New York Jets Top Five – Quarterback Comparisons For Darnold

Joe Belic compares Sam Darnold’s first 16 starts to other franchise quarterbacks

“Seeing ghosts” was an innocuous comment recently made by Sam Darnold, who was clearly experiencing difficulties during Monday Night’s game, and I personally appreciated his candidness.  However, I understand the world we live in, and I know what makes people in the industry salivate; Sam’s remark became comparable to Pavlov ringing his bell so the dogs could come to feast.

The level of professionalism continues to dwindle, and many are looking for that one punchline that will send their tweets, comments, or footage viral.  Exposure appears to trump substance every day of the week; ESPN’s decision to air Sam’s comment—approved by the NFL Films employee—is a clear example of that.  

I have to believe any honorable or reasonable person would have heard Sam’s remark and said to themselves, this is fairly harmless, but how will the general public perceive it?  This might not be a good look, and I’ll choose to bury it. 

I understand NFL Films and ESPN are in the entertainment business, but broadcasting this material was a tasteless move. Le’Veon Bell put it best when he expressed that they “did Sam dirty.” While some will insist the situation was benign, I beg to differ.  This has grown into a full-blown frenzy: memes, gifs, podcasts, and T-shirts already in production. Ask yourselves this, when was the last time a comment made while mic’d up on the sidelines garnered as much attention? Unfortunately, trolls will feed on hysteria as long as the audience is “entertained” by it.  

People who think the NFL Films representative and ESPN did nothing wrong are either naïve or have a predisposition to mischief and chicanery.  Sam Darnold is the youngest QB ever to start an NFL game, and there will be more instances during the maturation process where he’ll inevitably experience “seeing ghosts.” Is it fair to him, the Jets organization, and ultimately the fanbase that each time Sam performs poorly, people will undoubtedly revisit his comment?  Should Darnold expect to be ridiculed by opposing players, the crowd, and the media when he throws an errant pass? 

Now, Sam is a professional, and I’m sure he’ll be able to brush it off and perform regardless, but the situation could have easily been avoided. Let’s be real, I’m sure there was plenty of material to choose from that voiced Sam’s frustration.  

As Halloween approaches, I expect to see many ghost costumes in the stands this Sunday. Inevitably, it’ll be the topic of discussion by commentators throughout the game.  Hopefully, this galvanizes the Jets and Sam because the only way to quiet the critics is to perform. Otherwise, the mania will continue, and “seeing ghosts” will eventually become just as popular, predictable, and trite as the “butt fumble”—which of course commentator Joe Tessitore couldn’t help but mention once again this past Monday Night.

Let’s not forget this past game marked Sam’s 16th start of his career, the equivalent to one full season.  His sophomore year truly begins this Sunday versus the Jags. For those worried about Sam and what this subpar performance might mean for his future, in this week’s “Joe Jet 5,” I name several QBs who definitely experienced “seeing ghosts” during their development—you might recognize some of the names. 

1) John Elway

Elway saw a phantom or two in the 10th start of his career:

-Loss (48-17) versus the Chiefs on December 18, 1983

-13 of 34, 143 yards, 0 TDs, and 4 INTs

-Passer Rating of 11.9

-Elway played several games in his first couple of seasons where his performance remained less than ideal, including a 4 INT performance in the last game of his second season, and only two games with a completion percentage over 60% in his first 16 starts. 

2) Kurt Warner

It was challenging to find any games in Warner’s first couple of seasons that were as bad as Sam’s last outing, but one has to remember that Kurt didn’t start his first game until he was 28, and even he freely admits to “seeing ghosts.”  

3) Peyton Manning

Peyton’s first 16 games of his career:

-26 TDs and 28 INTs

-56.7 completion percentage 

-Only 5 games with 60% completion percentage or higher (Darnold has had 8) 

16th game as a starter:

-Loss week 17 to Panthers 27-19

-50% completion percentage

-56.5 passer rating, 1 TD and 2 INTs

4) Eli Manning

The boogeyman definitely spooked Eli’s 16th game as a starter:

-1 TD, 4 INTs, and 47.9% completion percentage

-39.5 passer rating

-Eli floundered mightily his first several seasons, which included a game with a 27.9 passer rating and several other subpar showings.  He only completed 60% of his passes twice in his first 16 starts and didn’t maintain a 60% completion percentage until his 5th season in the league.

-Eli’s fellow 2004 first-round pick, Philip Rivers, didn’t start until his 3rd season.  Even after sitting early in his career, Philip still managed to have a “seeing ghosts” moment in his 14th start when he threw for only 97 yards and finished with a passer rating of 12.4. 

5) Troy Aikman

17th start of Troy’s career:

-9 of 25, 61 yards, 0TDs and 2 INTs

-11.2 passer rating 

-Loss versus the 5-11 Cardinals on October 14, 1990

-Troy had several duds his first couple of years, including three interceptions and a 2.8 passer rating versus the Eagles in his 7th start.