls right. Darnold sees the TE on the over route with the LB working hard to make up ground to the sideline. Instead of throwing the ball towards towards the sideline, he throws it upfield for YAC and to make it a more difficult play for the defender.

Darnold WILL make plenty of plays for the Jets with his legs. Here Darnold drops back and sees nothing he wants to throw. The RG gets bulled back by the 1/2i tech and hits Darnolds leg as he scrambles up the middle. Darnold keeps his footing as he scrambles for a first on 4th & 6.

3×1 gun to the field side. The slot WR on the top of the screen gets by the DB on the slot fade . Darnold drops back, reads it and throws it. Not only does he lead him vertically but throws it where the WR has room on the sideline. Darnold also consistently throws spirals.

Darnold showed a lot of consistency on location of his sideline passes. Here focuses on his boundary WR (top of screen). Instead of leading the WR vertically (would give the DB a chance to make a play), Darnold throws a back shoulder which surprises the DB.

RPO. Darnold keys in on the near OLB, sees him rush so Darnold decides to not hand it off and tries to hit the inside slot on the snag route. Darnold never reads the DB who eats up the cushion post snap. Darnold needed to make multiple reads here and failed to do so.

Darnolds ability to make great throws without a good base/fading or even sometimes with just flat out bad mechanics, is why I’m not too worried about those poor mechanics. Slot WR runs a slot fade, Darnold fades because of pressure. Leads the WR vertically and outside of where the safety can reach coming from the middle of the field.

Can understand being aggressive when down 24-0 but Darnold cant let this ball go, especially on 1st down. 3×2 empty gun, all of the WR’s on the top of the screen run 9’s/seams. Darnold looks that way as he drops back, clutches and then decides to go there anyway. Bad INT for Darnold here.

3×1 gun. Seems Darnold knows where he is going with the ball pre-snap as the WR on the bottom of the screen is isolated with a DB. As soon as Darnold sees the FS move to the field side he looks to the 9. Throws the ball with perfect location but the WR drops it (could have also made a better play on the ball

2×2 gun. Darnold rolls out to the right after getting pressure from the field side b-gap. The X-WR on the bottom of the screen runs a comeback and Darnold throws a laser into a tight window.

Last play of the review. Darnold takes the snap from the gun, reads the right side of the field. Then comes back to the left where he sees his WR with position on the DB on the 9. Tight spiral, couldn’t be better location. BUT has bad footwork again as he “steps in the bucket”.

In conclusion, Darnold was the best QB in the 2017 draft (at least in my rankings) and has a reachable ceiling of a top 5, consistent pro-bowl type of player. He made some complex reads and plays with pure arm talent that many NFL Qb’s cant make (PSA he is ONLY 20 years old and only has 4 full years playing the QB position). With that being said Darnold does have some things to work on if he wants to be a top notch QB, specifically mechanics,  being too aggressive with some of his throws (many of his picks were because of this and holding the ball too loosely in the pocket/while on the run which lead to 11 fumbles in 2017). Darnold also didn’t have the best supporting cast in 2017 at USC, with both of his o-line and WRs being very average players. The good news is the Jets CAN sit him if they feel he isn’t ready by week one and he is being mentored by two QBS in McCown and Bridgewater. Who are widely considered two of the most genuinely nice and “willing to mentor” type QB’s  in the NFL. The coaches should let whoever the best QB in camp/preseason start off the season. Which might be Darnold considering the full field reads and pro style offensive concepts he was asked to execute at USC. Darnold will also  be a great fit in Bates west coast offense considering Darnold’s quick decision making, short/intermediate accuracy and ability to move out of the pocket and throw with great accuracy on the run.


  • Great character.
  • Finds ways to make plays.
  • Moves in pocket well.
  • Creates out of thin air.
  • Deadly accurate on the run.
  • Anticipation throws that he makes as a 20 year old are outstanding.
  • Can be very accurate even with poor mechanics which is rare.
  • Stands tall in pocket/willing to take a big hit.
  • Showed some “ice in his veins”  in 2017.
  • Always keeps his eyes downfield no matter whats happening around him.
  • Was asked to make full field reads and willing go through those progressions quickly.
  • Extremely accurate in the short to intermediate passing game.
  • Ball placement on sideline is elite at times.
  • Ball placement in general is usually very good.
  • Trust him arm (sometimes too much).
  • Not afraid to throw into tight windows.
  • Good timing on throws.
  • Throws the ball with a great spiral.
  • Arm strength.
  • Underrated athleticism  and strength when getting away from tacklers.
  • Has decent speed, will scramble for first downs.
  • Can throw accurately  rolling both left and right.
  • Pocket awareness.
  • Will look off safeties.
  • Will isolate 1v1 opportunities pre snap.
  • Shoulder torque.
  • Great accuracy even with bad mechanics.
  • When he sees WR open, quickly hitches and gets rid of the ball .
  • Has that “it factor”.


  • Forces the ball at times.
  • Will throw the ball into traffic, asking himself to make the perfect throw to not have it  intercepted.
  • Footwork, as his lead foot frequently drifts to sideline, front foot isn’t pointed, legs aren’t aligned to target and doesn’t drive off back foot.
  • Windmill release, with forearm slanted towards ground at start of throwing motion keeps his release from being top notch.
  • Clutches too much as he doesn’t trust his eyes at times.
  • Carries ball way too loosely both in the pocket and moving  out of the pocket.
  • Will hold onto the ball too long trying to make a play, instead of throwing the ball away.
  • Stares down WR’s.
  • Needs to use lower body more on throws.
  • Will throw off balance in pocket even when he has time to re-set feet
  • Needs more consistency on deep balls.

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