Franchise quarterback, much like “elite” and “generational talent” and “number one receiver” is one of those football terms commonly thrown around without a fully agreed upon definition. The criteria varies depending on who you ask. When it comes to the New York Jets, there is no more important question than “is Sam Darnold a franchise quarterback?”
How do you define the term “franchise quarterback?”
— Joe Caporoso (@JCaporoso) December 9, 2019
From a purely top line statistical perspective, Darnold is a bottom ten starting quarterback in the NFL right now. Pending how the final two games play out, he is trending towards slight improvement over his rookie year. There has been a notable bump in completion percentage with a mild improvement in touchdown/turnover rate with a roughly flat YPA. Similar to his rookie season, he is on track to start 13 of 16 games.
- DVOA: 31st
- YPA: 19th
- QBR: 26th
- Quarterback Rating: 24th
- Touchdown Percentage: 18th
- Interception Percentage: 20th
- Yards Per Game: 19th
- Completion Percentage: 23rd
- Completion Percentage: +4.0%
- YPA: +0.1 yards
- Touchdown Percentage: +0.4
- Interception Percentage: -0.4
- Fumbles Lost: Equal (2 each season)
- Rushing: +1 TD, -77 yards
The top line statistics do not provide the full context, as Darnold is saddled with a thoroughly below average offensive line, although how below average is open to debate depending on the grading system or scale. They are currently ranked 25th in DVOA and have stabilized down the stretch to an extent. It is also worth mentioning their numbers are a little skewed due to how poor Luke Falk’s pocket presence was in his two starts and the volume unnecessary hits/sacks he took.
Quarterback efficiency vs pass protection through Week 15 pic.twitter.com/00efNpS5Yw
— new-age analytical (@benbbaldwin) December 18, 2019
QB Hits Allowed Through Week 15:OAK: 44
BAL, NO: 52
ARI, PIT: 64
CHI: 69 (nice)
KC, SF: 70
DAL, JAX: 78
GB, HOU: 80
BUF, WAS: 84
CAR, TEN: 90
— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) December 17, 2019
Hits on a quarterback can add up over time. So far this season, defenders have made contact with these QBs the least amount. #Saints #GoPats #LARams #RaiderNation #BoltUp #ChiefsKingdom #Skol #Browns #SeizeTheDEY #TakeFlight @gregcosell | @MattBowen41 pic.twitter.com/CH5ONw5non
— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) December 17, 2019
As for the rest of Darnold’s supporting cast, the Jets are currently 18th in the league in dropped passes and have received steady play from their top trio of Robby Anderson, Jamison and Demaryius Thomas. The unit lacks a top end playmaker or All-Pro caliber weapon on the outside but is a far cry from Jets teams in the past who were peppering players like Jermaine Kearse, Andre Roberts, Chaz Schilens and David Nelson with targets. Ryan Griffin proved himself to be a competent replacement for Chris Herndon before recently heading to IR, while Le’Veon Bell has been effective the minimal times he’s been used in the passing game and the same steady pass blocker he’s always been, he has struggled substantially running the football. Generally, the Jets are probably a bottom half team at the skill positions but far from league worst.
Darnold is also dealing with a mediocre coaching staff, particularly on the offensive side the football. The unit is ranked 32nd in DVOA. Adam Gase’s Dolphins were 27th in DVOA last year and 27th the year before that. It is difficult to exactly quantify Gase’s impact on Darnold’s performance but the Jets struggle immensely to adjust in the second half and have a rigid structure that does not cater to player’s strengths, namely by not utilizing Darnold’s unique ability to throw on the run enough and Le’Veon Bell’s ability to play receiver enough.
Darnold’s splits are generally what you’d expect for a young (very young) quarterback. It is worth remembering he is only 22 years old and his development as a passer and professional athlete should be far from complete. To date, he’s played much better at home than on the road and been a better first half quarterback than second half quarterback. His most troubling split to date is how much he’s struggled in his own division.
When looking at his body of work, he flatly has not made the “jump” that players like Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz made early in their careers. To be fair, we’ve seen regression and/or injuries from Goff and Wentz as time has passed. Darnold has also not regressed like Baker Mayfield did this season and shown far more than fellow first round pick Josh Rosen, who was already discarded by his first team. Pragmatically (depending on if you grading right now or projecting going forward), Darnold is currently an upper middle of the pack quarterback in his conference that is likely to soon add Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa.
When defining a franchise quarterback, at the lowest level you want a player who will be an unquestioned long term starter for your team and provide a measure of quality and stability to the position. At the highest level, you want a player who can elevate the supporting cast around him and be the primary reason his team is regularly beating good football teams, winning playoff games and then ultimately a championship.
Darnold has only started 24 games for the Jets but by all appearances looks like a second contract quarterback for the team, which for the Jets organization is a big stride. He has shown enough flashes of talent in less than ideal circumstances to be optimistic he can become one of the better starting quarterbacks in the league, however he hasn’t yet shown enough to believe he will become an All-Pro or one of the 3-5 best quarterbacks in the NFL It isn’t off the table for him to reach that level but we haven’t seen enough yet to be reasonably confident that is on the way.
The Jets are saddling Darnold with Gase for at least one more season but they can begin improving the offensive line and skill positions around him this offseason. If he can play a full 16 games in better circumstances, there is no reason to believe he won’t improve next year, the question is just how much? Getting himself into the top half of every major statistical category would be a starting point to a path where movement on a second contract begins to happen…